January 4, 2002 U.S. Poet Laureate Launches Project to Encourage Poetry in High Schools

Contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189

U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins has launched a new Web site, called Poetry 180, designed to encourage the appreciation and enjoyment of poetry in America's high schools. The site, www.loc.gov/poetry/180, is featured on the Library of Congress's home page. The Poet Laureateship is an appointed office within the Library of Congress's Scholarly Programs Office.

The site will contain the text of 180 poems Mr. Collins has selected (one for each day of the school year), suggestions for different ways to present a poem in a school setting, as well as guidance on how to read a poem aloud. Most of the poems presented on the site were written by contemporary American authors and were selected with a high school audience in mind. The poems were chosen to be accessible upon first hearing, although students may wish to download them from the Web site for later reading.

"The idea behind Poetry 180 is simple -- to have a poem read each day to the student bodies of American high schools across the country," said Mr. Collins. "Hearing a poem every day, especially well-written, contemporary poems that students do not have to analyze, might convince students that poetry can be an understandable, painless, and even eye-opening part of their everyday experience."

A message from Mr. Collins on the site "to the high school teachers of America" urges them to select someone to read the poem to the school each day, perhaps at the end of daily announcements over a public address system or by teachers in their individual homerooms.

"The hope," writes Mr. Collins, "is that poetry will become a part of the daily life of students in addition to being a subject that is part of the school curriculum."

There is no particular order in which the poems should be presented, nor is it necessary that all schools read the same poem each day. "The poems have been chosen with high school-age students in mind, but if you feel a certain poem inappropriate," Mr. Collins writes, "skip it."

Mr. Collins was named Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in May 2001 by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. The position has existed since 1936, when the late Archer M. Huntington endowed the Chair of Poetry at the Library. Since then, many of the nation's most eminent poets have served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and, after the passage of Public Law 99-194 (December 20, 1985), as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. The Poet Laureate suggests authors to read in the Library's literary series, plans other special literary events during the reading season, and usually introduces the programs. The Poet Laureate is appointed for a one-year term, subject to renewal for another year.

Billy Collins's books of poetry include a volume of new and selected poems, Sailing Alone Around the Room, which was published by Random House in September; Picnic, Lightning (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998); The Art of Drowning (1995), which was a Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize finalist; Questions About Angels (1991), a National Poetry Series selection by Edward Hirsch; The Apple That Astonished Paris (1988); Video Poems (1980); and Pokerface (1977).

His honors include fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He has also been awarded the Oscar Blumenthal Prize, the Bess Hokin Prize, the Frederick Bock Prize, and the Levinson Prize, all awarded by Poetry magazine. He is Distinguished Professor of English at Lehman College, City University of New York, where he has taught for the past 30 years. He is also a writer-in-residence at Sarah Lawrence College, and he has served as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library. He lives in Somers, New York.


PR 02-001
ISSN 0731-3527