March 12, 1998 Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky Launches Favorite Poem Project in Five Cities During National Poetry Month

Library of Congress Reading Scheduled for April 2

Press Contact: Yvonne French (202) 707-9191

Poet Laureate of the United States Robert Pinsky will launch his main endeavor as Poet Laureate, the Favorite Poem Project, with poetry readings in New York, Washington, Boston, St. Louis and Los Angeles during April, National Poetry Month.

The project will create audio and video archives of Americans of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life reading aloud their favorite poems. The Favorite Poem Project is rooted in Mr. Pinsky's belief that poetry is meant to be read aloud.

"The archives will be a record at the end of the millennium of what we choose and what we do with our voices and faces, when asked to say aloud a poem that we love," said Mr. Pinsky, who was appointed Poet Laureate in 1997 by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.

The Favorite Poem Project's two long-term goals are to promote reading and appreciation of poetry and to encourage the teaching of poetry in schools nationwide. Collaborating with Mr. Pinsky on this project are the New England Foundation for the Arts, which will administer the project, and the Library of Congress, the home of the Poet Laureate. The Library is participating in the project as part of its bicentennial commemoration in the year 2000.

The Favorite Poem Project highlights two things: the new millennium, represented by the project's 1,000 audio participants; and the Library of Congress's bicentennial celebration, reflected by the project's 200 video participants. The tapes created for the project will become part of the Library of Congress's Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature.

"It will be a gift to the nation's future: an archive that may come to represent, in a form both individual and public, the collective cultural consciousness of the American people at the turn of the century," said Mr. Pinsky, a professor of English and creative writing at Boston University.

The first reading will be at 8 p.m. April 1 at Town Hall in New York. Readers include Ed Bradley, co-host of "60 Minutes," Garrison Keillor, host of "A Prairie Home Companion" and musician Suzanne Vega, in addition to New York City elementary and high school students and an adult literacy student. Press inquiries may be directed to Matthew Brogan at the Academy of American Poets, (212) 274-0343, extension 12.

"Washingtonians Read Their Favorite Poems" will be held April 2 at the Library of Congress and is expected to include members of Congress, a school principal, a police officer, several students and a cabdriver. It will begin at 6:45 p.m. in the Montpelier Room of the James Madison Memorial Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E. The reading is being organized by poet David Gewanter. The public may call (202) 707-5394 for information.

Other April Favorite Poem events, which are being co- sponsored by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, are as follows:

  • On April 8, Mr. Pinsky's fellow Bostonians will read their favorite poems at 6:30 p.m. at Boston Public Library. The reading is being organized by Favorite Poem Project Director Maggie Dietz and the New England Foundation for the Arts. For information, the press may call Ms. Dietz at (617) 353-2821.
  • On April 25, a reading organized by Witter-Bynner Fellow Carl Phillips will be held at 2 p.m. at the May Auditorium, Owens School of Business, Washington University, St. Louis.
  • On April 26, Mayor Richard J. Riordan and others will read their favorite poems at the Los Angeles Times Book Fair in Los Angeles. The reading will be held at 11 a.m. on the UCLA campus. Witter-Bynner Fellow Carol Muske is organizing the event.

Mr. Pinsky will introduce all programs except for the one in Los Angeles. Submission forms for individual participation in the recorded portion of the project will be available at the five readings. It is hoped that the recorded archives will include readers from all 50 states and people with a range of ages, occupations, backgrounds and levels of education. To represent the civic presence of poetry, Mr. Pinsky also has invited eminent Americans such as the president, members of Congress, governors and other leaders. President and Mrs. Clinton have expressed interest, and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has offered to read aloud T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."

Mr. Pinsky, who is the editorial and artistic director of the project, will select the participants. The New England Foundation for the Arts will assume responsibility for production, sponsorship and fund-raising. Boston University has donated a grant to the program to facilitate the collection and processing of submissions.

The Favorite Poem Project events in April are designed to encourage similar readings at libraries and arts organizations in cities and towns nationwide. The Center for the Book will distribute instructional packets, including submission forms, to state Centers for the Book and public libraries. For information, contact the Center for the Book at (202) 707-5221.


PR 98-045
ISSN 0731-3527