Former U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky calls poetry "an art of the human mouth and ear and brain" in which "the medium is the reader's breath." And that love of poetry as an oral form lies at the heart of a number of programs founded to celebrate spoken verse. One is Pinsky's own Favorite Poem Project, which he co-founded during his laureateship, which ran from 1997 to 2000. The project sought to capture on video Americans from a range of backgrounds reading poems that have inspired, comforted, and emboldened them. The resulting national archive includes a Massachusetts construction worker reading Walt Whitman, a Cambodian immigrant living in California reading Langston Hughes, and a Chinese-American student in Georgia reading Emily Dickinson. Pinsky says that seeing the earliest videos collected by the project was the highlight of his term. "Best of all was realizing that the videos would be a successful, true record of the U.S. in the year 2000-through the lens of poetry!" You can view the videos and read more about the project at own favoritepoem.org. While you're at it, here are two more programs doing their part to keep poetry alive as a spoken medium.
Poetry Out Loud
Supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, Poetry Out Loud, is a nationwide recitation contest in which students memorize and perform poems. The program uses a pyramid structure in which classroom winners advance to the school level, then the regional or state level, and finally the National Finals, where they compete for awards and stipends.
Poetry in Voice
In 2010 the patron of the Ontario-based Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry, Scott Griffin, Poetry in Voice/ Les voix de la poesie, a bilingual recitation contest for high school students. Also following a pyramid structure, the new program combines the study of French and English language literature with public performance.
More Personal Poetry
From the April 2011 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!