JU Grads to Hear U.S. Poet Laureate

Article excerpt

Traditionally, the job of poet laureate of the United States is largely honorary, meant to call attention to poetry.

But Robert Pinsky, who will deliver the keynote address at commencement ceremonies tomorrow for Jacksonville University, has been an activist poet laureate, spending the last three years on his Favorite Poem Project.

Last year the project resulted in the publication of the anthology Americans' Favorite Poems (Norton), co-edited by Pinsky and Maggie Dietz, director of the Favorite Poem Project. The book contains 200 poems, culled from a total of 17,632 nominations, with Robert Frost's The Road Less Traveled earning the distinction of most nominated poem. Poems in the book are accompanied by excerpts from 260 nominating letters.

Meanwhile, the project has begun posting online (Jacksonville.com, keyword poem) an archive of videos of people reading their favorite poems. There's one of President Clinton reading Concord Hymn by Ralph Waldo Emerson, but Clinton's prominence makes him the exception. More typical is retired anthropologist Daniel McCall reading Shakespeare's Sonnet 29; student Pov Chin reading Langston Hughes' Minstrel Man and youth baseballer Lee Samuel reading Ernest Thayer's Casey at the Bat.

In addition to being a poet, an essayist, a translator and a teacher at Boston University, Pinsky is poetry editor of the online magazine Slate.

In an e-mail interview -- his aide said he was too busy to speak but would answer e-mail questions -- Pinsky said the tremendous response to the Favorite Poem Project confirmed his belief that, conventional wisdom to the contrary, poetry continues to play "a very significant role . . . in American lives."

In fact, in a society that becomes increasingly technical and impersonal, poetry's meaning increases, he said. "The pleasure and admiration for the mass arts, I believe, creates an appetite, in reaction, for a kind of art that is personal and individual in scale. …