OK, Poetry Lovers, Speak into the Mike

Article excerpt

Somewhere on my book shelves is a falling-to-pieces,

secondhand volume titled 100 Best-Loved Poems of the American


But Robert Pinsky wants an update.

Pinsky just started his job as America's poet laureate this

month at the Library of Congress. One of his first assignments

will be to recruit 100 Americans from all walks of life to pick

their favorite poem and read it aloud.

The Library of Congress will make both audiotapes and

videotapes for posterity.

According to an Associated Press story, Pinsky wants the tapes

to be "a record, at the end of the century, of what we choose,

and what we do with our voices and faces, when asked to say

aloud a poem that we love."

What a great idea, I thought initially.

Then another poet pointed out,"You might get lots of votes for

The Purple Cow. "

Or Green Eggs and Ham, a second writer suggested.

I can quote both those poems with fervor, but I'm not sure

that's what I want as "a record, at the end of the century, of

what we choose."

Anyway, Gelett Burgess would not be happy at the prospect. He

later composed this ditty: "Ah yes! I wrote the Purple Cow! /

I'm sorry now I wrote it./ But I can tell you anyhow,/ I'll kill

you if you quote it!"

That didn't stop folks from quoting it to me in the hallways

and cubicles of the newsroom, but there were lots of other

quotations being bandied about as well, many accompanied by

dramatic flourishes.

Sara Teasdale and Bob Dylan and Ezra Pound and Lord Byron and

Robert Frost and Rita Dove and John Greenleaf Whittier and Maya


I'm sure you have favorites of your own, and, in fact, I want

you to send them to me. We probably can't come up with 100

responses, but maybe we'll have a list of "20 Best-Loved Poems

of Jacksonville Readers."

I'll go first.

Or, um, maybe not.

The prospect is so intimidating, picking just one single

solitary poem by which one's taste, education and panache may be


I imagine sophisticated readers rolling their eyes and saying,

"Sheesh, what an obvious, predictable choice."

Or, alternatively, "What! No Shakespeare!?!"

No single poem can stand up to that kind of judgment. I figure

if David Letterman gets to have a Top 10, so can I. They are:

10. …


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