Local Favorite Poem readings allow diverse members of a single community to come together for an afternoon or evening to share unique, personal treasures: the poems they love. We have documented nearly 1,000 Favorite Poem readings across the United States. Invariably, the readings contribute to a convivial community spirit. Many schools and libraries have made Favorite Poem readings annual events.
The project staff has offered suggestions to people planning readings at large-city book stores, small-town libraries, elementary and high schools, even birthday and anniversary parties. Below, you'll find our best advice. (If you're planning a reading at a grade school or high school be sure to check out the suggestions for readings in schools.)
The planning required for the reading will depend upon how you design the event. You may decide to host a casual event: an "open mic" occasion with people signing up to read just before you get started. If you choose to do a low-key reading, you might want to have an open sign-up some weeks before the event, on a first-come first-served basis. That way, the readers will be prepared ahead of time—and they'll be less likely to break the rule about not reading their own poems.
More formal events tend to go better, but they take more planning. A carefully produced community event involves a selection process. You should start planning about six to eight weeks before the scheduled date, so that you can solicit and select readers. Such events have the advantage of ensuring an exciting variety of readers and poems. Your early publicity can ask people from your community to send you their favorite poems, along with a brief statement about the poems' significance in their lives. You or your staff will make the selections for your event and will extend invitations to those selected. You may decide to ask a local poet to help you make selections. Fifteen is a good number of readers. Of that number, perhaps three or four—or more, if you choose—may be prominent people in your community.
A broad range of readers, from school children to elected officials, makes for a lively event. You may solicit readers from schools, religious and civic organizations, programs such as Poets-in-the-Schools, etc. A variety of backgrounds, languages other than English, different kinds of education and profession, all add variety and interest.
Because Robert Pinsky is interested in the civic presence of poetry, he's included some eminent Americans in the Favorite Poem Project's recorded archives: former President and Mrs. Clinton, Georgia Supreme Court Justice Leah Ward Sears, Boston's Reverend Michael Haynes. Local Favorite Poem readings have featured many public figures: the governors of Maine and Iowa, the mayors of Los Angeles and Saint Louis, and senators from several states. However you proceed with your event, it's worthwhile to invite some civic figures from your community to participate—the mayor, an alderman, the president of a local college or university, a philanthropist or community leader.
The only rule for an event affiliated with the Favorite Poem Project is that poems recited are NOT poems the readers or their friends or relatives have written—but, rather poems they have read, perhaps many times, and to which they feel a personal attachment. Poems, for example, from the great history of American poetry, perhaps by Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes or Gwendolyn Brooks, Wallace Stevens or Robert Frost. A reader might also choose Robert Browning or William Shakespeare—or a poem written in another language, along with an English translation. At various readings, we've heard poems in Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, Yiddish, Vietnamese and other languages.
How you plan and organize the reading should be consistent with your interests and resources. Here are the steps we suggest:
The readings Robert Pinsky has hosted have been unique and inspiring. People tend to leave these events thinking, often audibly, about what poems they would choose. After many successful readings, we've learned a few things. Here are a few of them:
A community Favorite Poem reading contributes to the Favorite Poem Project by extending the project's legacy to new people and places. If you decide to host a reading in your community, please let us know by email.
It's not necessary that you audio- or video-tape your event for us, though you may decide to tape the event for your own records or enjoyment. Many communities have taped readings to create a local archive, and some community events have been broadcast on local cable stations.
We're always glad to see press clippings and programs, or to receive letters from event organizers and participants. Please let us know how it went!
If you have specific, detailed questions about planning an event, contact the project staff by email (email@example.com), phone (617-353-2821) or at Favorite Poem Project, Boston University, 236 Bay State Road Boston, MA 02215
The Favorite Poem Project encourages public libraries to get involved by organizing “Favorite Poem” reading events in their communities.
A few years ago, the Favorite Poem Project sent "Strengthening Communities through the Art of Poetry" kits to 1,400 small and rural libraries across the United States and to 43 State Centers for the Book. The distribution of these kits, which include a selection of FPP videos, a copy of the project anthology Americans' Favorite Poems, and an event programming guide, was made possible by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The libraries that received the kits serve small populations and have shown interest in public programming or demonstrated a need for materials. The project owes thanks to the American Library Association and the Library of Congress for helping to select recipient libraries.
The project has a limited number of the “Strengthening Communities through the Art of Poetry” kits available for free—on a first-come, first-served basis—to public libraries. If you work for a public library and wish to receive a kit, please contact us.
The project has received deeply valued support through contributions from individual donors. To make a tax deductible contribution to the project, send a check or money order made out to FAVORITE POEM PROJECT to:
The Favorite Poem Project
236 Bay State Road
Boston, MA 02215
You will receive a receipt for your contribution. We are grateful for a gift in any amount, and sincerely appreciate private, individual support of our programs.
Founder and Editor-in-Chief
Questions or comments about the Favorite Poem Project or news of Favorite Poem events can be sent by post, phone, or by email.
The Favorite Poem Project
236 Bay State Road
Boston, MA 02215
Because the Favorite Poem Project has completed its main goals — creating the anthologies and videos — we have decided to close our database to new entries. However, if you have a poem you love, and a story you'd like to tell about your personal connection to that poem, we'd be happy to hear from you by email. Thank you to all of you who contributed to the project during its active programming! In all, we collected nearly 25,000 letters from Americans from every state and of diverse ages and occupations.