Asking students, as the Favorite Poem Project asks people in general, to read poems aloud and say something personal about them demonstrates that those processes can be joyous, rather than intimidating or dry. To say a poem aloud fills a natural appetite, stimulated by a pleasurable, moving experience of the poem.
There are different approaches to organizing a Favorite Poem reading, but the goal remains the same: autonomous, individual connection with a work of art, and the ability to communicate that connection by speaking the poem in one's own voice and by saying something about it in one's own words.
Favorite Poem readings tend to create an atmosphere of respect and attention, as students listen to their peers share poems that mean something to them. The format for a reading within a single classroom is simple: each student reads a poem and says a few sentences about why this particular poem is important as a personal choice. (Our advice is to rule out written statements or notes: the only piece of paper allowed would be the text of the poem itself.) It may seem risky, but our inclination is to allow all sorts of material: song lyrics, nursery rhymes, anything that has found its way into print. If the student chooses to start with the words of a silly songeven in a defiant or teasing spiritthe requirement to say something to one's peers about the importance of the choice can lead to the fulfillment of the educational goal.
For the students' in-class reading, photocopies can be useful, but there is much to be gained from careful listening, with no text to rely on, and for welcoming the idea that a poem or parts of a poem can be heard over again, the way one plays or sings a favorite song more than once.
The anthology assignment (detailed elsewhere in this guide) is good preparation for a Favorite Poem reading, perhaps at the end of the term, with students choosing one poem from their collection to share with the rest of the class. It may be beneficial to have a Favorite Poem reading early in the term, and then again toward the end, with students choosing a different poem each time. Perhaps their tastes or interests will have changed over the course of the semester. Another option would be to begin each class with one or two students presenting a favorite poem.
A more ambitious step, beyond an in-class Favorite Poem reading, would be to organize an evening event inviting others from the university community to participateseveral students, the high school pricipal or university president, custodial staff, administrators, professors of various subjects, maybe a coach. Another approach would be to extend the reach even further, finding readers from the broader community, the city or towna mayor or alderman, a grade school student, a radio or TV personality, a doctor or banker or librarian. Students might get involved in tracking down readers and helping put such an event together. Many schools, colleges and universities have presented events of this kind, with wonderful results.
By involving the school community, or reaching out to the broader community, a Favorite Poem reading can help build important ties between a school and the community that supports or contains the school. For more information about planning an event that involves the community, visit www.favoritepoem.org/getInvolved.html. These readings demonstrate that poetry is part of life as well as an object for study. They create the opportunity to learn something more about poetry from people who take pleasure in itnot only or primarily scholars or poets, but anyone who loves a poem.
Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz
Below are additional, specific ideas for a variety of school events, designed by teachers who've written to us about their successes:
Getting Ready: A Year-Long
Community Poetry Day
Favorite Poem Project Assembly
Poetry Lesson to Favorite Poem Event
Seeking People's Stories
Poetry on the PA
The "Guess-Whose Favorite" Bulletin Board
Family Poetry Night
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