Sunday, May 22, 2005
Poetry on NPR
This morning there was an interesting story about Poetry magazine and its Ruth Lily endowment, on NPR's Weekend edition. One of the issues brought up was about how the board of Poetry decided not to use the endowment for monetary awards to individual poets; instead they chose to use the money to increase the "audience" for poetry. Of the projects started so far: a research study to learn about America's poetry reading habits; and a program to have children once again learn to memorize poems in school, in a format almost like that of a spelling bee contest. Philip Levine (?) was interviewed saying how awful he thought it was that children would have to learn to memorize poems again; but I do not agree at all. Done well, memorizing a favorite poem is a fantastic way to make it a part of you. My partner Dean, who is not a poet but still enjoys reading poetry, still fondly remembers Robert Frost poems that he memorized in grade school, and can still recite them word for word! I wish I had the memorizing of poetry as part of my early education (we were made to memorize state capitals and multiplication tables, why not a poem?). As it turns out, it wasn't until my first year of college that my first literature professor had us all memorize the prologue of The Canterbury Tales. It has stayed with me ever since; I try to memorize a new poem once a year or so (but it gets harder as you get older to keep the new ones: there is only so much room left in the brain!). I can't think of a better way to get younger students to care about and really understand poetry again. My only concern is how the poems would be chosen. Would it be contemporary poems, or poems from the "canon?" Who decides who will be this generation's Frost or Dickinson or Auden? Does it matter?