Favorite Poems

The Poetry Institute Supports The Favorite Poem Project!

This year’s Favorite Poem Project Reading at The Poetry Institute is in June!

It’s not to early to search for your favorite poem!

Here at the Poetry Institute we are BIG fans of the Favorite Poem Project.

What is it you ask?* The Favorite Poem Project is dedicated to celebrating, documenting and encouraging poetry’s role in Americans’ lives. Robert Pinsky, the 39th Poet Laureate of the United States, founded the Favorite Poem Project shortly after the Library of Congress appointed him to the post in 1997.

Robert Pinsky believes that poetry is a vocal art, an art meant to be read aloud. “If a poem is written well, it was written with a poet’s voice and for a voice,” he says. “Reading a poem silently instead of saying a poem is like the difference between staring at sheet music or actually humming or playing the music on an instrument.”

Well then How can organizers of an Open Mic disagree?

  • Maybe it’s your first time reading in public that inspires you to bring a favorite poem
  • Maybe you just aren’t ready to share your own work —
  • Maybe you are an experienced Open Mic participant but think another poem more suitable for the month because of recent events and what the poem means to you.

Whatever your reason, please feel free to read a Favorite Poem of yours, citing the author of course, at our Open Mic.

Don’t have a Favorite Poem yet? Below are some links that might prove useful in finding one.  Take a look and be prepared.  We dedicate one Feature each year to the audience reading their Favorite Poems after the Open Mike.

Feel free to share your favorite poems in comments below. Tell us why it’s one of your favorite poems. (Please respect copyright restrictions and give authors and websites appropriate credit).

*text in these paragraphs courtesy of The Favorite Poem Project Website


6 thoughts on “Favorite Poems

  1. Elizabeth Cleary

    Since today is Sunday February 14th (Valentine’s Day) I offer this poem:

    The Look by Sara Teasdale

    It’s one of the first poems I remember reading when I was young. Back then I loved the reference to the birds. As an adult, I am drawn to the sense of regret over lost opportunity that it evokes. What makes it even more special to me is how few words it took to create this immediacy of feeling.

  2. poetryinstitute Post author

    On February 13th, 2010 Lucille Clifton passed away after a long battle with cancer. She was 73. She was a poet.

    It is small homage given the wonderful gifts she’s provided the poetry community but I thought I might share a favorite poem. While I can think of many personal favorites by Lucille Clifton, ‘Sorrows’ seems the most appropriate given her passing. http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20588

    Poets.org has information about Lucille Clifton and other poems you might like to view. http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/79

    ‘Who would believe them winged” indeed. Ms Clifton, Thank you for sharing your poems with us. You will be missed.

  3. poetryinstitute Post author

    Thanks to everyone who participated in our 2010 Favorite Poem Project Reading.

    Here is a sampling of Sharon Olson’s poem selection from the evening along with her bio and her introductory comments on why these poems mean so much to her.

    Sharon Olson is a retired librarian and active poet, a native Californian who moved to Guilford, Connecticut, in 2008. Her full-length book of poems, The Long Night of Flying, was published by Sixteen Rivers Press in 2006. Her work has appeared most recently in Arroyo Literary Review, Crab Orchard Review, U.S. 1 Worksheets, and The Sand Hill Review.


    The 3 favorite poems Sharon talked about were:

    My taste in poetry is a little like my taste in interior decoration, and it’s very changeable. Sometimes I prefer chintz and cabbage roses and other times I’m all for Swedish pine cabinets and sturdy chairs. I am consistently drawn, however, to poems with a confident, trustworthy voice, even though that voice might be travelling down a surreal path. I might even consider myself a left-brain poet, slightly analytical and objective. I find it interesting that Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive, and William Carlos Williams a medical doctor, and Miroslav Holub, my first favorite poet, an internationally respected scientist from the former Czechoslovakia. Here is his poem entitled “Wings.”

    “Wings” by Miroslav Holub. Here’s a link to the poem: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=181466

    My life as a young woman was full of ill-advised entanglements. In my “objective state” I recognized that the state of being “in love” was often an enticement to duck out of the real world entirely, leave one’s friends, spend time only with the beloved, coming up for air only when one had to, but once in the romantic mode, it was hard to find the switch that would turn a person back to normal. I have always found David Ignatow’s poem “Rescue the Dead” a wry view of this helpless state we have all found ourselves in from time to time.

    “Rescue the Dead” by David Ignatow. Here’s a link to the poem: http://www.webdelsol.com/ignatow/di-2.htm

    My third favorite poem was one I shared on the stage last year at the Festival of Arts and Ideas, as it was one of the ones selected to be performed as part of Robert Pinsky’s Favorite Poem Project. I told the audience how I had just met the man I would later marry, and had then left on a long vacation. It was the fourth of July and I could hear fireworks in the distance. I had brought along with me Adam Zagajewski’s book Canvas. I opened it to the first poem, “Lullaby.” The poem seemed prophetic, as if I were somehow destined to read that poem that night.

    “Lullaby” by Adam Zagajewski. Here’s a link to the poem: http://articles.latimes.com/1997/nov/02/books/bk-49200

  4. poetryinstitute Post author

    Monica Reed also participated in this year’s Favorite Poem Panel. We were immediately drawn into her selection with …

    Strawberry (by Paisley Rekdal)
    I am going to fail.
    I’m going to fail cartilage and plastic, camera and arrow.
    I’m going to fail binoculars and conjugations,
    all the accompanying musics: I am failing,
    I must fail, I can fail, I have failed
    the way some women throw themselves
    into lover’s arms or out trains,
    fingers crossed and skirts billowing
    behind them….

    for the rest of this poem check out http://weekendamerica.publicradio.org/programs/2007/04/21/paisley_rekdal_reads.html

    Monica commented: “For me, poetry that is beautiful is poetry that makes us brave, that instills in us another view of the world, particularly of our greatest fears – to see them not just as conquerable, but bountiful, if we would just allow ourselves that reward. This is by Paisley Rekdal, of “The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee” as well as three books of poetry.”

    For her next selection, she read Advice by Suzanne Wise and added: “I consider this poem an anthem for progress. It by Brooklyn poet Suzanne Wise, author of Kingdom of the Subjunctive.”

    Advice by Suzanne Wise (excerpt)
    It is time for you to stop trying to be so smart.
    It is time to abandon those plans for aqueducts,
    canals, sewers. It is time to burn your boats,
    to jump into the next free dingy, to run
    yourself aground on foreign land. It is time
    to smash every inhibition on the shores of progress….


    And finally, Monica shared: “When I ask myself why one would give up all of one’s time, comfort, and sanity to the creative struggle, I find myself coming back to this poem by the Chinese poet Shu Ting (b.1952). This female factory worker from the Fujian province, emerged out of the Cultural revolution as one of China’s best-known contemporary poets. This poem “Perhaps” is translated by Carolyn Kizer.”

    Perhaps . . .(excerpt)
    for the loneliness of an author

    Perhaps these thoughts of ours
    will never find an audience
    Perhaps the mistaken road
    will end in a mistake
    Perhaps the lamps we light one at a time
    will be blown out one at a time…..

    For more information on Carolyn Kizer read: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poet.html?id=3779

    What a great selection! Thanks for sharing these Monica!

  5. Robert Berner

    The three “favorite poems” I featured at last month’s reading were Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “The penny candystore beyond the el,” Lawson F. Inada’s “The Shovel People,” and a poem by an old grad school podner of mine, David Adams, called “The Great Maumee Cattle Drive,” a funny poem about a dream Adams had in which another grad school podner of ours, Ron Johnson, was the ramrod on a drive up the Maumee River Valley to Toledo, Ohio. But this is a drive with a twist. Here’s the poem.

    for Ron Johnson

    last night the old film, Red River,
    came into my dream.
    the silhouette at first light,
    high on a bluff, the worn hero,
    the steady steed.
    the herd below, a dark mass
    milling, murmuring.
    only as the light grows
    do i understand.

    It’s you Johnson!
    and the Maumee outside Napoleon!
    and in the growing sun
    the gold flash of eyes.
    they’re cats! two thousand head, at least,
    purring, their fur electric in the dawn….
    by David Adams


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