When Robert Pinsky became the 39th United States poet laureate in 1997, he realized poetry had a problem.
“There was kind of a feeling that poetry was just for academia and exclusive people and colleges,” said Norma Rees, president of the Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends. “He didn’t believe that that was true.”
Pinsky’s solution was to establish the Favorite Poem Project, which past Friends president Georgia Court brought to Chautauqua 10 years ago.
The annual event will be held at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 18, in the Hall of Philosophy.
The Favorite Poem Project aims to convene people around a shared love for poetry and its impact on their lives.
“That’s an opportunity for gardeners, readers, singers, trumpet players, staff, young people, old people to read their favorite poem to an audience from the podium of the Hall of Philosophy,” Rees said, “which is really a thrill.”
Each participant, selected by a jury of Friends, will explain what poem they chose to share, how it impacted their life and why it is an influential work.
“I think it’s really fun to invite all your friends and explain … why you’re moved by this poem,” Rees said.
The Favorite Poem Project is also an opportunity for word-lovers to present on the Hall of Philosophy stage, the site of Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Roundtables and graduation ceremonies. Participants will get to occupy the same stage as the passionate readers and writers who have presented at the Hall of Philosophy in the decades before them.
“It’s an important part of the history of Chautauqua, so it’s really historic that you get to stand up at the same podium,” Rees said.
The event even reveals some secret poetry-lovers, who find a platform to share poetry’s impact on their lives through the Favorite Poem Project. According to Rees, their speeches and stories about their connection to a poem are often much to the pleasant surprise of their families.
Rees recalled a memorable moment when she herself shared a poem on the Hall of Philosophy lectern.
An Australian native, Rees has always loved Dorothea Mackellar, the Australian fiction writer and poet. She took to the stage to read Mackellar’s “My Country,” known as a patriotic ode to the “sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains.”
“There was a connection,” Rees said.