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Americans' Favorite Poems Hardcover – Unabridged, November 1, 1999


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Americans' Favorite Poems offers keen proof that poetry does make something happen, that it can give strength and perspective, inspire and alter lives, and comfort and surprise. How did this grassroots golden anthology come about? When Robert Pinsky was named U.S. poet laureate in 1997, he hoped to persuade 100 Americans to recite and discuss their favorite works. Even he may have been surprised when thousands were moved to contribute and commune. From the wave of responses, Pinsky has selected 200 poems, each preceded by one or more testimonials. Make no mistake: this collection, ranging in alphabetical order from Ammons to Zagajewski, would be a keeper without any commentary whatsoever. But Pinsky's volume again and again makes clear that for real readers Matthew Arnold is far from outmoded, that people still thrill to Robert Browning, and that Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" is--at least for one Hollywood type--a reflection of reality rather than sublime whimsy. And how about John Donne's "The Flea"? A precocious Arizona 17-year-old deems it not a thorny metaphysical work but "the best argument for sex I've ever heard."

Fans will encounter their favorites, from Anna Akhmatova to Langston Hughes to W.B. Yeats, and read them anew in the light of people's passionate comments. But there are also discoveries to be made. A New Mexican treasures "Who Says Words with My Mouth" by the 13th-century Persian poet Jalal Al-Din Rumi: "I can't live without it and I can die with it." And this reader is grateful to one New Yorker for offering up Nazim Hikmet's "Things I Didn't Know I Loved." Twenty-four-year-old Chad Menville writes: "I identify with this poem about imprisonment, censorship, longing, and belief in oneself more than with any other poem I have read. This poem needs to be heard! Please."

Americans' Favorite Poems really is a national portrait: those who took up Pinsky's challenge range from teachers to prisoners, teenagers to nonagenarians. There are even a few artists. Violinist and conundrum merchant Laurie Anderson sent a long, complex paragraph detailing how George Herbert inspired her to create a talking table: "It compressed the sound and drove it up steel rods so that when you sat with your elbows on the table and your hands to your ears, it was like wearing a pair of powerful headphones." And when it comes to A.E. Housman, the writer William Maxwell opted for simplicity with the sentence fragment: "Because I cannot read it without shuddering with pleasure." That same phrase can be applied to the entire volume. Robert Pinsky's vision is inspiring on every level, proof of his belief in poetry--and people. --Kerry Fried

From Booklist

Poet laureate Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project was a stroke of genius. Americans were invited to share by letter a poem they treasured; then many were recorded reading their chosen poems for inclusion in a national video and audio archive. The response was tremendous, and as Pinsky notes, many of the matches between reader and poem defy stereotypes, and all attest to the vital role that poetry plays in more lives than seems possible in a country that appears to pay scant attention to this quiet art form. Here each poem is introduced in extraordinarily moving personal disclosures by the reader who chose it. Teenagers and octogenarians, a social worker, a farmer, a nurse, a truck driver, a commodities trader, a librarian, a judge, and an alcoholic who memorizes poetry to test her sobriety selected poems by Lucille Clifton, Emily Dickinson, John Keats, Haki R. Madhubuti, W. S. Merwin, Sylvia Plath, and Dylan Thomas. No one person, however well read, could have created this resounding collection, which may well become a favorite in its own right. Donna Seaman
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"Ten Windows" by Jane Hirshfield
Hirshfield explores how poetry’s world-making takes place: word by charged word. By expanding what is imaginable and sayable, Hirshfield proposes, poems expand what is possible. See more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 327 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (November 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393048209
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393048209
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #142,132 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Maggie Dietz grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin. She earned a B.A. from Northwestern University in 1995 and an M.A. from Boston University in 1997. She currently teaches in the creative writing program at Boston University and is assistant poetry editor for the online magazine Slate. For many years she directed the Favorite Poem Project, Robert Pinsky's special undertaking during his tenure as U.S. Poet Laureate, and is coeditor of three anthologies related to the project: Americans' Favorite Poems, Poems to Read, and, most recently, An Invitation to Poetry. Her awards include the Grolier Poetry Prize, and fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Phillips Exeter Academy and the NH State Council on the Arts. Her work has appeared in journals such as Poetry, Ploughshares, Agni, and Salmagundi. Her first book of poems, Perennial Fall, won the 2007 Jane Kenyon Award for Outstanding Book of Poetry.

Customer Reviews

I absolutely love poetry and this is one of the best collections I have ever read.
Megan Kilian
Americans' Favorite Poems is the result of Robert Pinsky's "Favorite Poem Project" in which he invited Americans to share their favorite poems.
doc peterson
There is a wonderful joy in seeing the tearful eye of a friend just lifted out of the ordinary to a place of deep feeling and understanding.
Larry Bauer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Larry Bauer on November 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Americans' Favorite Poems is not only a beautiful anthology of poetry but also a millennial document. The Favorite Poem Project staff under the direction of Maggie Dietz and Robert Pinsky, have gathered a sampling of poems which are meaningful to people living in America. Each selected poem was submitted with a letter revealing what that particular poem and poetry in general mean to the submitter. The selection of poetry could have stood elegantly on its own without the letters. The juxtaposition of the poems and the letters takes one on a fantastic journey of connections, separations, profound joys, tragic sorrows, awe and wonder through the human experience. I read one of the letters and its accompanying poem to a friend who was feeling a bit frazzled after a sleepless night. She sat back in a deep chair attending to the words with eyes closed. At the close of the poem she looked up. There is a wonderful joy in seeing the tearful eye of a friend just lifted out of the ordinary to a place of deep feeling and understanding.
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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 31, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I love this book, and I do not buy books of poetry, or read poetry. I began reading it on a Saturday morning, read the first 200 pages without a break. The poems are familiar, and also new, but in this book are presented with an entirely new purpose. . . .WHY THEY MATTER, WHO THEY HAVE INSPIRED AND SUPPORTED. What makes this book a rare gem are the detailed stories, written by everyone from a 6 year old to a 90 year old, of how these icons of literature have influenced individuals like ourselves, and have even changed our lives, including people who are not poetry lovers. I was moved by the details of how these poems influenced the lives of people. I never, ever, would have wanted a book of poems for Christmas. I got this one tho, and it was the best gift, really. Now I know the power of the written word in a way I could not have known before.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Rasanen on May 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book celebrates and typifies the resurgence of interest in poetry in our relentlessly digital age. It may be precisely because of the noisy pace of our technologically driven lives that poems appeal to us -- they are economical, artful, and surprising. Poems offer a few moments of thoughtful peace during which we can be with ourselves before returning to the fray. And they can be shared with others, which makes them both personal and communal. Poetry is also portable -- you can carry one on a scrap of paper that weighs next to nothing, or in a slim volume, or in your memory.
Pinsky and Dietz accomplish at least two things with this wide-ranging anthology. First, they gather together 200 poems that represent the breadth of the genre's history in many styles, voices, and themes, from Homer and other ancients up to current popular favorites like Mary Oliver and Robert Hass. Second, they give the children and women and men whose comments precede each poem the opportunity to define themselves through their response to the words, which in effect provides a picture of Americans around the turn of the millennium. This kind of self-exploration is innate to good poetry, for the best way to appreciate a poem is to engage your heart and mind with it. And your tongue -- in his book The Sounds of Poetry, Pinsky recommends reading a poem aloud (or hearing someone recite it) and listening for the cadence and the rhythm, the beauty of the sound, without worrying about the sense. You can always figure out the meaning later. For him, poetry is foremost a physical object brought into existence by the individual voice, and therefore a unique entity that cannot be duplicated, because each time it is said aloud it's different, each time created anew.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By doc peterson VINE VOICE on November 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Americans' Favorite Poems is the result of Robert Pinsky's "Favorite Poem Project" in which he invited Americans to share their favorite poems. The result is a masterpiece, as people from all walks of life, of all ages, genders and from all parts of the country share a little about the poems moves them and why. There are the old stand-bys of Walt Whitman, William Shakespeare and the like, but also a number of poets I was previously unaware of - and am pleased to have been introduced to them. (James Dickey's "The Bee", Black Elk's "Everything the Power of the world does in a circle", Nazm Hikmet's Things I Didn;t Know I Loved" to mention a few.) The poems themselves are a rich variety, given further depth and meaning from the tidbits shared by those who participated in the project. I purchased the book on a whim; I have never regretted buying it. Few books have moved me to tears or laughter, or have caused me to simply pause and reflect like this anthology has. I highly recommend it.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Being a populist poet myself, I found this collection a joy to participate in and read.This proves what I thought all along: regular joes read poetry, not just high toned academics. I hope more collection of this ilk, will result because of Pinsky's and Diet's efforts.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Robert Pinsky, the 39th Poet Laureate of the United States, founded the Favorite Poem Project. Since its inception, the Project has been dedicated to celebrating, documenting and promoting poetry's role in Americans' lives. During a one-year open call for submissions, 18,000 Americans wrote to the project volunteering to share their favorite poems - Americans from ages 5 to 97, from every state, of diverse occupations, education and backgrounds. The Project's first anthology, "Americans' Favorite Poems," consists of 200 of the submitted poems, along with readers' comments about their attachments to the poems. The selections are by poets from all over the world, poems written centuries ago alongside contemporary poems, poignantly sad poetry, as well as spiritually uplifting works, and humorous poems. Many are translations.
I found so many of my own favorites in this extraordinary collection. I was also introduced to many wonderful new poems, I might never have read. And some of the comments from the folks who submitted the poems, are as moving as the poetry itself. The book emphasizes the pure joy of reading poetry. And poetry appreciation is alive and well in America!
There is Anna Akhmatova's "The Sentence," submitted by a woman from Georgia who remembers her brother "who returned from Vietnam, a broken man of 21," when reading this poem; and Margaret Atwood's "Variation On The Word Sleep," "the most beautiful love poem I have ever read," writes a woman from Queens, NY; Lewis Carroll's "Jaberwocky" is included, with the comment, "Where else can you find a tale of danger, adventure, triumph, and jubilation - all so utterly wrapped in nonsense?
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