This anthology embodies Robert Pinsky's commitment to discover America's beloved poems, his special undertaking as Poet Laureate of the United States.The selections in this anthology were chosen form the personal letters of thousands of Americans who responded to Robert Pinsky's invitation to write to him about their favorite poems. Some poems are memories treasured in the mind since childhood; some crystallize the passion of love or recall the trail of loss and sorrow. The poems and poets in this anthology—from Sappho to Lorca, from Shakespeare and Chaucer to Gwendolyn Brooks, Louise Bluck, and Allen Ginsberg—are poems to be read aloud and memorized, poems to be celebrated as part of our nation's cultural inheritance. Accompanying the poems are comments by people who speak not as professional critics but as passionate readers of various ages, professions and regions. This anthology, in a manner unlike any other, discloses the rich and vigorous presence of poetry in American life at the millennium and provides a portrait of the United States through the lens of poetry.
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