Nobody at the Favorite Poem Project’s Summer Poetry Institute is preaching or arguing about the importance of teaching poetry in school. Nobody has to. Teachers have come from 13 states to spend the week in Boston listening to poems and poets, reading favorite poems aloud, and talking about ways to help kids in grades K-12 develop a fearless love of poetry. “Poetry is a basic human pleasure,” says poet and Boston University professor Robert Pinsky, who began the Favorite Poem Project and the Summer Institute during his term as poet laureate of the United States.
In one room, a group of high school teachers talks frankly about what has and hasn’t worked in the classroom. One describes reading aloud Juliet’s monologue after Romeo kills her cousin, and stopping after each line to ask, “What is she feeling?” and “Now what is she feeling?” as a way of encouraging close reading, and showing how poetry can help us express emotional subtlety and contradiction. Another tells of a flop that turned into a “magic moment”: an assignment to write a ghazal, an ancient Persian form. Students groaned; parents complained. But when one of the groaners read her poem in front of an audience of 2,000 people, she told the teacher afterward that it had been one of the best experiences of her life.