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Constance Alexander: With so much division in our society today, can poetry really unite America?


Probably not

but it gives you

something to think

about. Just a day ago I

asked Facebook friends to name

their favorite poems. They swarmed

in like horseflies — agile, biting, high on

sweet nectar of the madness we call poetry

Poetry Unites America, an unscripted documentary film series, is based on the premise that sharing the poetry we love most can bring us together in these days of political, racial, religious, and cultural division. Two thirty-minute episodes – New York and Kansas — have already been produced. Kentucky is next.

Kentucky Poet Laureate, Jeff Worley, is encouraging Kentuckians to participate in the project and write about their favorite poems in 600 words or less by September 15. Eight finalists will be selected to appear on a 30-minute episode titled Poetry Unites Kentucky, talking about their favorite poem and its importance in their lives.

With the project in mind, I asked Facebook friends to identify their favorite poems. In a few hours, nearly one hundred suggestions swooped in. Just reading the list offers hope in the possibility of poetry to unite us.

”Hope” by the way, can be defined as: ”The thing with feathers/ That perches in the soul” – according to Emily Dickinson’s poem– one of the faves of several who responded on FB.

Not surprisingly, Kentucky poets topped some lists. Jesse Stuart’s ”Kentucky is My Land” and Robert Penn Warren’s ”When Life Begins” were top choices, along with three by Wendell Berry, ”The Peace of Wild Things,” ”Reverdure,” and ”Manifesto: The Mad Farmer, Liberation Front.”

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

Mary Oliver, American poet described by the New York Times as ”far and away, this country’s best-selling poet” was another popular choice with ”In Blackwater Woods,” ”Wild Geese,” and ”The Summer Day.”

Robert Frost achieved poetic pinnacles with ”The Road Not Taken” and ”Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Other treasures from high school English classes were ”Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ”What happens to a dream deferred?” by Langston Hughes, and William Wordsworth’s ”I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.”

No list of best-loved poems would be complete without Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s, ”How Do I Love Thee?” and Keats’ ”Ode to a Nightingale.” One of my own top ten, ”Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold, took a bow with its stunning first line: ”The sea is calm tonight…”

Some of the more challenging cherished poems posted were by William Butler Yeats’ ”Easter, 1916,” and ”The Song of Wandering Aengus,” along with Wallace Stevens’ ”Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour,” ”The Snowman,” and ”Sunday Morning.”

Lesser known but no less adored poems were Charles Bukowski’s ”Bumming with Jane,” and Murray State University’s own Pamela Johnson Parker’s ”78 RPM.” One I never heard of before was ”Astrophil and Stella – Psalm 45,” by Sir Philip Sydney, who died in England in 1586. During his lifetime, Sir Philip considered himself a statesman and a warrior, but today it is his writing that keeps his name alive.

The most obscure suggestion, but one of the most memorable, — “Liberte” by Paul Eludard –showed up in French, with translation compliments of Wikipedia:

Sur mes cahiers d’écolier — On my notebooks
Sur mon pupitre et les arbres — On my desk and the trees
Sur le sable sur la neige — On the sand on the snow
J’écris ton nom. — I write your name.

There were too many poems to name every single one, but see if you can match the poem and poet on the left side of the chart, with its first line or lines on the right. (Correct answers are at the end of this article.)

Whether readers get 100% on the quiz or not, they may still be inspired to participate in Poetry Unites Kentucky. There is no cost to enter and essays should be 600 words or less. The deadline is Sept. 15. Submit entries to poetryunites@gmail.com, or call 917-774-8834.

Director and producer of the project, Ewa Zadrzynska, says that Poetry Unites America, ”Celebrates the harmonizing power of poetry and introduces the medium as an instrument of mutual understanding in the world. The goal is,” she went on, ”to unite, promoting poetry and poetry readers in the hope that their enthusiasm will be contagious to others.”

Correct answers to the quiz are: 1H, 2C, 3J, 4A, 5I, 6G, 7D, 8F, 9E, 10B


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