"Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat," said Robert Frost, who read at John F. Kennedy's inauguration. Until very recently, from the plazas of ancient Greece to the pubs of Ireland, appreciating poetry was considered a critical part of being a cultured man. In fact, if it seems as though the poetry tradition has been displaced from daily life in America, it might be more accurate to note that it's just been transformed – set to a beat – by the rise of popular music, from Dylan to hip-hop.
Richard Blanco, author of an original poem for President Obama's second inauguration ("One Today"), says it's up to educators to make the act of reading a poem appealing again. Most people he meets, he says, can cite an example of a "difficult" poem they were obliged to read in class that put them off the form for good.
"If you see a bad movie, you don't say, 'I'm never going to see another movie again,'" he says. "There's poetry I can't stomach, but it's a chorus of voices that make art." Here are a few of Blanco's favorite poets, and why they're worth reading.
Many observers commented on the Whitmanesque quality of "One Today" – the way the writer seemed to sweep the entire country with his gaze. In fact, he says, he had to shed his youthful dependence on Whitman and William Wordsworth to discover his own abilities as a poet. "I was trying to write like other people," he recalls. "Suddenly I realized what I really care about" – his own sense of what it means to call a place "home." Which, of course, was a distinct quality of Whitman's poetry, too.
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