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This review is taken from PN Review 135, Volume 27 Number 1, September - October 2000.

IS POETRY BETTER THAN PROZAC? Americans' Favorite Poems. The Favorite Poem Project Anthology, edited by Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz (W.W. Norton) $25.00

If you ask someone about a novel, they'll talk about the plot; if you ask someone about a poem, they'll talk about themselves. This truism is borne out by Americans' Favorite Poems, edited by the American Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz, the director of the Favorite Poem Project (available at

These are conflicted times for Laureates as they try to navigate between high and popular culture while also satisfying the various constituencies who are nominally interested in what they do. So you have to forgive them if they occasionally babble on about Bob Dylan's versification or snap under the pressure when some congressman asks them to produce a poem on demand to commemorate Richard Nixon's death. In America the general problem of what a Laureate's to do is compounded by a continual suspicion about public funding for the arts. Since writers and artists have no battalions, and are constantly threatened by watchdogs sniffing out campaign issues from the award of a grant to some 'deviant' artist, they are especially in need of the public's good will. In the Favorite Poem Project, Pinsky, then, has come up with a sensible and laudable way to proselytize for poetry, doing good work while also justifying his public position. For the last several years he has organized and participated in a series of readings across the country where 'ordinary' Americans read their favourite poem and then offer some brief comments. He has also solicited readings from the public ...

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