WASHINGTON — Billy Collins, the nation's new poet laureate, came up with a plan Friday for getting young people interested in poetry: Have someone read out a poem a day in high schools.
His "Poetry 180" will come up with 180 poems, one for each day of a school year. The first 64 are published on Collins' new Web site, with the rest promised as he obtains the permission of poets and publishers.
Most will be works by American poets, poems that, like Collins', are easy to understand on first reading. But a little note of explanation will be added to some with a recommendation that it be read before the poem itself.
Tops on his list is his own "Introduction to Poetry," though Collins insists that the poems need not be read in any particular order. It's an introduction with a slightly pessimistic note:
"I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide . . .
"But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it."
Torture is not necessary, he suggested in a statement.
"Hearing a poem every day," he suggested, "especially well-written contemporary poems that students do not have to analyze, might convince students that poetry can be an understandable, painless and even eye-opening part of their everyday experience." Collins takes an easygoing attitude toward who should read the poems — a student, teacher, administrator. It's not necessary for the students to discuss it, he says, unless they want to. But he offers advice on how a poem should be read aloud: slowly, in a normal voice, with a little advance study and recourse to a dictionary for unfamiliar words.
One of Collins' predecessors, Robert Pinsky, also had a plan for popularizing poetry. He got a sample of Americans, including former President Clinton, to choose a favorite poem. He published the collection in a book and got those who chose them to read them in public and occasionally on TV, where he continues to make appearances of his own.
The poet laureate is chosen for a one-year term by the librarian of Congress. The laureate gets $35,000 in salary, an office in Washington and few duties except to give readings. Collins began doing that last month.
On the Net: Collins' Poetry 180 page: www.loc.gov/poetry/180