Poetry’s Appeal | Library Journal’s Day of Dialog

Robert Pinsky, Singing SchoolLJ’s first-ever poetry panel at Day of Dialog tackled engaging readers—by encouraging reading aloud and by making poetry accessible, not intimidating. Former U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky, Poets House‘s Reggie Harris (Poetry in the Branches), Academy of American Poets’ Jennifer Benka, Norton’s Jill Bialosky (poet, novelist, and editor), and NYPL’s Miriam Tuliao (assistant director, selection, BookOps) discussed ways to “invite readers into poetry,“ as Bialosky put it. Pinsky’s book, Singing School: Learning To Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying the Masters (Norton, Aug.), is both an entry into poetry, featuring some of his favorite poems, and a challenge to readers to create their own anthology of favorites, similar to his favorite poem project.

Stressing that there are no rules when it comes to art, Pinsky says “a poem is not a challenge to say something smart…. A poem should not ‘mean’ but ‘be.’” And if you’re having trouble understanding it, “read it aloud.”

The panelists suggested inviting local authors to read not their own works but the works of others and to invite community members to talk about, or read, poetry: Pinsky proposed Pablo Neruda in multiple languages, pairings of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes. Tuliao suggested sharing poems of love, loss, the natural world: “People want to have a deep dive into common areas of being human,” she said. And Harris said to focus on which poems “will speak to my constituents.”


One audience member questioned the difficulty of getting permission from publishers to videotape people reading poems aloud, to which Pinsky retorted, “We need to lobby” for that. “Appeal to living poets,” he said, pointing out that the copyright extension act of 1998 was designed to benefit megacorporations like Disney.

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Francine Fialkoff About Francine Fialkoff

Francine Fialkoff (ffialkoff@mediasourceinc.com) is Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.