Poetry in America


Poetry in America gathers distinguished interpreters from all walks of life to explore and debate 12 unforgettable American poems. Athletes, poets, politicians, musicians, architects, scientists, actors, entrepreneurs, and citizens of all ages join together with host and Harvard professor Elisa New to experience and share the power of poetry.

Find out more at the series' website.

  • Fast Break

    Edward Hirsch's poem "Fast Break" captures a single slow-motion play on a basketball court. In this video excerpted from Poetry in America, join Hirsch, host Elisa New, NBA players Shaquille O'Neal, Pau Gasol, and Shane Battier, and a group of pick-up basketball players as they use basketball to understand poetry—and poetry to better understand the game of basketball. Hirsch himself reveals how he shaped his couplets to represent offense and defense, teamwork and rivalry, enduring friendship and human mortality. Shaquille does the play by play, heading this episode's team of on-court interpreters who explore "Fast Break" as sport, art, and lens on human character. This resource is part of the Poetry in America Collection.

    Find out more at the series' website.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Harlem

    "What happens to a dream deferred?" Langston Hughes question calls former President Bill Clinton, pianist and composer Herbie Hancock, poet Sonia Sanchez, and students from the Harlem Children's Zone to interpret Hughes' most iconic poem, "Harlem," in this video excerpted from Poetry in America. Together with host Elisa New, the President and other guests explore the poem's rhythms and rhymes, interpret its images, and discuss its enduring call for justice. This resource is part of the Poetry in America Collection.

    Find out more at the series' website.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Hymmnn and Hum Bom!

    Although we think of a poem as something read from a book, poet Allen Ginsberg knew that poetry's power did not depend upon print, and he drew on the traditions of religious and ritual communities in writing verse that would elevate the spirit and knit together community. Joined by rock star Bono and US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, host Elisa New reads and explores Allen Ginsberg's anti-war chant "Hum Bom!" in this video excerpted from Poetry in America. This resource is part of the Poetry in America Collection.

    Find out more at the series' website.

    Grades: 6-12
  • I cannot dance opon my toes

    "I cannot dance opon my Toes," Emily Dickinson writes"no man instructed me." Still, Dickinson makes the white page of the poem her performance space. In this video excerpted from Poetry in America, an ensemble of interpreters do not only discussthey also act, play and dancetheir interpretations of Dickinson's ravishing ballet-themed poem. Join actor, Cynthia Nixon, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, dancer and choreographer Jill Johnson, poet Marie Howe, and host Elisa New in an exploration of the challenges of art, and the price of audience, across time, space, and artistic medium. This resource is part of the Poetry in America Collection.

    Find out more at the series' website.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Musée des Beaux Arts

    In this video excerpted from Poetry in America, ponder W.H. Auden's World War II era reflections on suffering in "Musée des Beaux Arts" with Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, with journalist and ethicist David Brooks, with poet, professor, and painter Peter Sacks, and with host Elisa New. How are ordinary people to regard, and respond to, suffering they have not caused? Who can help us find the way? The statesman, the journalist, the poet, the painter? This resource is part of the Poetry in America Collection.

    Find out more at the series' website.

    Grades: 6-12
  • N.Y. State of Mind

    Multi-platinum hip hop artist Nas has a global reputation as one of the greatest emcees and lyricists in his contemporary art form—but what about within the history—and canon—of American poetry? Learn alongside host Elisa New as Nas, music executive Steve Stoute, scholar Salamishah Tillett, and a chorus of hip hop heads, rappers, and fans break down the breakbeats and rhymes—and explore the searing vision—of Nas’s iconic track “N.Y. State of Mind.” In this video excerpted from Poetry in America, New and guests herald the transformation of America’s long tradition of urban verse by hip hop artists, and they affirm Nas as the standard bearer for contemporary poetry of the street. This resource is part of the Poetry in America Collection.

    Find out more at the series' website.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Shirt

    What is a cherished garment made of? What is a poem made of? Labor and raw materials, tradition and innovation, influences both local and global, and art are stitched into both. In this video excerpted from Poetry in America, host Elisa New catches up with fashion designer Johnson Hartig, Bergdorf Goodman's Betty Halbreich, shoe designer Stuart Weitzman, and design and poetry students from the New School at New York Fashion Week to discuss Robert Pinsky's "Shirt." Back in Boston, Pinsky helps trace the intricate history of the garment and the poem. This resource is part of the Poetry in America Collection.

    Find out more at the series' website.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Skyscraper

    Travel back to 1914 when Chicago's skyscrapers and Chicago's poets were defining modernist reach and audacity. In this video excerpted from Poetry in America, host Elisa New considers the rise of the skyscraper—and the emergence of the modernist poem—in an episode featuring celebrated architect Frank Gehry, Chinese visionary and real estate developer Zhang Xin, poet Robert Polito, and student poets from around the United States. And what about today? Can a building, as Sandburg asserts, have "soul," and who gives it that soul? This resource is part of the Poetry in America Collection.

    Find out more at the series' website.

    Grades: 6-12
  • The Gray Heron

    How is the poet's eye like—or unlike—that of the scientist, the photographer, or of the small child first rambling around the natural world? In this environmentally-themed, visually splendid video excerpted from Poetry in America, host Elisa New is joined by evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson, poet Robert Hass, environmental photographer Laura McPhee, naturalist Joel Wagner, and kids at a Mass Audubon summer camp on Cape Cod in a wide ranging discussion of Galway Kinnell's "The Gray Heron." Kinnell's brief glimpse of a heron delivers us back into the history of science and the history of photography—but into humor and error, magic and wonder, as well. This resource is part of the Poetry in America Collection.

    Find out more at the series' website.

    Grades: 6-12
  • The New Colossus

    While "The New Colossus" once welcomed immigrants into New York Harbor from its perch on the Statue of Liberty, this video excerpted from Poetry in America brings the discussion of poetry and immigration into our current moment. Host Elisa New rediscovers the freshness and the still-potent charge of Emma Lazarus' iconic sonnet alongside singer-songwriter Regina Spektor, activist and founder of the United We Dream Foundation Cristina Jiménez, President of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten, financier and philanthropist David Rubenstein, and poet Duy Doan. This video contemplates the physical—and figurativejourneys charted by all immigrants. This resource is part of the Poetry in America Collection.

    Find out more at the series' website.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Those Winter Sundays

    Robert Hayden's sonnet "Those Winter Sundays" offers a meditation on the fraught love between fathers and sons. Conjuring Depression-era industrial Detroit and the struggles of early 20th-century African Americans, the poem's universality makes it one of the most beloved poems in the American canon. In this video excerpted from Poetry in America, Vice President Joe Biden, Inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander, psychologist Angela Duckworth, and host Elisa New join a chorus of working fathers and sons to reflect on Hayden's moving poem. This resource is part of the Poetry in America Collection.

    Find out more at the series' website.

    Grades: 6-12
  • To Prisoners

    Lyric poetry carries the expression of the solitary human voice. Does it then follow that solitary confinement is a school for great poetry? This video excerpted from Poetry in America brings together a group of interpreters who learned in prison to hear poetry's "call." Learn from Senator John McCain, playwright and activist Anna Deavere Smith, poets Reginald Dwayne Betts and Li-Young Lee, host Elisa New, and four exonerated prisoners about poetry's special resonance for those behind bars. This resource is part of the Poetry in America Collection.

    Find out more at the series' website.

    Grades: 6-12

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