Chautauquans to share favorite poems in Hall of Philosophy

Katie McLean | Daily file photo
Michelle Strelioff and Farrah Walji discuss poems they selected for the 2013 Pinsky Favorite Poem Project. This year’s event is at 4 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy.

The garbage man, the sales clerk at Macy’s and Chautauquans. They all have something in common: a favorite poem.

“They do — it’s embedded right there in their brains,” said Georgia Court, a member of the Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends.

And at 4 p.m. today, 17 Chautauquans will get the chance to share those favorite poems at the Hall of Philosophy as part of the Pinsky Favorite Poem Project. Each reader will read their favorite poem and then briefly share why it is meaningful to them.

The project was founded by poet laureate Robert Pinsky in 2000, and Court helped establish its presence on the grounds at Chautauqua when Pinsky was a Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle author in 2009.

“This’ll be our sixth year doing it here at Chautauqua,” Court said. She called the Favorite Poem Project Pinsky’s “brainchild.”

“His notion was that everybody has a poem they love, even if you stop a stranger on the street,” Court said. “You say, ‘What’s your favorite poem?’ They’re going to look at you funny, and say, ‘Huh? Me?’ And then, they’ll think about it for a minute. They’ll say, ‘You know, my girlfriend used to read this poem to me when we were first dating or, I had a teacher in middle school who introduced me to this poem, and I’ve always loved it.’”

Court said it is these emotional connections and memories that people have that make the poems and the event special.

“That was Pinsky’s idea: to promote the idea that poetry is a part of our lives in America,” Court said.

Court said that the Friends usually try to narrow down the number of poems to 17 for the event.

“Seventeen is the target number,” Court said. “It’s almost like magic. The idea is to have a one-hour program. And by the time you do an introduction, have everybody read and sit down, it’s amazing how 17 poems add up to an hour.”

Court and Fred Zirm, president of the Friends, said that it is great to get the community together to share poems they find meaningful.

“It is a surprisingly moving event, I think,” Court said. “It sounds simple, and it is simple to do, but it is so interesting in the range of audience reactions and the range of poems that get submitted.”

Zirm agreed.

“At its best, you get all kinds of people presenting all kinds of poems for all kinds of readers,” Zirm said.