Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What is Your Favorite Poem?

I asked this simple question, "What is your favorite poem?" to some of my favorite people on Twitter. You can read their answers here.

I decided to use the power of Twitter to ask some of my favorite Twitter celebrities a question they might not have been asked before: What is your favorite poem? The answers you see below were all mostly enlightening and gratifying, and I thank my participants for responding

These people contributed to this blog:

Clockwise, from top left: Christina Applegate, Ashley Judd, Scott Raab,
Tess Rafferty, Dale Murphy, Kelley Deal, Shelby Holiday, Greg Edwards

(Their answers are coming right up. First, though, you may have noticed by the graphic above that there aremultiple beautiful women who answered my question, "What is your favorite poem?" You might deduce from this that I am some kind of skeevy guy who stalks attractive women on twitter. But before you draw that conclusion, please look at the people below whom I asked the same question but did not reply. None of them are beautiful women.)   

These people neglected to contribute:
Clockwise, from top left: Danny DeVito, Al Franken, the Mars Curiosity Rover,
Fred Willard, Charlie Batch, Lou Barlow, Glenn Danzig, Al Gore. 

On to the answers!

1. Ashley Judd (@AshleyJudd)

Response: "A Psalm of Life" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Ashley Judd is a multi-talented and world-famous actress, but, more importantly, she is a philanthropist who speaks for the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet. You've probably seen one of her movies by now (if not, I guarantee that the thirteen-year old in your life is already anticipating seeing her in the film version of Divergent, in which she plays Natalie Prior), but that's just her acting. I will cite her website her for a succint summary of her most important work:

A small sampling of her advocacy work includes; giving the keynote address on the modern slave trade to the 2008 General Assembly of the United Nations, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the urgent need to prevent the spread of HIV to girls and women, speaking to the National Press Club, appearing on major news programs, and filming three documentaries seen by over a billion people worldwide. She has served as an expert panelist/moderator at conferences such as the Clinton Global Initiative, the Women Deliver Conference, the International AIDS conference, and the Global Business Coalition to stop HIV, TB, and Malaria, and the National Press Club. 

I was thrilled to hear that Ashley Judd chose "A Psalm of Life." First, "A Psalm of Life" entirely fits Ashley Judd's optimistic view of the universe. But what I liked more about her choice was that it is an important part of my class; I teach it on our first day of studying American romanticism, and I try to be as enthusiastic and positive as possible. "Life is real!" I sort of shout. "Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal!"

On their exams this Decemeber, a few of my students wrote that "Psalm of Life" was their favorite poem of the first semester.  I told them that this was Ms. Judd's favorite poem, too, and asked them how it made them feel. Their answer: "ecstatic."

2. Scott Raab (@ScottRaab64)

Response: "The Bear Who Goes with Me" by Delmore Schwartz

Scott Raab is a former athlete, sports fan, journalist, magazine writer (he's often Esquire's Answer Fella!), and author of The Whore of Akron, which I gushed about in a previous blog post

Read "The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me," by Delmore Schwartz, a poem about the dark and primal forces that are always near to us. Our lives boil down to a "scrimmage of appetite" that is always present, though invisible to those nearest to us. I wonder if my wife has noticed.

3. Tess Rafferty (@TessRafferty)

Response: "I and Thou" by Alan Dugan, and "One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop

Tess Rafferty is the a very funny comedian (you might remember her from the her days on The Soup), and author of Recipes for Disaster, a memoir-cum-cookbook that you should probably have a look at.

"Love Poem, I and Thou" by Alan Dugan, a powerful work which I had never read, and
"One Art," by Elizabeth Bishop. "One Art" is quietly clutching, about the way one slips into desperation one piece at a time. It also reminded me a little of Edna St. Vincent Millay's "The Courage that My Mother Had," in its concentration on the conrete object as a metaphor for something lost forever. Additionally, this poem is a villanelle, which is one of the hardest  of poetic forms to pull off. If there's one vilanelle you know, it's probably "Do Not Go Gently Into that Good Night" by Dylan Thomas. Read "One Art" to see another way of doing it.

4. Dale Murphy (@DaleMuprhy3)

Response: See below

Dale Murphy is a former major league baseball player, best known for the fourteen years he spent as right fielder of the Atlanta Braves. He won the National League MVP award two years in a row (1982-1983), and is, for my money, one of the greatest ballplayers not in the Hall of Fame. But don't get me started on that.

His favorite poem is: "Roses are red, violets are blue/ most poems rhyme, but this one doesn't."

Oh, Murph, you're killing me.

5. Kelley Deal (@kelleydeal)

Response: "Stop All the Clocks" by W. H. Auden

Kelley Deal is the lead guitar player for The Breeders. She was also the founder and frontwoman of The Kelley Deal 6000, whose best song was "How About Hero." It rocked. I saw her play with the 6000 at the Antenna club in Memphis sometime around 1996, a night in which she was wearing an enormous, poofy Oakland Raiders jacket. However, my favorite thing that she ever did was play a single note throughout the Breeders' astounding version of "Shocker in Gloomtown." (Check out the video. There's only one string on her guitar!) These days, she also knits beautiful things that you can buy through her website

Kelley responded to my wife Renee (@intarsiajones on twitter) that her favorite poem was "Stop All the Clocks" by W. H. Auden, an emotive and heart-rending elegy. This poem is now one of Renee's favorites, and she especially loves the line "He was my North, my South, my East and West/ My working week and my Sunday rest." And it reminds me of "To an Athlete Dying Young" by A. E. Houseman for a few reasons. 

6. Shelby Holliday (@shelbyholliday)

Response: Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss

Shelby Holliday is a broadcast journalist for Channel One News, which we watch every day in my global studies class. (If you're about  my age, then you'll understand what I mean when I say she's the Lisa Ling or Kathy Kronenberg for a new generation.) We love Shelby Holliday not only because she's a perky (though always professional) personality, but also because she has an adventurous life in which travels around the world investigating the most important global developments. We all wish we could be a little more like Shelby Holliday.

Shelby chose Oh, the Places You'll Go!, a book that I actually had never read until my son graduated from preschool. Yes, they have graduation from preschool, and, yes, it's never too early to buy a copy of this book for a student saying goodbye to one stage of education and moving on to the bigger, badder world. 

7. Greg Edwards, also known as Sparky Sweets, PHD (@GregtheGrouch, @SparkySweetsPhD)

Response: "And Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou

Ya heard? Greg Edwards's alter ego, Sparky Sweets, PhD., is the host of a wildly successful web-video series called Thug Notes. Every episode of Thug Notes breaks down a classic work of literature that your typical high school student might have to read for lit class. Sweets demystifies each book by relating it in the vernacular of contemporary teenagers, while showing that characters are motivated by urges such as greed, lust, hatred, or jealousy--the same old forces pushing the buttons of kids and adults everywhere. And his summaries are just hilarious and include lots of swears. Dayum!

But in addition to being entertaining, Dr. Sweets is a talented teacher. For one, he  understands that one should never talk down to young people, and he does not insult his audience's intelligence. For another thing, he strips off all the stuffiness of canonical literature and shows that even rookies can have relationships with their texts, no matter how intimidating those texts seem to be. And that's what the study of literature is all about--readers being engaged with writers. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I have learned a thing or two from his analyses of books like To Kill a Mockingbird or Jane Eyre, texts that I have taught many, many times. 

Get thee to Thug-Notes!

In his response, Greg Edwards mentioned both Saul Williams, a contemporary spoken-word poet (hear him perform "Ohm" here) and Maya Angelou, America's poet emeritus. He cites "And Still I Rise" by Dr. Angelou, her most famous and inspiring work of poetry, as his favorite. I always used to show this clip of Maya Angelou discussing freedom and poetry with Harry Smith from a CBS back in 2007. It ends with her reciting a bit from "And Still I Rise," and my students always loved it.

8. Christina Applegate (@1capplegate)
Response: "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

Of course you know who Christia Applegate is. But did you know that she has twice been the celebrity spokesperson for National Denim Day, which encourages people to take the money they'd normally spend on a pair of new jeans and donate it to breast cancer research? She also founded Right Action for Women, which promotes breast cancer screening for women. Futher, she supports the Trevor Project, a suicide-prevention program for LGBTQ youth that has trained counselors manning a confidential hotline called the "Trevor Lifeline." And she's so, so funny. 

Christina Applegate chose "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." She got the answer right. Congratulations, Ms. Applegate; you won.


  1. Love this idea. Makes me want to go read some Elizabeth Bishop tonight. Maybe check out that bear poem, too.

  2. This is so awesome, Aaron!

  3. Loved it! I'm a Spain 1937 fan myself.

  4. I don't have a Twitter, but something like this could change my mind. "When You Are Old" by Yeats is one of my favorite poems.