Why We Need Poetry: Celebrating National Poetry Month

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illustration of poetry project
Illustration of poetry project.

Freedom 

Is a strong seed 

Planted 

In a great need. 

—from “Democracy,” by Langston Hughes

(This blog excerpted from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation newsletter)

To celebrate 25 years of National Poetry Month, the Andrew W. Mellon foundation, along with the Academy of American Poets, has launched “Twenty Ten Twenty-Five,” a multimedia, intergenerational dialogue between contemporary poets and their forebears. Ten poets were asked to select a classic poem that has helped them make sense of what we are living through right now. 

The 10 poems selected speak to human survival — emotional, intellectual, physical — during profound moments of personal and social upheaval and transformation. The project brings in important historical perspectives while also placing each poem in conversation with each other and the poets who chose them. 

Hughes’ poems “were soundtracks for Black American life, infused with jazz and blues and the clarity of protest. That’s why his poems are timeless: they refused to make excuses for America’s legacy of oppression, the same legacy we’re still grappling with now.” — Adrian Matejka, poet

Revisit 10 classic poems, including those by Gwendolyn Brooks (chosen by Reginald Dwyane Betts), Robert Hayden (by way of Jericho Brown), and Pedro Pietri (selected by Raquel Salas Rivera). Works by three other writers—Langston Hughes, Toyo Suyemoto, and Muriel Rukeyser—have been translated into animated videos by award-winning artist Sindha Agha and read by the contemporary poets who selected them. To read the poems and learn more about the project, click here

To share the power of poetry with a wide audience, starting today the New York Times’ Opinion section is featuring these three videos in “Poetry Helped My Heart Survive.”

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