Billy Collins, the 11th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry founded Poetry 180 to promote poetry in schools. The program allows teachers and schools to print a poem every day for the 180 days of the traditional American school year to read and discuss with their students. Not only does it promote literacy, but it connects the Poet Laureate to an audience of young readers and introduces them to the world of contemporary poetry. Although Collins created the program for educators, it is free and open to anyone with an Internet connection.
Collins described the program, “A 180-degree turn implies a turning back — in this case, to poetry. The idea behind Poetry 180 is simple: to have a poem read each day to the students of American high schools across the country.” Personally, I would like to see Poetry 360, 540, or 720. (Those are actually skateboarding tricks, but they’re the first thing I thought of when I read “Poetry 180”)
The great thing about this list is that it isn’t your standard, run-of-the-mill classics you would expect. I’m surprised there are no excerpts from Shakespeare, but I’m sure teachers allow plenty of time to study the Bard of Avon through his plays. Collins designed Poetry 180 as a journey through both traditional and contemporary poems. It is meant to be an introduction to poetry for High School students, and, amusingly begins with Collins’ own “Introduction to Poetry”. I don’t recognize all of the names on the list, but I am excited to explore poets I am not familiar with! Some of the more notable poems are Theodore Roethke’s “The Bat”, Charles Simic’s “The Partial Explanation”, Robert Bly’s “Driving to Town Late to Mail a Letter”, Dana Gioia’s “Thanks for Remembering Us”, Howard Nemerov’s “A Primer of the Daily Round”, and more. I want to keep going, but I’d end up listing all 180 poems and continue listing my favorite poems and poems I want to read and poems I am inspired to write.
The list of poets here includes American poets and foreign poets, teachers, scientists, former U.S. Poets Laureate, and prize-winners of all caliber. Just a few more to check out soon are Ted Kooser, Mary Oliver, Denise Duhamel, Sharon Olds, Donald Justice, Stephen Dobyns, Kenneth Koch, Edward Hirsch, Ron Padgett, Wislawa Szymborska, and Tomas Tranströmer. Collins included several poets more than once and this is one point where I disagree with him. I wish he would have opted to include Sylvia Plath, Philip Levine, Charles Bukowski, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, and others.
The series of pages on the Library of Congress’ website has a few great links. There is a list of all 180 poems, a link to read more about the program akin to a FAQ, a short post on how to read a poem out loud which is great for practice and in preparation for open mic events, and finally legal notices and permissions for the Poetry 180 program as well as for the full list of poems.