Posts Tagged ‘Poetry Foundation’


This last month of our annual dry season, as grasses turn dusty brown and the trees droop, a phrase from a Gerard Manley Hopkins  poem has been running through my head: “Send my roots rain.” This week the first good downpour broke the drought. I found and reread Hopkins’s poem, and recognized in it the cry of every writer who, like myself, goes through a dry spell and pleads for the rain of words and ideas.

Hopkins’s sonnet begins as a Job-like argument with God. He is angry that “sinners’ ways prosper” while he, a Jesuit priest who spends his life “upon thy cause,” sees his every endeavor end in disappointment.

The tone shifts in the second part of the sonnet. Hopkins points out the exuberant natural world:

                                    See, banks and brakes

Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again

With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes

Them; birds build …

He compares these images with his own struggles. He does not build, he says,

                                                          but strain,

Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.

Hopkins sold himself short, of course. His poems continue to waken in the minds of later generations. But that sense of self-doubt is one all writers share. Whatever our spiritual beliefs, we can join in the prayer of Hopkins’s closing line:

Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.

 You can read this sonnet, and link to other poems by Hopkins, at

Poetry Foundation

I received my first copy of a new subscription to Poetry yesterday.  (I read this magazine regularly years ago, and had let my subscription lapse, but couldn’t resist a promotional offer.) Along with the magazine came a letter from the Poetry Foundation president, John Barr, a five-years-on report on how the Poetry Foundation is spending Ruth Lilly’s momentous gift. The Foundation’s desire, Barr said, “was to challenge the perception that poetry is a marginal art by making it directly relevant to the American experience.” It makes exciting reading: the tripling of Poetry subscriptions, the millions of people reached by television and web, The Poetry Out Loud high school contest, in which I was involved locally a week or two back, programs to introduce young children to poetry. Read it and be encouraged.

Poetry Out Loud

Poetry lives. I’ve just spent the morning helping to judge the Poetry Out Loud contest at our local high school. From the excited buzz of student voices as they entered the auditorium at Mendocino High School, to the respectful silence with which they heard each contestant, to the enthusiastic applause, it was clear that poetry has an important place in these kids’ lives.

Launched in 2005 by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Poetry Foundation, Poetry Out Loud is a national competition  that “encourages the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through exploration, memorization and performance.” Participating schools begin in the classroom, where students select poems to memorize from an anthology containing a huge and varied selection. This morning, for instance, I heard poems by Theodore Roethke, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Rudyard Kipling, Sherman Alexie and Kim Addonnizio, to name just a few. Advancing through school, regional and state competitions, winners get an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, DC for the high-profile national finals. The states are high: the national champion receives a purse large enough to finance a good portion of a college education. More than 300,000 students participate each year.

Whether or not a student advances beyond the classroom competition, the program has value as an entry point to a lifetime interest in poetry. “I’m so envious,” a fellow judge murmured to me. “We had nothing like this when I was in school.”