POETRY IN AMERICA Returns to Public Television for Season Two
Eight new half-hour episodes of Poetry in America will begin airing on public television stations nationwide (check local listings) and on the World Channel starting this April and continuing through the spring and summer. Also in April, which is National Poetry Month, the series will be available to stream on pbs.org and individual episodes will be available on poetryinamerica.org.
Each episode focuses on a single unforgettable American poem, which guests read and discuss with Elisa New, the series creator, host and director as well as the Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature at Harvard University. Poetry in America is produced by Verse Video Education of Cambridge, MA, and presented by WGBH Boston.
"I'm excited about the many distinct worlds to which the poems of this season take us-from a poem set in a New York barber shop, to one set in San Francisco's Chinatown, to one that takes us deep under the ocean and nose to nose with specimens of marine life," says New. "Poems can take us where journalism does not-into what it feels like, in the moment, to have a particular experience. Each of the poems we present this season has that character."
Season Two guests include Katie Couric, Al Gore, Sheryl Sandberg, Bill T. Jones, John Kerry, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Nas, John Hodgman, Tony Kushner, Elena Kagan, Donna Lynne Champlin, Julie Taymor, Raúl Esparza, Jonathan Adler, Simon Doonan, Maxine Hong Kingston, Melissa Errico, Steven Pinker, Kerry O'Malley, and more. They discuss works by Marilyn Chin, Elizabeth Bishop, Yusef Komunyakaa, Marianne Moore, Mark Doty, Stephen Sondheim, William Carlos Williams, and Walt Whitman.
"What surprises me again and again as I film for this show is how, in reading a poem, the people I speak with reveal so much about themselves," says New. "Whatever talking points or face for the world they might usually summon-these rapidly fall away. As we read, they show who they are. I feel that I get to see the genuine selves of people who may often have to be very careful. John Kerry's great sensitivity and the fine-grained quality of his thought; the clear-eyed understanding of life and death Katie Couric has gained from losing people she loves; Broadway performers who give all of themselves to understanding some lines by Sondheim that they've sung. The 'celebrities' I interview reveal themselves in this way, but so too the teenagers, and marine scientists, and loyal San Franciscans you've never met before but who show so much of themselves. Poetry speaks to us as human beings and when we read it, more of our humanness is expressed too."
Poetry in America encourages people from all walks of life to have conversations about poems. The episodes are designed for viewers to experience each poem in an immersive way by hearing, reading, and interpreting it alongside archival materials, vibrant animation, and footage shot at the locations it evokes.
Season One featured Shaquille O'Neal, Cynthia Nixon, Frank Gehry, Bono and more. The show reached over 1.3 million viewers and aired on 96% of public television stations nationwide.
"I hope that viewers will take away a greater receptiveness to and curiosity about poetry," says New. "Poems are the original social media-one mind sharing with other minds."
Poetry in America is part of a larger educational initiative devoted to strengthening humanities education in American schools. To this end, New offers a suite of for-credit courses on poetry through Harvard Extension School. The courses are open enrollment, and scholarships are available for middle and high school teachers. New's curriculum for middle schools is available through Amplify Education, and New also partners with Arizona State University to offer high school students the opportunity to earn low-cost college credit.
Major support for Poetry in America is provided by the Dalio Foundation. Support for Poetry in America is also provided by the Poetry Foundation, the Sloan Foundation, Deborah Hayes Stone and Max Stone. The film is distributed to public television stations by American Public Television.
Descriptions of the episodes coming up in Season Two:
"Urban Love Poem" - Marilyn Chin
The episode explores San Francisco's history from the GOLD RUSH and early Chinese immigration to the rise of SILICON VALLEY through Chin's poem of her San Francisco youth. In this series opener, New brings together acclaimed memoirist Maxine Hong Kingston, tech investor Randy Komisar, and four Bay Area residents on a rooftop in Chinatown to discuss the love of a great city.
"One Art" - Elizabeth Bishop
"The art of losing isn't hard to master," Bishop wrote in this poem, universally considered one of her greatest. Journalist Katie Couric, media executives Sheryl Sandberg and Yang Lan, singer/songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter, poet Gregory Orr, and others discuss Bishop's masterpiece on losses, great and small.
"The Fish" - Marianne Moore
This environmental science-themed episode explores Moore's great poem of marine life. Vice President Al Gore, poet Jorie Graham, and scientists from Conservation International dive into Moore's portrayal of the ocean's always-changing history, and its future in a warming world.
"You and I Are Disappearing" - Yusef Komunyakaa
Komunyakaa went to Vietnam as a journalist but he came home a poet. This episode explores what burns in memory and on the page, even decades later. Former Secretary of State John Kerry, film and theatre director Julie Taymor, composer Elliot Goldenthal, several Vietnam War veterans, and Komunyakaa himself discuss the mingled beauty and horror of war-and the challenge of making art from it.
"Finishing The Hat" - Stephen Sondheim
Sondheim is widely hailed as the greatest modern American musical theater composer. Series creator New speaks with Broadway stage actors Raúl Esparza and Melissa Ericco, writer Adam Gopnik, and others to explore Sondheim's singular ability to blend lyrics and music-using as their case study this song from his Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Sunday in the Park with George.
"This Your Home Now" - Mark Doty
New talks with poet Mark Doty, psychologist Steven Pinker, choreographer Bill T. Jones, design maven Simon Doonan and designer Jonathan Adler about this poem in which a visit to the barber shop sparks a meditation on love, the AIDS crisis, masculinity, home, and getting older.
"This Is Just To Say"-William Carlos Williams
Just 28 words and mimicking the form of a refrigerator note, is "This is Just to Say" simply the short apology it pretends to be, or something more subtle and passive-aggressive? Join actor John Hodgman, poet and physician Rafael Campo, poet Jane Hirshfield, a chorus of couples, and New as they consider what may or may not lie beneath the surface of William Carlos Williams's brief tribute to marital relations--and the savor of plums.
Title to be announced-Walt Whitman
In 1855 Walt Whitman declared "The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem." Poetry In America celebrates the 200th anniversary of Walt Whitman's birth with Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, playwright Tony Kushner, poets Mark Doty and Marilyn Chin, and a chorus of National Student Poets, discussing Whitman's powerful and timeless work.