STAR-STUDDED NEW PUBLIC TELEVISION SERIES LAUNCHES IN TIME FOR NATIONAL POETRY MONTH THIS APRIL
Poetry in America features Shaquille O’Neal, Cynthia Nixon, Frank Gehry, Bono, Nas, Herbie Hancock, Yo-Yo Ma, and more exploring poems on subjects close to their heart in twelve visually stunning episodes
The new series aims to inspire Americans of all ages and bring communities together through poetry
NBA Hall of Fame basketball star and platinum hip-hop artist Shaquille O’Neal reads the immersive Edward Hirsch poem “Fast Break” about the universal experience of playing basketball in a remarkable new 12-part television series Poetry in America that aims to bring poetry to millions of viewers.
New episodes of Poetry in America will be on public television stations nationwide starting the first week of April and running throughout the Spring.(Check local listings as some stations will debut the series at other times during the spring.)
The series includes in-depth conversations and poetry readings with celebrities, poets, and global figures, including U2 lead vocalist Bono, shoe designer Stuart Weitzman, former United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Senator John McCain, hip-hop recording artist/producer Nas, singer/songwriter Regina Spektor, The New York Times opinion columnist David Brooks, and more.
Words jump off the page, and meanings comes alive, as viewers experience the visual impact, music, and historical depth of the season’s twelve poems. Each episode of Poetry in America features a poem read by a public figure, with a conversation led by Elisa New, series host and director and the Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature at Harvard University.
"Poetry is human language worthy of being shared. It's that sharing that I wanted this series-- more than anything else-- to be about,” said Elisa New. “Each episode of Poetry in America says to the viewer: reading a poem in community with others enriches your life and deepens your understanding of the world.”
Filmed on location, and including rich archival materials and animation, the series finds Emily Dickinson in Amherst, Carl Sandburg in urban Chicago, Langston Hughes in Harlem, and Galway Kinnell in the marshlands of Cape Cod. A basketball court is the setting for “Fast Break,” and viewers see “The New Colossus” from the Staten Island Ferry."
Episode 1 begins with a clip of Cynthia Nixon playing Emily Dickinson the film “A Quiet Passion” and ends with an overlapping reading of the poem and cello performance by Yo Yo Ma. In episode 9, U.S. Senator John McCain discusses poetry's special resonance for those behind bars, joined by Playwright Anna Deavere Smith, poets Reginald Dwayne Betts and Li-Young Lee, as well as four exonerated prisoners.
Poetry in America is produced by Verse Video Education and presented by WGBH Boston. Major support for Poetry in America is provided by the Dalio Foundation. Support also provided by the Poetry Foundation, Nancy Zimmerman, Max Stone, and Deborah Hayes-Stone.For more information, visit poetryinamerica.org and follow Poetry in America on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
(Check local listings as some stations will debut the series later in the Spring)
Episode 1: I cannot dance opon my toes – Emily Dickinson
“I cannot dance opon my toes,” Emily Dickinson writes -- “no man instructed me.” Join host Elisa New, actor Cynthia Nixon, cellist Yo Yo Ma, dancer and choreographer Jill Johnson, and poet Marie Howe in an exploration of the challenges of art and audience across time, space, and artistic medium.
Episode 2: Fast Break – Edward Hirsch
Join poet Edward Hirsch, host Elisa New, NBA players Shaquille O’Neal, Pau Gasol, and Shane Battier, and a group of pick-up basketball players as they read Hirsch’s “Fast Break” and use basketball to understand poetry -- and poetry to understand the game of basketball.
Episode 3: Those Winter Sundays – Robert Hayden
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander, and psychologist Angela Duckworth join host Elisa New and a chorus of working fathers and sons to reflect on Robert Hayden’s moving poem “Those Winter Sundays.”
Episode 4: Hymmnn and Hum Bom! – Allen Ginsberg
Joined by rock star Bono, US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, and by a chorus of clergy and religious practitioners, host Elisa New tackles two of Ginsberg’s most emotionally transporting poems, the “Hymmnn” from Kaddish, and the anti-war chant “Hum Bom!”
Episode 5: Skyscraper – Carl Sandburg
Elisa New considers the rise of the skyscraper-- and the emergence of the modernist poem-- in an episode featuring celebrated architect Frank Gehry, Chinese visionary and real estate developer Zhang Xin, poet Robert Polito, and student poets from around the United States.
Episode 6: Harlem – Langston Hughes
President Bill Clinton, pianist and composer Herbie Hancock, poet Sonia Sanchez, and students from the Harlem Children’s Zone interpret Langston Hughes’s most iconic poem, “Harlem” with series host Elisa New.
Episode 7: Musée des Beaux Arts – W.H. Auden
Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, journalist and ethicist David Brooks, and poet, professor, and painter Peter Sacks join Elisa New to ponder W.H. Auden's World War II-era reflection on suffering: "Musée des Beaux Arts.”
Episode 8: Shirt – Robert Pinsky
At New York Fashion Week, host Elisa New catches up with fashion designer Johnson Hartig, Bergdorf Goodman’s Betty Halbreich, shoe designer Stuart Weitzman and with fashion and poetry students from the New School to discuss Robert Pinsky’s poem on labor, craft, and the threads that connect us. Back in Boston, Pinsky joins New on camera to reflect on his poem.
Episode 9: To Prisoners – Gwendolyn Brooks
Senator John McCain, playwright and activist Anna Deavere Smith, poets Reginald Dwayne Betts and Li-Young Lee, and four exonerated prisoners discuss poetry’s special resonance for those behind bars.
Episode 10: The Gray Heron – Galway Kinnell
In this environmentally-themed, visually splendid episode, Elisa New is joined by evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson, poet Robert Hass, environmental photographer Laura McPhee, naturalist Joel Wagner, and children at an Audubon Society summer camp on Cape Cod in a wide ranging discussion of Galway Kinnell’s “The Gray Heron.”
Episode 11: N.Y. State of Mind – Nas
Learn alongside host Elisa New as hip hop artist Nas, music executive Steve Stoute, scholar Salamishah Tillet, and a chorus of rappers and fans break down the breakbeats --and explore the searing vision-- of Nas’s iconic track “N.Y. State of Mind.”
Episode 12: The New Colossus – Emma Lazarus
Host Elisa New rediscovers the freshness and the still-potent charge of Emma Lazarus’s iconic sonnet of immigration alongside singer-songwriter Regina Spektor, activist and founder of the United We Dream Foundation Cristina Jiménez, President of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten, financier and philanthropist David Rubenstein, and poet Duy Doan.