Americans choose the road not taken

A search for the nation's favourite poem has drawn a huge response, with Robert Frost's reflective lines emerging as the winner

The idea of the United States as a nation of poetry lovers may not fit the European stereotypes of a gun-toting, execution-obsessed land of couch potatoes. All the same, it turns out to be true. Poetry is alive and well and living in America.

Two years ago, America's poet laureate launched a campaign to discover the nation's favourite poem. It was an act of faith rather than logic, Robert Pinsky said at the time. But Mr Pinsky's appeal hit the spot. Now, more than 18,000 written, videotaped and recorded suggestions later, he has been overwhelmed by the response.

The Favourite Poem Project, which Mr Pinsky has coordinated through the Library of Congress, where the US laureate is based, has yielded a massive and diverse archive, with contributors ranging in age from four to 99.

Though submissions have come from every state in the union, the muse seems to be strongest in the north-eastern US, with New York and Massachusetts supplying the most responses to Mr Pinsky's appeal.

Mr Pinsky and his colleague Maggie Dietz have collected many of the suggestions into a bestselling book, Americans' Favourite Poems, which is already into a fourth reprinting. Last week, he presented the Library of Congress with a video and audio archive, in which 100 Americans from all walks of life are heard and seen reading their choices.

"The archive is dramatic and gripping beyond my hopes and expectations," said Mr Pinsky, who steps down as poet laureate next month.

"My dearest hope is that this will affect the way poetry is taught in school. If our generation decides the young can do without great works of art, we will be cursed."

America's favourite poem, on the basis of Mr Pinsky's bulging postbag, is the characteristically reflective and solitary The Road Not Taken, written by the San Francisco-born poet Robert Frost, one of the laureate's predecessors.

Frost, who at the age of 86 read one of his poems at President Kennedy's inauguration in January 1961, maintains an awesome grip on the American poetic imagination nearly 40 years after his death.

In addition to The Road Not Taken, Frost's Stopping By Woods on A Snowy Evening also wins a place in the top five.

Although most of the poems nominated by American poetry lovers were by US authors, the project placed no bar on the nationality of respondents' choices. Submissions ranged across more than 2,500 years of verse, ranging from Sappho to Seamus Heaney.

The most popular poem by a British writer proved to be Rudyard Kipling's indestructible If, a regular poll-topper in surveys in Britain.

Five works that won the hearts of US readers

1 - The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that, the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference

2 The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe

3 Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

4 Sick by Shel Silverstein

5 If by Rudyard Kipling


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