Poems can uplift, inspire, challenge, and change us. A poet’s careful use of words can bring us comfort or stir outrage in the face of injustice. In short, a poem is a powerful thing — one of the most powerful ways we can use words — so we knew that poetry would have to have a special place at Planet Word.

But which poems? And where would they go?

Not comprehensive, but illustrative

Choosing a limited number of poems from the overwhelming wealth of poetry in the world seemed like an impossible challenge. But we enlisted the help of poet Adrienne Raphel and partnered with the Poetry Foundation for expert guidance.

Photo of Adrienne Raphel by Randy H. Goodman

Photo of Adrienne Raphel by Randy H. Goodman

In the end, Adrienne also helped us come to terms with our conundrum:

“You can’t have every poem in the world,” she said, “but you can at least be illustrative of lots of different kinds of poems.”

With that in mind, Adrienne worked with our team to compose a list of 50 poems that span centuries, forms, moods, and reflect many different perspectives on the human experience. She helped us identify silly poems and poignant poems, mysterious poems and love poems, poems that appeal to children and adults, poems that rhyme, and poems that ring and rock. From lines of the ancient epic Beowulf to a piece by current U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, these poems will take visitors on a broad journey through the pleasures of words.

Word Surround

The poems will live in an oval nook on Planet Word’s second floor, about halfway through the museum experience. In what we’re calling “Word Surround,” visitors will discover a contemplative space, tucked away from the energy and bustle of the other galleries. As visitors sit and relax, poems will appear on the walls surrounding them, each line of poetry appearing and then fading away as they are read, one by one, allowing visitors to completely immerse themselves in the words and their messages.

Although visitors are welcome to sit and enjoy each and every poem (for a listening experience that will last about an hour and fifteen minutes), we expect most visitors will pause to listen to just a handful of poems on any one visit. That way, each time they return, they’ll have a different experience and discover new, wonderful works. They might be greeted by the playful rhymes of Shel Silverstein’s “Sick” or the complex, catchy rhythms of Tracie Morris’s “Project Princess,” performed by the poet herself in a brand-new recording made just for Planet Word.

Whether they stay for one poem, a few poems, or all 50, we’re sure that Word Surround will help visitors experience the unparalleled power and beauty of poetry.