poetry 180: AN INTRODUCTION A FEW YEARS AGO I FOUND MYSELF ON A CIRCUIT OF readings, traveling around the Midwest from podium to podium. One stop was at an enormous high school south of Chicago. Despite its daunting sizepicture a row of lockers receding into infinitythe school holds a "Poetry Day" every year featuring an exuberant range of activities, including poems set to music by students and performed by the high school chorus and a ninety-piece orchestra. As featured poet that year, I found myself caught up in the high spirits of the day, which seemed to be coming directly from the students themselves, rather than being faculty-imposed. After reading to a crowded auditorium, I was approached by a student who presented me with a copy of the school newspaper containing an article she had written about poetry. In that article, I found a memorable summary of the discomfort so many people seem to experience with poetry. "Whenever I read a modern poem," this teenage girl wrote, "it's like my brother has his foot on the back of my neck in the swimming pool." Poetry 180was inspired by the desire to remove poetry far from such scenes of torment. The idea behind this printed collection, which is a version of the Library of Congress "180" website, was to assemble a generous selection of short, clear, contemporary poems which any listener could basically "get" on first hearingpoems whose injection of pleasure is immediate. The original website, which continues to be up and running strong, www.loc.gov/poetry/180, is part of a national initiative I developed shortly after being appointed United States Poet Laureate in 2001. The program is called "Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools." In creating it, I had hoped the program would suggest to young people the notion that poetry can be a part of everyday life as well as a subject to be studied in the classroom. On the website, I ask high school teachers and administrators to adopt the program by having a new poem read every dayone for each of the roughly 180 days of the school yearas part of the public announcements. Whether the poems are read over a PA system or at the end of a school assembly, students can hear poetry on a daily basis without feeling any pressure to respond. I wanted teachers to refrain from commenting on the poems or asking students "literary" questions about them. No discussion, no explication, no quiz, no midterm, no seven-page paperjust listen to a poem every morning and off you go to your first class. I might not have come up with such an ambitious national planor any plan at allwere it not for the energetic efforts made by previous laureates to spread the word of poetry far and wide. Prior to the democratizing efforts of Joseph Brodsky, who envisioned poetry being handed out at supermarkets and planted in the bed tables of motel rooms next to the Gideon Bible, the post of poet laureate was centered at the Library of Congress in Washington, specifically in a spacious suite of rooms at the top of the magnificent Jefferson Building, complete with a balcony and, as one visi- tor put it, a "CNN view" of the Capitol. In those days, the position was called "Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress"admittedly, a mouthful with a businesslike sound. It was the habit of many Consultants to relocate to Washington, go to the office a few days a week, andI can only imaginewait for the phone to ring. You never knew when some senator would be curious to know who wrote "Two Tramps in Mud Time." According to Mary Jarrell's memoir, she and Randall took advantage of his tenure in the nation&aCollins, Billy is the author of 'Poetry 180 A Turning Back to Poetry', published 2003 under ISBN 9780812968873 and ISBN 0812968875.