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Caroline Kennedy: ambassador for poetry

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Joanne Ciccarello

(Read caption) Caroline Kennedy says that poetry has been part of her life since childhood. She sees it as a gift that expands children's horizons.

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“You’re a wonderful ambassador for poetry,” a reporter tells Caroline Kennedy one day earlier this month, as hundreds of people line up outside the Coolidge Corner Theater in Bookline, Mass., waiting to hear Kennedy speak about "Poems to Learn by Heart," the latest collection of poetry for which she has served as editor.

Kennedy’s eyes grow wide for a moment. Then she graciously accepts the compliment, explaining why she thinks poetry matters, particularly to young readers: “Poetry broadens your horizons and helps kids distinguish what’s important information and authentic feeling from a lot of the noise and fragmentary sources of information that they get.”

For Kennedy herself, reading and memorizing poetry began at an early age. “Poetry was something woven into the holidays and into our family life,” she says. “My grandmother used to love having everyone recite ‘The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere’ when we came to see her. She had grown up in Concord [Mass.], so it felt very special to say it with her,” recalls Kennedy. “Only my Uncle Teddy learned the entire poem.”'

The family also exchanged copies of poems on Christmas and birthdays. “Poetry is a wonderful thing to share across the generations,” notes Kennedy. “The words and the language that you’re introduced to when you are young really stay with you and hopefully can give you a sense of a much a larger world that you want to explore.”

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