9 Must-See TED Talks for Poetry Month

We hope National Poetry Month will inspire you to keep celebrating poetry all year long!

April is Poetry Month
a pile of books and letters floating over them on a desk symbolizing the idea of literature or knowledge

Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? What a fun thing to celebrate (not just in April but all year)! Poetry is an amazing teaching tool for all readers and writers. There are SO many ways to use poetry with kids, but you need to be inspired by poetry yourself in order to share that passion.

Here are 9 great TED talks that should inspire you to choose poetry more often.

1. On Why People Need Poetry

“We’re all going to die—and poems can help us live with that.” In a charming and funny talk, literary critic Stephen Burt takes us on a lyrical journey with some of his favorite poets, all the way down to a line break and back up to the human urge to imagine.

2. On Poetry and Math

Performance poet (and math student) Harry Baker spins a love poem about his favorite kind of numbers—the lonely, love-lorn prime numbers. Stay on for two more lively, inspiring poems from this charming performer.

3. On How Poetry Inspires Art

Combining dry wit with artistic depth, Billy Collins shares a project in which several of his poems were turned into delightful animated films in a collaboration with Sundance Channel. Five of them are included in this wonderfully entertaining and moving talk—and don’t miss the hilarious final poem!


4. On What It Feels Like to Be Transgender

“I was the mystery of an anatomy, a question asked but not answered,” says poet Lee Mokobe, a TED Fellow, in this gripping and poetic exploration of identity and transition. It’s a thoughtful reflection on bodies and the meanings poured into them.

5. On Being in High School

Young poet, educator and activist Malcolm London performs his stirring poem about life on the front lines of high school. He tells of the “oceans of adolescence” who come to school “but never learn to swim,” of “masculinity mimicked by men who grew up with no fathers.” Beautiful, lyrical, chilling.

6. On a Computer Writing Poetry

If you read a poem and feel moved by it but then find out it was actually written by a computer, would you feel differently about the experience? Would you think that the computer had expressed itself and been creative, or would you feel like you had fallen for a cheap trick? In this talk, writer Oscar Schwartz examines why we react so strongly to the idea of a computer writing poetry—and how this reaction helps us understand what it means to be human.

7. On Freeing the Soul

“It’s said that to be a poet, you have to go to hell and back.” Cristina Domenech teaches writing at an Argentinian prison, and she tells the moving story of helping incarcerated people express and understand themselves and understanding the glory in the freedom of language. Watch for a powerful reading from one of her students, an inmate, in front of an audience of 10,000. In Spanish with subtitles.

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8. On Singing Old Poems

Natalie Merchant sings from her new album, Leave Your Sleep. Lyrics from near-forgotten 19th-century poetry pair with her unmistakable voice for a performance that brought the TED audience to its feet.

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9. On War, Peace, Women and Power

Poet Suheir Hammad performs two spine-tingling spoken-word pieces: “What I Will” and “break (clustered)”—meditations on war and peace, on women and power. Wait for the astonishing line: “Do not fear what has blown up. If you must, fear the unexploded.”

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