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Meryl Streep Headlines a Star-Studded Poetry Gala

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Stars of stage, screen and the fine arts turned out to support poetry at New York's Lincoln Center this past Tuesday. The event, called Poetry and the Creative Mind, celebrated National Poetry Month and raised more than $150,000 for the Academy of American Poets. Interestingly, participants--including Streep, Gabriel Byrne and Sting among others--were allowed to choose the poems they read, giving us some insight into their poetic tastes.

Sting read two poems by the great 20th Century English poet Philip Larkin, including the well-known poem "The Whitsun Weddings" and this short, impish poem called "This Be the Verse":

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

In case you're curious, Sting didn't follow this advice--the singer has six children himself.

Irish actor Gabriel Byrne read poems by the great Irish poets William Butler Yeats and Patrick Kavanagh, including this classic early Yeats poem, The Lake Isle of Innisfree":

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Scottish actor Alan Cumming also read poetry from his home country, including "A Red, Red Rose" by Scotland's best-known poet, Robert Burns.

O my Luve's like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June:
O my Luve's like the melodie,
That's sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve!
And fare-thee-weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho' 'twere ten thousand mile!

Matt Dillon kept things from getting too high-minded, choosing to read from Charles Bukowski's "Something For The Touts, The Nuns, The Grocery Clerks, and You..." Here's a terrifically ugly excerpt:

in the slaughterhouse it comes running along
the ceiling on a hook, and you swing it --
one
two
three
and then you've got it, $200 worth of dead
meat, its bones against your bones
something and nothing.
it's always early enough to die and
it's always too late,
and the drill of blood in the basin white
it tells you nothing at all
and the gravediggers playing poker over
5 a.m. coffee, waiting for the grass
to dismiss the frost . . .
they tell you nothing at all.

Meryl Streep concluded the evening with the great American poet Elizabeth Bishop's poem "Cold Spring." Not surprisingly, Streep has great taste.

Beneath the light, against your white front door,
the smallest moths, like Chinese fans,
flatten themselves, silver and silver-gilt
over pale yellow, orange, or gray.
Now, from the thick grass, the fireflies
begin to rise:
up, then down, then up again:
lit on the ascending flight,
drifting simultaneously to the same height,
-exactly like the bubbles in champagne.
-Later on they rise much higher.
And your shadowy pastures will be able to offer
these particular glowing tributes
every evening now throughout the summer.

Readers also included Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Jhumpa Lahiri, painter Julian Schnabel and the singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash.

Around the Web

Poets.org - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More

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