I’m still debating whether to title this piece “Top Ten Reasons to Love Poetry and the Creative Mind” or “Top Ten Ways to Know an Hour Early is Not Early Enough to Catch a Cab to Lincoln Center at Rush Hour.” I could tell you some amusing stories about that last one. But my assignment is to write about the Academy of American Poets “Poetry and the Creative Mind” event last week, so the title has already written itself.
The event, featuring well-known voices reading beloved poems, was a delight for the sell-out crowd at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City.
Here are our Top Ten Reasons to Love Poetry and the Creative Mind:
1. The chance to celebrate young poets like Michaela Coplen, Northeast Region winner of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards National Student Poets Program.
2. Parker Posey introduced me to the finest word of the night, underneathedness, reading Camille T. Dungy’s “Characteristics of Life.”
3. Not much could be better than Esperanza Spalding performing Langston Hughes’s “Life is Fine” with her bass guitar and an original tune.
4. What more could be said about Patrick Stewart reading “God’s World” by Edna St. Vincent Millay? Here, have a listen with this audio, courtesy of NPR.
5. I had never heard of James Tate’s “The List of Famous Hats,” though now I want to read more of his work, thanks to Tina Fey. Also thanks to Fey, I now believe that “The Secret” by Denise Leverton is a comical poem, something I’d not noticed before. (For those of you with an interest in what makes things funny, let me give you one word: timing.)
6. It’s quite possible that Kevin Kline was born to read Billy Collins. Or, that Billy Collins has written poems for the sole purpose that Kevin Kline read them.
7. Not every day of the week can you sit 50 feet from a stage where Meryl Streep is reading Sylvia Plath. Or, for that matter, where she is just sitting on a chair listening to Kevin Kline read Billy Collins.
8. A dad like Billy Crudup will take the moment to read his 3rd-grade son’s poem alongside Philip Levine and Yusef Komunyakaa:
Life is weird.
Life is a pair of pants—
that falls down a lot.
9. Nothing awakens your own inner 3rd grader like having an audience of whoops-I-forgot-to-turn-off-my-cell-phone repeat-offenders seamlessly taken to task—between stanzas—by Julianna Margulies and Meryl Streep.
10. How can I begin to describe Rosie Perez reading Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise”? (I can’t.) You can catch a taste in the clip above. With all proper deference to some personal heroes on the stage, this may have been the finest moment of the night. But I caution you: her sexiness might upset you.
Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.