Top Ten Reasons to Love the Academy of American Poets “Poetry and the Creative Mind”

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.)

The Secret

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
I who don’t know the
secret wrote
the line. They
told me
(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even
what line it was. No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,
the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can’t find,
and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that
a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other
in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,
assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.


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
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Photo by Erica Zabowski, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by LW Lindquist.


  1. says

    I knew I should have changed my reservations to stay another day! (I’d forgotten to ask if you were going.) I would have loved to have attended this. So glad you reported on it, Lyla.

  2. says

    Did Kevin Kline read Introduction to Poetry?
    And how much time DOES one need to hail a cab to there, then?

    Wow… what a night! Thanks for the great glimpse!

    Am I the only one who couldn’t help feeling this was truly broadcast from the Starship Enterprise as Steward read Millay? I confess. I giggled.

    It was big news around here that Meryl Streep had dinner a few towns to the west of me earlier in this week (attending her niece’s concert). I wonder if the dinner conversation turned to unruly cell phones (puhleez that is hilarious)!

    • says

      There was this moment when Julianna Margulies was within a couple of lines of the end, the audience rapt, and she was visibly caught up in the emotion of the poem. In the silence between the lines, this cell phone goes off. Without missing a beat, she looked up, said very softly, “You can answer” and returned to the poem.

      Mortifying, I imagine, for the holder of the phone. But to have it happen a second time, minutes later somewhere else in the room and be admonished by Meryl Streep… Though it was not my phone, I felt a little responsible at that point for even owning one. 😉 Really a wonderful evening, though.

  3. says

    Oh, pure delight…felt like I was there (ish). My favorite–Billy Crudup sharing his third grade son’s poem. Sweet.
    Had to look up the Edna St Vincent Millay poem. I do like that.
    Thanks, Lyla.

  4. says

    This morning I managed to find some rare bandwidth deep in the Ozarks to be able to read and have enough time to comment on this lively (Lylavely) recreation of what must have been an evening to remember for a lifetime. I couldn’t even play the recording and still your piece was such wonderfulness, Lyla. Thanks for virtually taking me there.


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