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Just got this from the library, and it’s a gem.  The Poets’ Corner is subtitled The One-And-Only Poetry Book for the Whole Family, compiled by John Lithgow.  Yes, that’s John Lithgow of the ‘3rd Rock from the Sun’.  From Matthew Arnold to W. B. Yeats, Geoffrey Chaucer to Allen Ginsberg, it’s more like a high school curriculum than your light family reading.  However, the collection includes many favorite selections, ideal to share as literary heirloom.

Lithgow presents fifty poets whose work he had grown up with.  He has written a two-page introduction for each of them, a personal response to a piece of literary art.  In the introduction of the book, he explains how it all started.  Lithgow was invited to host a benefit for a non-profit organization.  The fund raiser was for the fostering of creative approaches to educating autistic children.  He was given a few poems to read out that night, poignant poetry that speaks to the heart of parents with autistic children.  That night, Lithgow saw the power of poems read out, the voice and the words striking a shared chord with deep resonance. Thus planted the seed for this book.

The central theme here is not autism, but the selections here speak to a general and wider audience, humanity at large.  The bonus is a CD featuring readings from Lithgow And Friends.  I believe that poetry read out loud offers a heightened enjoyment than just from silent reading.  I had heard recordings of Robert Frost and William Carlos Williams  reading their own work, leaving indelible resonance that I didn’t get from reading off the page.

Here in this CD, what we have are  professional performers, experienced and well-trained in the art of speech, dramatically performing these selections. And Lithgow’s ‘Friends’ include: Eileen Atkins, Kathy Bates, Glenn Close, Jodie Foster, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Lynn Redgrave, Susan Sarandon, Gary Sinise, and Sam Waterston… what a cast.

Here are  some of my favorites, too bad I can’t embed the sound track.  But do check it out from your local library, or even get a copy of your own.  It’s a keeper.

We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks

(Read by Morgan Freeman)

The Pool Players.

Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool. We

Left school. We

Lurk late. We

Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We

Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We

Die soon.

***

I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud by William Wordsworth

(Read by Helen Mirren)

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

*

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

*

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: A poet could not but be gay, In such a jocund company: I gazed—and gazed—but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought:

*

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

***

The Red Wheelbarrow

by William Carlos Williams

(Read by Jodie Foster)

so much depends

upon

a red wheel

barrow

glazed with rain

water

beside the white

chickens.

***

No Doctors Today, Thank You by Ogden Nash

(Read by John Lithgow… I LOL listening to him)

They tell me that euphoria is the feeling of feeling wonderful,

well, today I feel euphorian,

Today I have the agility of a Greek god and the appetitite of a Victorian.

Yes, today I may even go forth without my galoshes,

Today I am a swashbuckler, would anybody like me to buckle any swashes?

This is my euphorian day,

I will ring welkins and before anybody answers I will run away.

I will tame me a caribou

And bedeck it with marabou.

I will pen me my memoirs.

Ah youth, youth! What euphorian days them was!

I wasn’t much of a hand for the boudoirs,

I was generally to be found where the food was.

Does anybody want any flotsam?

I’ve gotsam.

Does anybody want any jetsam?

I can getsam.

I can play chopsticks on the Wurlitzer,

I can speak Portuguese like a Berlitzer.

I can don or doff my shoes without tying or untying the laces because

I am wearing moccasins,

And I practically know the difference between serums and antitoccasins.

Kind people, don’t think me purse-proud, don’t set me down as vainglorious,

I’m just a little euphorious.

**

Lithgow and friends have convinced me all the more that poetry is written to be heard.

Poets’ Corner:  The One-And-Only Poetry Book For The Whole Family, compiled by John Lithgow, Grand Central Publishing, 2007,  280 pages.

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