- Associated Press - Friday, April 25, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - Sir Patrick Stewart wasn’t about to miss the chance to appear on the same stage with Meryl Streep, Tina Fey and Kevin Kline.

And if that meant learning a poem or two, he was happy to do the homework.

“It was a no-brainer,” the actor said Thursday night after he was among a dozen readers at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall for the 12th annual “Poetry & the Creative Mind,” an all-star celebration of National Poetry Month presented by the Academy of American Poets.

“Poetry has been an important part of my life, particularly dramatic poetry, and when I got wind of who else was going to be on the platform with me I knew it was a night not to be missed,” he said.

Empty seats were rare at the majestic, 1,000-seat venue, where Stewart, Streep and others gave a mini-survey of modern American verse, from the apprehension of Mary Oliver’s “When Death Comes” to the triumphs of Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise.” Most simply stood up and read, but some cracked jokes, sang or begged the audience to silence the Greek chorus of cell phones.

Rosie Perez, who reveled in Angelou’s brassy verse (“Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise?”), remained off stage before her performance because of a sudden coughing fit.

“It’s all Tina Fey’s fault,” Perez explained as Fey, seated behind her, shook her head and smiled. Did Fey tell her something so funny she couldn’t breathe? No, Perez, said after the event, she gave her a “medicated lozenge” that didn’t quite soothe her throat.

Fey, meanwhile, had everyone laughing with an expert run through of James Tate’s “The List of Famous Hats,” a spoof about the hat and head of Napoleon that might have been composed by Fey herself:

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Napoleon’s hat is an obvious choice I guess to list as a famous hat, but that’s not the hat I have in mind.

That was his hat for show.

I am thinking of his private bathing cap, which in all honesty wasn’t much different than the one any jerk might buy at a corner drugstore now

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Grammy-winning musician Esperanza Spalding brought out her bass for a bluesy, foot-tapping rendition of Langston Hughes’ “Life is Fine,” while Streep read a pair of poems, by Richard Wilbur and Sylvia Plath, about parenthood. Kevin Kline nodded to his fellow parents on stage and in the audience with Billy Collin’s comic guilt trip and ode to overachievement, “To My Favorite 17-Year-Old High School Girl”:

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