- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - Wynton Marsalis didn’t bring his trumpet to the podium during Wednesday night’s poetry benefit at Lincoln Center. But he did hum a few bars as he half-sang, half-recited Sterling A. Brown’s “Riverbank Blues.”

Marsalis was one of 10 performers at the seventh annual “Poetry & the Creative Mind,” presented by the Academy of American Poets as a kickoff to National Poetry Month and as a demonstration of how words in rhythm can bring together some otherwise unlikely company.

Among those on stage, sharing the spotlight with a floral arrangement worthy of a Triple Crown horse race, were a musician (Marsalis), a singer (Joan Baez), a composer (Steve Reich), an actress (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a scientist (Harold Varmus) and even some poets (Rose Styron, Mark Strand and Jorie Graham).

Readers were asked to stick to American poets, dead ones, but the rule was ignored by Varmus, who chose John Donne and other British writers; by Gyllenhaal, who selected the Russian Anna Akhmatova and most defiantly by Baez, who acknowledged that knowing nothing about reading poetry hadn’t stopped her from writing it.

The folk singer unveiled two of her own works (one about an old friend, one about an exercise class) and then reined in Marsalis for an awkward but moving duet on the protest classic “Joe Hill,” Baez’s earnest guitar strums alternately complementing and clashing with Marsalis’ swaying, conversational trumpet.

Musicians weren’t the only ones in a musical mood. Author-book designer Chip Kidd, his slicked back hair and dark-rimmed glasses making him resemble a superhero in disguise, explained that the poems of Emily Dickinson align perfectly with the melody of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” He proved it with a Lone Star rendition of “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.”

Wednesday’s readers were eager to share personal memories of poetry. Reich, wearing a dark cap and matching, tieless suit, recalled visiting the Marlboro Bookstore in Manhattan and discovering the work of William Carlos Williams. Strand, a former U.S. poet laureate, explained that Archibald MacLeish’s “You, Andrew Marvell” was the first poem he wished he had written.

The smiling, long-legged Gyllenhaal confided that she had spent a couple of years in therapy as she introduced W.H. Auden’s “In Memory of Sigmund Freud.” Author-humorist Roy Blount Jr. spoke of a high school teacher whose oppressive reverence for Robert Frost inspired an especially cruel prank: The students tricked her into believing Frost had died, so upsetting the teacher that she stuck her foot in a waste basket.

“That’s why people in my high school,” he joked, “were grateful to Robert Frost.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide