If you are a parent whose child has been intro­duced to poetry in school this year, you owe it to yourself and your child to con­sider Poets’ Corner The One-​​And-​​Only Poetry Book for the Whole Family. John Lithgow has yanked the world of poetry out of the death clutches of academia, returning it to the folks for whom it was written. With the school year almost at an end, you might think about giving this book to your kids’ favorite English teacher or donating a copy to the school library.

Lithgow, that skinny comedic actor who broke us up in Third Rock from the Sun, has done what almost every high school English teacher has failed to do, breathed life and excitement into the world of poetry. What makes Lithgow such an expert? His back­ground includes a father who pro­duced Shake­spearean fes­tivals in his home state of Ohio and a poetry-​​reciting grandmother.

Lithgow reminds us that poetry is and has always been a part of our lives. Every nursery rhyme, radio jingle, jump rope chant, lim­erick and rap is poetry. The beauty of this book is the ease of moving through hun­dreds of years of English verse at your own pace. As a reward for reading the entire book, an accom­pa­nying CD, fea­turing selected poems read by some of our most tal­ented actors, is gen­er­ously included.

For every person who hasn’t a clue as to what Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in Middle English as his Can­terbury pil­grims told their tales, wonder no more. Lithgow explains enough about the raunchy and bawdy stories to entice even the timid and fearful reader. He does warn the reader that some of the tales include jokes about farts. Yes, Chaucer was funny. He was also pithy, observant and ground­breaking in his use of the English language.

Lithgow’s selec­tions run the gamut from Chaucer to Ginsberg, from Blake to Nash, and a very solid selection of others. What they have in common is their inability to rewrite another line; they are all deceased and, ergo, the book’s title, Poets’ Corner, as in the South Transept of West­minster Abbey.

Each poet is intro­duced with a short bio, describing a bit about their life and the time in which he or she wrote. It’s the kind of info we’d see on Enter­tainment Tonight, because, with few excep­tions, these men and women fully intended to entertain. Lithgow then inserts a few of his favorite titles from the poet’s work and one poem. The poem is fol­lowed by thoughtful insight into what’s been read. He does not attempt to tell you what the poem means. Hurrah, for Lithgow. Next is a quote from the poet and some­times a second poem (we can thus guess Lithgow’s favorites).

Lithgow ‘s love of poetry and his honesty in dealing with its dif­fi­culty as well as its beauty is what make this book so worth­while. For those of us who read and write poetry, Poets’ Corner has been a long time coming. He iden­tifies the strengths of our English lan­guage in its shapes, colors, sounds and rhythms. If he thinks addi­tional infor­mation would be helpful, he adds web addresses where more of the poet’s work can be found and often heard, some­times in the poet’s own voice.

The poems chosen may be remem­bered, fondly or oth­erwise, but read anew, under the gentle prodding of Lithgow, the reader may read them as the poets intended – words meant to fire your imag­i­nation, tickle your funny bone, bend your heart, touch your soul. As Lithgow says, “If the poems are new to you, grab on to them, wrestle with them, fall in love with them, make them a part of you.”

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