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.”