Poetry, the best poetry, practically begs to be read aloud. The Poets' Corner, compiled by John Lithgow, is an answer to a poetry lover’s prayers, as it contains some of the world’s best poetry in the English language spoken by some of the best actors alive today, and by people like the former Poet Laureate Billy Collins, who enlivens any poem he recites and makes it magically his own. Some of the performers who lend their voice talents to the poems include Jodie Foster, Kathy Bates, Morgan Freeman, Gary Sinise, Lynn Redgrave, Susan Sarandon, and Sam Waterston. In addition to the poems, the entire text of the book is also included on the six CDs that make up the six and a half hours’ worth of entertainment you get with this audio compilation. This makes it a pretty good deal for the money, and it’s great to listen to in the car on the way to work, the store, or to pick up the kids from school. It’s also a great way to get children interested in poetry and to make it come alive for them.
While I really liked the poems, in general, chosen for the compilation, and the dramatic readings of them by the voice talents who feature on these CDs, there are a few ways they could have been improved – mainly a listing on the CD jewel case of the poems, the poets who wrote them, and the names of whomever recites each, and having a little pamphlet enclosed with the same and possibly additional useful/interesting information would have been a pleasant addition. Still, the CDs are not difficult to navigate and use.
While all of the voice actors do a very good job with the poems they recite, some stick out as highlights for me. I really liked, for example, Gary Sinise’s recitation of the Ginsberg poem “A Supermarket in California,” Kathy Bates’s reading of Marianne Moore’s “Poetry,” and Billy Connolly’s recitations of “The Owl and the Pussycat” by Edward Lear. The reading I enjoyed most of all was Morgan Freeman’s excellent recitation of the T.S. Eliot poem “Rhapsody on a Windy Night.” He makes a speaking street-lamp seem a jaded detective, or witness, to the things it sees, and he brings an exquisite feeling of suspense and tension to the last line of the poem: “The last twist of the knife.”
Jodie Foster does a fantastic job reciting Ezra Pound’s poem “The River-Merchant’s Wife.” In addition to the Ginsberg poem I mentioned in the preceding paragraph, I also liked Sinise’s reading of Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago.”
One poem I didn’t like very much is Gertrude Stein’s homage to Pablo Picasso, “If I Tell Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso.” This has nothing to do with who reads the poem - Kathy Bates - who likely does as well as anyone could with the material - but with the poem itself, which seems too fragmented and repetitive to me. It also does not mention Picasso at all, only seeming to relate to him through its experimental, fragmentary form, which is supposed to be poetry’s equivalent to cubism. I like Picasso’s paintings, but to try to accomplish something similar in writing is difficult if not impossible, and I was left lukewarm by this attempt.
If you like poetry, the best way to appreciate it is to hear it read aloud. This CD compilation belongs any poetry lover’s audio collection. I like to read and analyze poetry, also, and dabble in writing it, but hearing the human voice recite it well takes it to a whole other level and breathes life into the written word. Kudos to John Lithgow for bringing poetry to the masses and helping to popularize it. He informs the readers that he grew up with poetry all around him. I also did; it’s a gift that everyone should experience and enjoy with their families, and if this CD collection helps spread this gift, it will accomplish a great deal, indeed. I highly recommend it to everyone, especially families.