What a concept - a collection of poetry presenting the reader with poetry that is not the run-of-the-mill, “Best Loved” sort that graces most collections of poetry. There are some poems in The Poem I Turn To that are in most best-loved collections - “Sonnet 30" by William Shakespeare, “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, and “In a Station at the Metro” by Ezra Pound - but most lovers of poetry will not know many of the poems and will find themselves pleasantly surprised by some of the poetic gems in this book. There’s Pablo Neruda’s “Night on the Island,” for instance, and Carol Muske-Dukes excellent “White Key” to name just two. In addition to beautiful written poetry, there’s also a CD included with the book of famous actors and directors reading poems from the book that inspire them.
The collection is prefaced by former U.S. poet laureate, Billy Collins and dedicated to David Coleman Dukes, an actor who died an untimely death. The University of Southern California honors him with the David Coleman Dukes Memorial Scholarship Fund; the afore-mentioned Carol Muske-Dukes was his wife. I had never heard of him before, but he must have been well-loved, indeed, for so many renowned actors, directors, and poets to want to contribute one or more of the poems that touch them profoundly to this endeavor.
What do you get when you buy this book? There’s the joy of re-reading old favorites and of reading some very good poems for the first time, and why and how certain poems have touched some of the most famous actors of this era, such as Adam Arkin, Stacy Keach, George Wendt, and the director John Landis. There’s the added bonus of hearing 30 of the poems on the enclosed CD. One of my favorites is George Wendt’s reading of “White Key.” A couple of other poems I really enjoyed on the CD (all of them are good - I don’t mean to dis the rest by singling the ones I mention out for this review) are Michael O’Keefe’s reading of “Passengers” by Denis Johnson, and Alix Lambert’s of the Miklos Radnoti poem “Letter to My Wife.” I’d never heard of these two poets before, but I was impressed with these examples enough to want to seek out their books.
Really great poems other than the ones included on the CD I liked quite a bit, like Daryl Hannah’s contribution of the Neruda poem “Ode to a Hummingbird.” I like Neruda’s poetry, but I had not read this piece before. How can one not fall in love with the poem, when it contains lines like the following, describing hummingbirds:
You’re so brave, the feathered armor
If you’re looking for a poetry book that is a cut above the usual best-of collections, one that will introduce you to many wonderful poets and poems you’ve likely been either unexposed to or under-exposed to before, then I can think of no better collection than The Poem I Turn To. It’s a rare collection of poetry that has within its covers poems like another favorite of mine, Peter Coyote’s contribution of W.B. Yeat’s “Long-Legged Fly,” rubbing shoulders with the Alfre Woodard offering of the Nikki Giovanni poem - which has become one I love, also - entitled “Ego Tripping.”
Of the black falcon won’t scare you:
You gyrate like light within light,
Air in air,
Intrepidly you venture
Into the humid sheath of a tremulous flower,
Fearless that its nuptial honey will decapitate you.
Beautiful poetry is food for your mind, heart, and soul. Get yourself a generous helping by checking out The Poem I Turn To. It’s soul-enriching, and non-caloric, too - what could be better?