The Poets' Corner
John Lithgow
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Buy *The Poets' Corner: The One-and-Only Poetry Book for the Whole Family* by John Lithgowonline

The Poets' Corner: The One-and-Only Poetry Book for the Whole Family
John Lithgow
Grand Central Publishing
304 pages
November 2007
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Poetry lovers, consider The Poets' Corner, compiled by John Lithgow. It presents a broad and varied selection of some of the best-loved poetry ever written in the English language, and comes with an enclosed CD that contains a selection of the poetry in the book read by famous actors and actresses like Glenn Close, Morgan Freeman, Kathy Bates, Gary Sinise, Jodie Foster, and Sam Waterston, to name a few. Some poems are read by Lithgow himself and by former Poetry Laureate, Billy Connolly. It may not really be, as the subtitle states, “The One-And-Only Poetry Book For The Whole Family,”- there are several other fine compilations for sale which could be said to be suitable for the whole family - but it is a very good compilation that is sure to contain some of your best-loved poems, and possibly some that you’re currently unfamiliar with which might become new favorites.

The poems are listed alphabetically by the author’s last names. This separates poems and poets who perhaps should be placed following each other chronologically or who are in the same grouping, such as the Romantics -Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats, and Shelley - but alphabetically by author is, I suppose, as good a way to organize a book of poetry as any other. The first poem in the book is by Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach,” and the last one is by William Butler Yeats, “The Lake of Innisfree.”

I would have liked to see and read more poems by each poet. The best-known poems by some of the poets included aren’t in the book, and other somewhat less-known ones sometimes are, for various reasons. For one example, there’s only one T.S. Eliot poem, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” here. It’s a very good poem, and I think the dramatic reading of it by Morgan Freeman is one of the best of the readings on the enclosed CD - but, Eliot’s famous poems “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “The Hollow Men,” “Ash Wednesday,” and “”The Wasteland” are notably absent. It’s true that if every single famous poem by every single poet in the book was included, the sheer weight of it would make it difficult to lift. Still, I would have liked to have seen at least one or two more of each poet’s poems presented.

The introduction by Lithgow and his commentary are both interesting and beneficial for a greater understanding of the poems and poets. He makes the poems easily accessible to a wide audience, places them in their time and poetic schools of thought, and gives capsule biographies of them. Sometimes a word is defined to help place the poet in his/her context better, such as the word “Modernist.” Other poems that Lithgow likes by each poet are also mentioned, and occasionally he has a famous quote from them in a rectangular box that relates how they feel about poetry and life in general.

Some poets and poems are longtime favorites of mine, like Ezra Pound, Lewis Carroll, Shakespeare, and the aforementioned T.S. Eliot, and poems by each of these poets are in The Poets' Corner. I also read poems by several poets with whom I was previously relatively unfamiliar, which I enjoyed greatly. Some examples of these are Allen Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California,” Robert Lowell’s “The Public Garden,” (read very well with flair by Billy Connolly) and Marianne Moore’s “Poetry.” I didn’t particularly care for Edward Lear’s The Jumblies” or Percy Shelley’s “To a Skylark,” but in any compilation, there’s bound to be some poems you don’t like as well as others.

Introduce your family to poetry if you haven’t already. Poems, read aloud and discussed by family members, are a fun and educational way to spend quality time together. Reading poetry is also a good way to enrich your own life and open yourself to new experiences and horizons. The Poets' Corner is a compilation I highly recommend, sure to bring back memories of some of your favorites and introduce you to poems and poets you may have not been familiar with before. The CD is a definite plus.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Douglas R. Cobb, 2007

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