Ellen Burstyn, Ann Curry and others read at poetry benefit


NEW YORK (AP) — Some nights remind you there’s a poem for everyone.

If you’re a famous chef-restaurateur, such as Daniel Rose, you might offer a few lines about food, Dorianne Laux’s “A Short History of the Apple.” For the dancer-choreographer Savion Glover, there’s Allison Joseph’s tribute to a standby of 1970s television, “Soul Train.” And if you’re former “Today” show correspondent Ann Curry, who knows well the changing fortunes of public life, you find special delight in Maya Angelou’s anthem “Still I Rise”:

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

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But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Rose, Glover and Curry were among the readers, or “honorary poets,” as host (and poet) Elizabeth Alexander called them Wednesday night at the 17th annual “Poetry & the Creative Mind” benefit. Presented by the Academy of American Poets, the event was staged before an appreciative audience at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. As in previous years, “Poetry & the Creative Mind” brought in prominent guests from a wide variety of careers, united by a willingness to read a few favorite poems before some 2,000 people or more. Meryl Streep, Tina Fey and Gloria Steinem have been among the performers at the academy benefit.

Some of the poems chosen Wednesday night were openly personal. Actor Josh Charles lamented the death of a close friend in introducing Raymond Carver’s melancholy “Photograph of My Father in His Twenty-second Year.” Ellen Burstyn read two poems by Mary Oliver, who died in January, and called the first line of Oliver’s “Wild Geese” her favorite of any poem: “You do not have to be good.” Visual artist Toyin Ojih Odutola read Tracy K. Smith’s “Sci-Fi,” which imagines that “For kicks, we’ll dance for ourselves/Before mirrors studded with golden bulbs.”

The Lincoln Center event found David Rockefeller Jr. of the Rockefeller dynasty sharing a stage with Stephen Merritt of the indie bands Magnetic Fields and Gothic Archies. Each have distinctive baritones, Merritt’s droll and dry as he worked in two short, witty songs around poems by Thom Gunn and Stevie Smith, Rockefeller’s warm and comforting, even when delivering the horrors of Sarah Kay’s “Jakarta, January,” which juxtaposes a sixth grade poetry class on one side of town while elsewhere a man blows himself up at a Starbucks and “other men throw grenades in the street.”

The words “Donald Trump” were never uttered, but the president was unmistakably referred to by Ireland’s ambassador to the United States, Daniel Mulhall. He joked that he likes nothing more each morning than to “fire off a good tweet.”

But in his case, he tweets a poem, an Irish poem.

“I never get any abuse from a person who follows me,” he said happily. “I’ve concluded that poetry readers are wonderful people.”

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