Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Poem I Turn To: Actors and Directors Present Poetry That Inspires Them

By Jason Shinder
Reviewed by Dena

Publisher’s intro: We often watch movies and wonder what the actors were thinking when they performed a scene. What went into preparing for a role that reached out from the screen and touched us? More often than most audiences know…the answer is poetry.

Is it? Put aside for a minute the clunky title, The Poem I Turn To, and you are faced with two things, one good and one bad.

The good? Poetry. Pages upon pages of classic and modern poetry, a thing in and of itself beautiful and inspiring. The bad? An awkward formula – poetry + celebrities + commentary – that ultimately equals a dud.

While The Poem I Turn To may offer some insight into the tastes of the actors and directors featured, the commentary is mostly lackluster and, in many cases, entirely absent from the anthology that promises to ofer insight and inspiration. Instead it falls short of this promise and leaves that job to the original work featured herein.

Contributors like Jon Robin Baitz and Alin Arkin comment nicely on their choices, Rumi’s “The Guest House” and Henry Reed’s “The Naming of Parts” respectively, and share with the reader the profoundness of poetry when it reflects and real experience. Carrie Fisher, on the other hand, chooses “This Be The Verse” by the great Philip Larkin and easily dismisses her own choice by saying that she likes the poem simply because Salman Rushdie told her she likes it for its simple verse. Is she name-dropping, or are we really supposed to care that Carrie Fisher couldn’t really decide for herself why she chose this poem? Opportunities to peek into the minds of people like Jane Fonda, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Dianne Wiest are lost, making for a very uneven reading experience.

It’s well enough to pick up a poetry anthology for the poetry alone, but when this book gets picked up in stores, readers will be disappointed to find that the meat is missing in this sandwich.
Note: A CD is included with the book and includes a smattering of celebs reading a few selections. It is a welcome break from the dull grind of the book itself, but is an accurate reflection of the collection’s unevenness and confused premise.

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