Meryl Streep, Dan Rather lead star-studded but somber reading to benefit Academy of American Poets - - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |

Meryl Streep, Dan Rather lead star-studded but somber reading to benefit Academy of American Poets

NEW YORK (AP) _ The crocuses are blooming and the celebrity readers intoning. Yes, it's that time of year again, the third annual Poetry & the Creative Mind all-star benefit.

Actors Meryl Streep, Liam Neeson and Sam Waterston were among the luminaries at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall Tuesday evening, as the Academy of American Poets celebrated the 10th National Poetry Month.

Even the Empire State Building got in on the act, according to the academy's executive director, Tree Swenson. The top of its spire was illuminated with blue and white lights in honor of the month _ and not the Yankees, as some New Yorkers might have assumed.

Despite co-chair Jorie Graham's breathless closing remarks describing the evening as a ``miracle,'' this year's reading was a rather somber affair. The 11 readers mostly went for gravitas, from Neeson's choice of ``Frederick Douglass'' by Robert Hayden to Waterston's heroic picks: E.A. Robinson, Robinson Jeffers, Walt Whitman and Robert Lowell.

Former CBS anchor Dan Rather read only one poem, Wallace Stevens' ``The Death of a Soldier,'' which he chose ``lest we forget that we are a nation at war.'' The bleak poem was shorter than his introduction, in which he informed the audience that it was written in the year of his birth, 1931.

Actress Minnie Driver followed with a lighter presentation in which she admitted to being ``scared'' of poet Sylvia Plath while in school, where she had a ``depressed and depressing'' teacher whom her classmates nicknamed ``Bell Jar'' after Plath's book detailing her emotional unraveling.

Conversational and clear in an event that always sees many overwrought recitations, Driver's reading was one of the evening's highlights. She stuck to quiet, inward-looking poems, including Plath's exquisite ``Morning Song.''

New York Times columnist Frank Rich provided another bright spot, reading W.H. Auden's ``Musee des Beaux Arts'' and Frank O'Hara's ``Ave Maria.'' Both, he said, are ``poems that wonderfully express, to me, something I believe in in war and peace _ the consolation of art, high and low.''

Co-chair and perennial reader Streep, always dramatic, provided a silly moment _ perhaps unintentional _ with her impersonation of a young man while reading Langston Hughes' ``Theme for English B.''

Other readers included architect Maya Lin and playwright Tony Kushner, who brought laughter with his lusty reading of Thom Gunn's mucus-rich depiction of mating leopard slugs in ``At the Barriers.'' Gunn, as Kushner noted, died last April. Graham paid tribute to another recently dead poet, Robert Creeley, but other deaths, including Donald Justice's and Mona van Duyn's, went unremarked.

Most of the readers wore funeral-appropriate attire. But, as befits a fashion icon, Diane von Furstenberg stood out in glittery jewelry, loose beige wrap dress and strappy heels. Oddly enough, the Belgian-born designer brought to mind recordings of Edna St. Vincent Millay with her throaty reading of the dramatic New England poet's ``Recuerdo.''

Perhaps it was the accent, for which she apologized beforehand, saying, ``Reading poetry is like dreaming and math, you usually do it in your own language.''
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