Who among us wouldn’t want the ineffably mellow, witty, and wise Bill Murray to crash their party, wedding, or White House press briefing room? Maybe you’re one of the few who could resist his comic charms. But could you throw him out if he brought along a cellist and read Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem “Dog”? Not I.
Murray appeared at SXSW on Monday and read the poem as part of the promotional campaign for Wes Anderson’s new stop-motion animation film Isle of Dogs. And it can seem when we look back at Murray’s many public appearances over the last few years, that the one thing he’s done more than crash other people's parties and star in Wes Anderson films has been read poetry in public.
Murray, as Ayun Halliday pointed out in a previous post, is a “documented poetry nut,” who once wrote poetry himself as a much younger man. He’s been “wise enough,” writes Gavin Edwards at Rolling Stone “not to share it with the world.” Perhaps we’re missing out.
But we do have many, many clips of Murray reading his favorites from other poets he admires, like Ferlinghetti, and like Wallace Stevens, whose “The Planet on The Table” and “A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts,” he reads above at New York’s Poets House, an institution he has wholeheartedly supported.
Wallace Stevens is a famously difficult poet, but he is also quite funny, in an obliquely droll way, and its no wonder Murray likes his verse. Poets House director Lee Bricoccetti observes that there is “an alignment between comedy and poetry… a precision in the way you handle language.” Some of my own favorite poets—like Frank O’Hara and the “willfully ridiculous” Stevie Smith—are also some of the funniest writers I’ve ever encountered in any form. Murray’s own poetic efforts, were we ever to hear them, may not measure up to the work of his favorites, but he is undoubtedly “a master of linguistic control and pacing.”
We also know that he can turn in finely nuanced dramatic performances when he wants to, and his mastery of the spoken word contributes just as much to moodier poets like Emily Dickinson, whom he reads above in a surprise performance for construction workers at work on the new Poets House home in 2009. You might agree, however, that he really shines with comic fare, like Billy Collins “Another Reason I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House” and Lorine Niedecker’s majorly condensed “Poet’s Work.”
Any of these readings should grant Murray admission into the most uptight of literary affairs. If anyone still doubts his skill in the craft of reading literature well in public—which, any writer will you, is no easy thing by far—then hear him read Lucille Clifton’s uplifting “What the Mirror Said” (above), or Sarah Manguso’s “What We Miss,” Billy Collins’ “Forgetfulness,” and Cole Porter’s song “Brush Up on Your Shakespeare.” Hear him read from Huckleberry Finn and mumble his way through Bob Dylan’s “Shelter from the Storm,” in character in the film St. Vincent.
Oh, but does the multitalented Bill Murray, "master of linguistic control and pacing," sing show tunes? Does he ever….
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