Bill Murray Reads the Poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson, Billy Collins, Lorine Niedecker, Lucille Clifton & More

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….

Find these poetry readings added to OC's collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free

Related Content:

Hear Bill Murray’s Favorite Poems Read Aloud by Murray Himself & Their Authors

Bill Murray Gives a Delightful Reading of Twain’sHuckleberry Finn (1996)

The Philosophy of Bill Murray: The Intellectual Foundations of His Comedic Persona

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

H.P. Lovecraft Writes “Waste Paper: A Poem of Profound Insignificance,” a Devastating Parody of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” (1923)

Image by Lucius B. Truesdell and Lady Morrell, via Wikimedia Commons

Howard Phillips Lovecraft, as his ever-growing fan base knows, seldom spared his characters — or at least their sanity — from the vast, unspeakable horrors lurking beneath his imagined reality. Not that he showed much more mercy as a critic either, as his assessment of "The Waste Land" (1922) reveals. Though now near-universally respected, T.S. Eliot's best-known poem failed to impress Lovecraft, who, in his journal The Conservative, wrote in 1923 that

We here behold a practically meaningless collection of phrases, learned allusions, quotations, slang, and scraps in general; offered to the public (whether or not as a hoax) as something justified by our modern mind with its recent comprehension of its own chaotic triviality and disorganisation. And we behold that public, or a considerable part of it, receiving this hilarious melange as something vital and typical; as “a poem of profound significance”, to quote its sponsors.

Eliot's work, Lovecraft argued, simply couldn't hold up in the modern world, where "man has suddenly discovered that all his high sentiments, values, and aspirations are mere illusions caused by physiological processes within himself, and of no significance whatsoever in an infinite and purposeless cosmos." Science, in his view, has made nonsense of tradition and "a rag-bag of unrelated odds and ends" of the soul. A poet like Eliot, it seems, "does not know what to do about it; but compromises on a literature of analysis, chaos, and ironic contrast."




Looking on even this hatchet job, Lovecraft must have felt he'd failed to slay the beast, and so he composed a parody of "The Waste Land" entitled "Waste Paper" in late 1922 or early 1923. This "Poem of Profound Insignificance," which Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi calls the writer's "best satirical poem," begins thus:

Out of the reaches of illimitable light
The blazing planet grew, and forc’d to life
Unending cycles of progressive strife
And strange mutations of undying light
And boresome books, than hell’s own self more trite
And thoughts repeated and become a blight,
And cheap rum-hounds with moonshine hootch made tight,
And quite contrite to see the flight of fright so bright

You can read the whole thing, including its probably apocryphal half-epigraph from the Greek poet Glycon, at the H.P. Lovecraft Archive. "In many parts of this quite lengthy poem," Joshi writes, "he has quite faithfully parodied the insularity of modern poetry — its ability to be understood only by a small coterie of readers who are aware of intimate facts about the poet."

Lovecraft also tried his hand at non-parodic poetry, though history remembers him much less for that than for striking a more primal chord with his sui generis "weird fiction," whose parameters he was determining at the same time he was savaging his contemporary Eliot. And though scientific progress has marched much farther on since the 1920s, especially as regards the understanding of the human mind and whatever now passes for a soul, both men's bodies of work have only gained in resonance.

via Dangerous Minds

Related Content:

H.P. Lovecraft’s Classic Horror Stories Free Online: Download Audio Books, eBooks & More

H.P. Lovecraft’s Monster Drawings: Cthulhu & Other Creatures from the “Boundless and Hideous Unknown”

H.P. Lovecraft Gives Five Tips for Writing a Horror Story, or Any Piece of “Weird Fiction”

Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (Free Documentary)

T.S. Eliot Reads His Modernist Masterpieces “The Waste Land” and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Pablo Neruda’s Poem, “The Me Bird,” Becomes a Short, Beautifully Animated Film

From 18bis, a Brazilian design & motion graphics studio, comes this: an animated interpretation of “The Me Bird," a poem by the Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda. Writes 18bis, “The inspiration in the strata stencil technique helps conceptualize the repetition of layers as the past of our movements and actions. The frames depicted as jail and the past as a burden serve as the background for the story of a ballerina on a journey towards freedom. A diversified artistic experimentation recreates the tempest that connects bird and dancer." It's all pretty wonderful.

Bonus material: You can watch The Making of The Me Bird here. And find the original text of the Neruda poem here. We have more poetry put to animation below.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2013.

Related Content:

Poems as Short Films: Langston Hughes, Pablo Neruda and More

Watch an Animated Film of Emily Dickinson’s Poem ‘I Started Early–Took My Dog’

The Animation of Billy Collins’ Poetry: Everyday Moments in Motion

Four Charles Bukowski Poems Animated

Neil Gaiman’s Dark Christmas Poem Animated

H.P. Lovecraft’s Poem “Nemesis” Gets Unexpectedly Sung to the Tune of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”

"The internet made me do it," says musician Julian Velard. For whatever reason, it made him take H.P Lovecraft's 1917 poem "Nemesis" and mash it up with Billy Joel's "Piano Man." Find the original poem below. But know Velard "had to cut a couple lines to get it to fit." Enjoy.

Thro’ the ghoul-guarded gateways of slumber,
Past the wan-moon’d abysses of night,
I have liv’d o’er my lives without number,
I have sounded all things with my sight;
And I struggle and shriek ere the daybreak, being driven to madness with fright.

I have whirl’d with the earth at the dawning,
When the sky was a vaporous flame;
I have seen the dark universe yawning,
Where the black planets roll without aim;
Where they roll in their horror unheeded, without knowledge or lustre or name.

I had drifted o’er seas without ending,
Under sinister grey-clouded skies
That the many-fork’d lightning is rending,
That resound with hysterical cries;
With the moans of invisible daemons that out of the green waters rise.

I have plung’d like a deer thro’ the arches
Of the hoary primordial grove,
Where the oaks feel the presence that marches
And stalks on where no spirit dares rove;
And I flee from a thing that surrounds me, and leers thro’ dead branches above.

I have stumbled by cave-ridden mountains
That rise barren and bleak from the plain,
I have drunk of the fog-foetid fountains
That ooze down to the marsh and the main;
And in hot cursed tarns I have seen things I care not to gaze on again.

I have scann’d the vast ivy-clad palace,
I have trod its untenanted hall,
Where the moon writhing up from the valleys
Shews the tapestried things on the wall;
Strange figures discordantly woven, which I cannot endure to recall.

I have peer’d from the casement in wonder
At the mouldering meadows around,
At the many-roof’d village laid under
The curse of a grave-girdled ground;
And from rows of white urn-carven marble I listen intently for sound.

I have haunted the tombs of the ages,
I have flown on the pinions of fear
Where the smoke-belching Erebus rages,
Where the jokulls loom snow-clad and drear:
And in realms where the sun of the desert consumes what it never can cheer.

I was old when the Pharaohs first mounted
The jewel-deck’d throne by the Nile;
I was old in those epochs uncounted
When I, and I only, was vile;
And Man, yet untainted and happy, dwelt in bliss on the far Arctic isle.

Oh, great was the sin of my spirit,
And great is the reach of its doom;
Not the pity of Heaven can cheer it,
Nor can respite be found in the tomb:
Down the infinite aeons come beating the wings of unmerciful gloom.

Thro’ the ghoul-guarded gateways of slumber,
Past the wan-moon’d abysses of night,
I have liv’d o’er my lives without number,
I have sounded all things with my sight;
And I struggle and shriek ere the daybreak, being driven to madness with fright.

Related Content:

Hear 14 Hours of Weird H.P. Lovecraft Stories on Halloween: “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Dunwich Horror” & More

23 Hours of H.P. Lovecraft Stories: Hear Readings & Dramatizations of “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” & Other Weird Tales

Hear Dramatizations of H.P. Lovecraft’s Stories On His Birthday: “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Dunwich Horror,” & More

H.P. Lovecraft’s Monster Drawings: Cthulhu & Other Creatures from the “Boundless and Hideous Unknown”

H.P. Lovecraft Gives Five Tips for Writing a Horror Story, or Any Piece of “Weird Fiction”

Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (Free Documentary)

Depression & Melancholy: Animated Videos Explain the Crucial Difference Between Everyday Sadness and Clinical Depression

“Depression,” the TED-Ed video above informs us, “is the leading cause of disability in the world.” This may be a hard fact to swallow, the product, we might think, of pharmaceutical advertising. We all feel down from time to time, we think. “Then circumstances change, and those sad feelings disappear.” Isn’t it like this for everyone? It is not. “Clinical depression is different. It’s a medical disorder, and it won’t go away just because you want it to.”

Depression can linger for up to two weeks, and become so debilitating that sufferers cannot work or play. It interferes with important relationships and “can have a lot of different symptoms: a low mood, loss of interest in things you’d normally enjoy, changes in appetite, feeling worthless or excessively guilty,” restlessness and insomnia, or extreme lethargy, poor concentration, and possible thoughts of suicide. But surely we can hear a paid promotional voice when the narrator states, “If you have at least 5 of those symptoms, according to psychiatric guidelines, you qualify for a diagnosis of depression.”




What we don’t typically hear about in pharmaceutical ads are the measurable physiological changes depression writes in the brain, including decreased brain matter in the frontal lobe and atrophy of the hippocampus. These effects are measurable in humans and rats, in study after study after study. But while most of us know the names of a neurotransmitter or two these days, not even neuroscientists fully understand the biology of depression. They do know that some combination of medication, therapy, and, in extreme cases electroconvulsive treatment, can allow people to more fully experience life.

People in treatment will still feel “down” on occasion, just like everyone does. But depression, the explainer wants us to understand, should never be compared to ordinary sadness. Its effects on behavior and brain health are too wide-ranging, pervasive, persistent, and detrimental. These effects can be invisible, which adds to an unfortunate social stigma that dissuades people from seeking treatment. The more we talk about depression openly, rather than treating as it as a shameful secret, the more likely people at risk will be to seek help.

Just as depression cannot be alleviated by trivializing or ignoring it, the condition does not respond to being romanticized. While, indeed, many a famous painter, poet, actor, etc. has suffered from clinical depression—and made it a part of their art—their examples should not suggest to us that artists shouldn’t get treatment. Sadness is never trivial.

Unlike physical pain, it is difficult, for example, to pinpoint the direct causes of sadness. As the short video above demonstrates, the assumption that sadness is caused by external events arose relatively recently. The humoral system of the ancient Greeks treated all sadness as a biological phenomenon. Greek physicians believed it was an expression of black bile, or “melaina kole,” from which we derive the word "melancholy." It seems we’ve come full circle, in a way. Ancient humoral theorists recommended nutrition, medical treatment, and physical exercise as treatments for melancholia, just as doctors do today for depression.

But melancholy is a much broader term, not a scientific designation; it is a collection of ideas about sadness that span thousands of years. Nearly all of those ideas include some sense that sadness is an essential experience. “If you’ve never felt melancholy,” the narrator says, “you’ve missed out on part of what it means to be human.” Thinkers have described melancholia as a precursor to, or inevitable result of, acquiring wisdom. One key example, Robert Burton’s 1621 text The Anatomy of Melancholy, "the apogee of Renaissance scholarship," set the tone for discussions of melancholy for the next few centuries.

The scientific/philosophical/literary text argues, “he that increaseth wisdom, increaseth sorrow,” a sentiment the Romantic poets turned on its head. Before them came John Milton, whose 1645 poem Il Penseroso addresses melancholy as “thou Goddes, sage and holy… Sober, stedfast, and demure.” The deity Melancholy oversees the contemplative life and reveals essential truths through “Gorgeous Tragedy.”

One of the poem’s loftiest themes showed the way forward for the Romantics: “The poet who seeks to attain the highest level of creative expression must embrace the divine,” write Milton scholars Katherine Lynch and Thomas H. Luxon, "which can only be accomplished by following the path set out in Il Penseroso.” The divine, in this case, takes the form of sadness personified. Yet this poem cannot be read in isolation: its companion, L’Allegro, praises Mirth, and of sadness says, “Hence loathed Melancholy / Of Cerberus, and blackest midnight born, in Stygian Cave forlorn / ‘Mongst horrid shapes, and shrieks, and sights unholy.”

Rather than contradict each other, these two characterizations speak to the ambivalent attitudes, and vastly different experiences, humans have about sadness. Fleeting bouts of melancholy can be sweet, touching, and beautiful, inspiring art, music, and poetry. Sadness can force us to reckon with life’s unpleasantness rather than deny or avoid it. On the other hand, in its most extreme, chronically intractable forms, such as what we now call clinical depression, sadness can destroy our capacity to act, to appreciate beauty and learn important lessons, marking the critical difference between a universal existential condition and a, thankfully, treatable physical disease.

Related Content:

Stanford’s Robert Sapolsky Demystifies Depression, Which, Like Diabetes, Is Rooted in Biology

How Baking, Cooking & Other Daily Activities Help Promote Happiness and Alleviate Depression and Anxiety

A Unified Theory of Mental Illness: How Everything from Addiction to Depression Can Be Explained by the Concept of “Capture”

Stephen Fry on Coping with Depression: It’s Raining, But the Sun Will Come Out Again

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Raven: a Pop-up Book Brings Edgar Allan Poe’s Classic Supernatural Poem to 3D Paper Life

You know a story has staying power not just when when we keep telling it decades and even centuries after its composition, but when we keep telling it in new forms. Even when Edgar Allan Poe set his literary sights on writing a poem that would win both high critical praise and a wide popular audience back in 1845, he could hardly have imagined that it would still bring haunted delight to its readers, listeners and even viewers more than 170 years later. But The Raven does endure, not just in the various celebrity readings we've featured here on Open Culture but in numerous illustrated editions, a beloved Simpsons segment, and now even a pop-up book.

Though The Raven: a Pop-up Book, illustrated and designed by Christopher Wormell and David Pelham, adapts Poe's work of supernatural verse into a perhaps unexpected medium, it does so with thoroughness indeed.




Flip through it as do the hands in the video above, you'll find springing to paper life before you not just the poem's lovelorn narrator and the talking crow who pays him a visit, but every element of the setting as well, from the furniture and other objects of the narrator's study — the velvet chair, the books, the bust of Pallas, the locket with the image of lost Lenore — to the seaside castle in which this vision of the story locates it.

Those of us who haven't opened a pop-up book since childhood might be surprised to see how far its art has come. Not only would the illustrations of The Raven: a Pop Up Book hold up in a mere two dimensions as well, they interlock in three to form relatively complex geometric structures, ones that sometimes move with an almost eerie hint of naturalness. (You may, as I did, want to watch the narrator open his locket-holding hand more than once.) What's more, the design allows viewing from more than one angle, providing details that those who only look at the book straight on will never see. Using the archaic apostrophe of which Poe himself might have approved, Boing Boing's Cory Doctorow recommends the book "if you're gearing up for Hallowe'en and want to get your kids in the spirit of things" — and especially if those kids wrongly believe themselves too old for pop-up books or too 21st-century for Poe. Get your copy of  The Raven: a Pop Up Book here.

Related Content:

Gustave Doré’s Splendid Illustrations of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” (1884)

Édouard Manet Illustrates Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, in a French Edition Translated by Stephane Mallarmé (1875)

A Reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” in 100 Celebrity Voices

Edgar Allan Poe’s the Raven: Watch an Award-Winning Short Film That Modernizes Poe’s Classic Tale

The Simpsons Present Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” and Teachers Now Use It to Teach Kids the Joys of Literature

Hear Classic Readings of Poe’s “The Raven” by Vincent Price, James Earl Jones, Christopher Walken, Neil Gaiman, Stan Lee & More

900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Hear Benedict Cumberbatch Read John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” and Other Great Works by Shakespeare, Dante & Coleridge

Would Benedict Cumberbatch have such ardent fans if he couldn't read poetry so well? Almost certainly he would, although his way with verse still seems not like a bonus but an integral component of his dramatic persona. Though not easily explained, that relationship does come across if you hear any of the actor's readings of poetry. In the video above, Cumberbatch performs "Ode to a Nightingale," the longest and best-known of John Keats' 1819 odes that casts into verse the poet's discovery of "negative capability," or as he defined it in a letter two years earlier, "when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason."

Yet one senses that the Cumberbatch fans who put up these videos, such as the one accompanying "Ode to a Nightingale" with imagery reminiscent of a Tiger Beat pictorial, care less about his negative capability than certain other qualities. His voice, for instance: the uploader of the video combining five poems just above describes as "the velvety dulcet tones of a jaguar hiding in a cello."




That compilation includes "Ode to a Nightingale" as well as Shakespeare's "The Seven Ages of Man" ("All the world's a stage"), Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky," a piece of Dante's Divine Comedy, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Kubla Khan." With Coleridge's dream of Asia and Dante's Italian vision of the afterlife, this poetic mix does get more exotic than it might seem (at least by the standards of the eras from which it draws).

But Cumberbatch, who in 2015 received the honor of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire from the Queen and even read at the reburial ceremony of King Richard III, clearly matches best with the canon of his native England. As a versatile performer, and thus one who presumably understands all about the need for negative capability, Cumberbatch and his cello-hidden jaguar delivery (a poetic description, in its own way) has done justice in the past to Kafka, Kurt Vonnegut, and Moby-Dick. Still, one wonders what poem Cumberbatch could perform in order to achieve an unsurpassable state of peak Englishness. How long could it take for him to get around, for instance, to "If—"?

Cumberbatch's reading of "Ode" will be added to our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

Related Content:

F. Scott Fitzgerald Reads Shakespeare’s Othello and Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” (1940)

Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner Animated: A Classic Version Narrated by Orson Welles

Hear 20 Hours of Romantic & Victorian Poetry Read by Ralph Fiennes, Dylan Thomas, James Mason & Many More

Hear Benedict Cumberbatch Read Kafka’s The Metamorphosis

Benedict Cumberbatch Reads Kurt Vonnegut’s Incensed Letter to the High School That Burned Slaughterhouse-Five

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

More in this category... »
Quantcast