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, 1,000 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

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