See Bill Murray read poetry to construction workers: Why not?
Bill Murray is the last guy I’d peg as a poetry lover. Baseball? Sure. Cigars? Of course. Golf? Beyond question. So imagine my surprise when I found a video of Murray reading poetry to a gang of Manhattan construction workers. He teases them for being bored, and calls Emily Dickinson “corny gal.”
It turns out that Murray is a longtime supporter of Poets House, “a national poetry library and literary center” founded in 1985 by poet Stanley Kunitz and arts administrator Elizabeth Kray.
Poets House is home to a library of 50,000-plus poetry books and conducts 200 public programs each year, including an Annual Poets Showcase that gathers the thousands of books of poetry published in a given year, from large publishers and small, in one place.
From 1990 until 2007 Poets House was located in a Soho loft, but rising rents forced it to seek a new home. The Battery Park City Authority came to the rescue, designating Poetry House as a “rent-free tenant in a new building on the banks of the Hudson River.” Poets House moved into the new location, 10 River Terrace, in the summer of 2009.
Apparently taking seriously the mandate to develop new audiences for poetry, Murray visited the site as construction neared completion. During a work break, he read poems by Dickinson, Lorine Niedecker and others. He cracked jokes about short attention spans, pointing out cellphone users, and said undocumented workers were leaving the site to avoid the video camera.
But his readings, especially of Dickinson’s “I dwell in possibility” are credible and heartfelt. The faces of the workers vary from boredom and perplexity to smiles of apparent approval and understanding. A few seem to nod their heads in time with the music of Dickinson’s verse — wisely chosen for an audience of builders:
I dwell in Possibility–
A fairer House than Prose–
More numerous of Windows–
Of Chambers as the Cedars–
Impregnable of Eye–
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky–
Of Visitors–the fairest–
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise–
At one point, Murray launches into a typical semi-sensible Bill Murray monologue: “Lastly I want to say thank you for building this and putting yourselves into it, the way the poets put themselves into their words and the way all New Yorkers put themselves into what they really, really–gravitate to, what really makes them a man or a woman. This site — I know you all feel when you come here — I know I feel it when I come down here, the fact htat it’s going to be here, it’s a pretty nice piece of bliss. It’s a little bit of balm, the hope that comes out at the end of Pandora’s box. So thank you very much, and you got about three more minutes before this break is over. Smoke ’em if you got ’em.”
Murray’s construction site poetry reading took place last year, so I don’t know why it’s just now circulating on the Internet. But it’s worth checking out. It reflects Murray — and poetry — in a fresh light.