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"If you combined the lyricism of Annie Dillard, the vision of
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McCourt, you might come close to Amy Lou Jenkins.Tom Bissell
author of The Father of All Things
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Read the favorite poems of over forty actors including:
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Read 30 poems on one audio CD:
Adam Arkin reads
Theodore Roethke's The Waking
reads Rilke’s “The Man Watching”
reads Mark Twain's The War Prayer
reads Ezra Pound’s “In a Station at the Metro”
Parker reads Mark Strand’s “Keeping Things Whole”
reads Robert Frost's 'The Road Not Taken"
And Many More
an Original Interview with Advisory Editor Michael O'Keefe):
The Poem I Turn To
Behind the Performances: Top Actors Talk Inspiration
Audio CD: Actors and Directors Present Poetry That Inspires
Edited by Jason Shinder /
Advisory editors Michael O'Keefe and Lili Taylor
We often watch
movies and wonder what the actors were thinking when they performed a scene.
What went into preparing for a role that reached out from the screen and
touched us. More often than most audiences know…the answer is poetry.
Cinema has influenced and
inspired poets since its inception a century ago. Hundreds of poets have
written about movies including Delmore Schwartz on Marylyn Monroe, Jack
Kerouac on Harpo Marx and Maya Angelou on Gone With the Wind, among
many others. Actors and poets share a connection.
Poet, Jason Shinder was struck
by the searching and shifting nature of actors. These are also traits of poets
and poetry lovers. The Poem I TurnTo illuminates the nature of
seeking, of being human, entwining the actor, the poet, and the reader.
Shinder dedicated the book, in part, to the memory of actor David Coleman
Proceeds will support the
David Coleman Dukes Memorial Theatre Scholarship Fund at the University of
and the Fund
for Young Writers at the American Academy of Poets.
know Shinder well, although I studied at the Creative Writing Seminars at
Bennington College where he taught poetry. I know that he always hushed
the room with his gentle voice and emotionally feral verse. When I first saw
him, bespeckeld, thin, with a nerdy handsomeness (many women will understand
this), he was on his way to the dance floor at a graduation celebration.
I can't recall the woman he followed to the floor and danced with; his
elegance outshined her. He moved with rhythmic vitality and grace. He
was beautiful; it was as if his soul couldn't contain his beautiful prowess.
Over the years of my graduate studies, he grew ill. I never saw that
full complement of energy again, but I did feel it in his poetry. He
died April 25th, 2008 after living with cancer for several years.
Losing Jason Shinder
only two weeks after the release of this anthology, makes this collection even
more poignant. He knew he was sick, yet
poetry remained a central focus of his life. So much so, that he gave
much of his waning
this anthology project and to writing and teaching poetry.
O'Keefe has been a professional actor for over thirty years and has
moved between film, TV, and theater. He's been nominated for both the
Golden Globe Award and the Academy Award. In 1980 he won the Theatre World
Award. Over the years he has appeared in numerous feature films including
"The Great Santini," "Caddyshack," "Ironweed," "The Pledge," and "Michael
In addition to acting, O'Keefe
has written poetry and lyrics all his life. He's written lyrics with and
for Bonnie Raitt and Irish singer/songwriter Paul Brady. Discover more
about O'Keefe at
O’Keefe worked with Shinder as an advisory editor to create this celebration
of poetry and has graciously agreed to share some insights about this
Interview With Actor, Lyricist, and Poet,
Michael O' Keefe MO /
Amy L Jenkins AJ
How did you get involved in the anthology project The Poem I Turn To?
When I was a student at the Creative Writing Seminars at Bennington College
Jason Shinder was teaching there. Though I never had Jason as a teacher
he was very supportive of my poetry work. A genuine friendship developed
and after I graduated we began to work on the book in earnest.
In your experience, how does poetry inform performance?
Ezra Pound said, "Poetry is news that stays news." Another way to put it
is that the art of poetry reveals a life on the page that reflects the life we
are living. The actor's job, and directors and producers' job as well, is to
replicate life in an artistic way. So, as actors we are always looking
for ways to enhance our insight into the little mystery we live everyday
called, "Life." William Carlos Williams said something that addresses
this same topic. "While it is difficult to get the news from poetry,
people die miserable deaths every day from lack of what is found in its
pages." And for you sticklers out there, those two quotes do not
contradict each other but form a paradox that empowers those who know how to
read poetry and derive more than meaning or understanding from its contents.
Many of the contributors, including you, have recorded a reading of their
selected poems on CD, included as a part of the anthology. Why do you
believe that reading these works aloud is an important part of sharing these
While it's important that poetry sustain a life on the page it can also be
perceived and received when read aloud. Sometimes this is the
preferable method for communicating what poetry has to offer. Jason often
spoke of the book, Poetry Speaks as an inspiration when we worked on
The Poem I Turn To. In the former, poets read their own work and
the power of that voice heard aloud combined with the voice on the page is a
powerful experience. By asking the actors to read their selections we were
hoping to provide another path to the poem for the reader. Besides, we're
all hams and love the sound of our own voices. It was fun to do.
do you see as the audience for this book?
Lovers of poetry, film, television and theater will find a fine collection of
favorite poems from actors, directors, and producers in the know who want to
spread their connection to poetry around.
your response to Denis Johnson's work you refer to the “dark side of
transcendence.” Are you and most poets drawn to this dark side? Is there
also a lighter side with the same depth of meaning?
transcend means to go beyond dark and light. Denis Johnson's work often
progresses from a darker world view to its transcendence. Contrast that with
Mary Oliver or Coleman Barks and Stephen Batchelor's translations of Rumi and
you find poetry initiated from a side of life that may emanate more light at
times. However, these distinctions are not mutually exclusive. Both Oliver and
Rumi have darkness lurking at the borders of their pages and Johnson has a
lighter touch at times. So, to answer your questions: Yes, some, but not all
poets are drawn to transcendence and some choose darker means. Others choose a
more well lit path. Great poets go beyond all distinctions of dark and light to
a deeper place where those distinctions are at once eliminated and made clear.
As for myself, I don't know anything about transcendence except that I do know
you don't have to leave home to find it. Anyone who's watched, "The Wizard of
Oz" knows that.
question do you wished I had asked?
I wish you
had asked me what it was like to work with Jason Shinder up until his recent
death. Further, I wish I could convey the depth of my respect for his skills as
a poet and editor and the inspiration he provided through his resiliency while
facing mortality. But to attempt that would strain the form of this interview.
While we're on the topic of wishing, I wish that I could have spent more time
with Jason before he died, but the demands of my career and his kept us on
separate coasts. Finally, I wish you'd asked if I think this anthology could
convey a hint of the power of poetry to address this issue of death and the life
we lead up until it claims us. I would have replied, "Yes, yes. Yes, it
certainly can convey that and much more. Just ask Jason Shinder. And if you
can't hear his reply read his poetry. He has a great deal to say on the matter."
Thank You, Michael!
Jason Shinder's other anthologies include Lights,
Camera Poetry, Tales from the Couch:
Writers on Therapy, Best
American Movie Writing, The
Poem That Changed America: "Howl" Fifty Years Later, Divided
Light: Father and Son Poems, and Best American Movie Writing.
His poetry includes Every Room We Ever Slept in, Among Women and a forthcoming collection from Greywolf Press.