Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Riehlife Book Review: “The Poem I Turn To: Actors & Directors Present Poetry that Inspires Them,” by Jason Shinder

What are actors thinking in a scene and how do they prepare? More often than we know, the answer is poetry.


That's what we learn in Jason Shinder's newest newest anthology and its accompanying CD: "The Poem I Turn to: Actors & Directors Present Poetry that Inspires Them" (Sourcebooks Media Fusion, 2008) with a preface by Billy Collins and an afterward by John Lithgow.

Shinder and advisory editors Michael O'Keefe and Lili Taylor (in association with the David Coleman Dukes Memorial Theatre Scholarship Fund at the University of Southern California) have put together one lovely collection that, by extension, shows the power of poetry in the daily life of creative people everywhere.

Regular readers of Riehlife will recognize the theme of disciplines interlocking and nurturing each other....creating connections through the arts.

Jason Shinder's introduction tells us how the idea for the anthology came to him when he was working in the filmaking community directing the Arts Writing Program at Sundance Institute. Talking to a young actress, introducing himself as a poet and feeling shy about it, she put him at ease by saying, "Oh, I love to turn to poems."

From this conversation Shinder learned that, "a good actor...or any good, fortunate human...was, of course, always shifting and changing and searching, and this uncertain and fraught state of the necessarily never satisfied is nourished and good poems".

In "The Poem I Turn To" 43 actors and directors chose 79 poems and a selection of these appear on the CD. You can hear, for example, Lili Taylor reading Robert Frost's classic "The Road Not Taken," and Michael O'Keefe reading Ezra Pound's "In a Station at the Metro."

In "The Poem I Turn To" we are given an impressive cross-section of film artists---women and men; younger and older; famous and lesser-known---sharing the poems that move and inspire them. I love the informal commentaries by actors and directors giving testimony to how the poem they've selected has worked in their lives. Each poem is accompanied by a short bio of the poet. The bios for the filmakers appears in the back of the book for easy reference.

The poets chosen lean on the Anglo-American canon, but they selections do step out...and also rub against each other in interesting ways. I'd like to see an index in the book so I could look up poets by name and poems by title.

When I discovered that Jane Fonda and I share a guiding poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, I felt a slight jolt. The translation in this book is slightly different from mine. Called "Moving Forward" in the book...but "Moving Ahead" in the framed version I memorized decades ago when I used this poem as the entry poem for my first visual arts exhibition "Celebrating an African Experience." Rilke's 8-line poem "Moving Ahead," is the poem I turn to, in both joy and sorrow. It was thrilling to see it here in Fonda's section.

You'll love meeting both familiar friends and new poems in "The Poem I Turn To." What more perfect gift to give someone you love during National Poetry Month?

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1 Responses »

  1. Hi there, this is a great book, isn't it? I'm keeping it for always! And it's interesting how Shinder got an idea for a good book of poems from a simple conversation. Inspiration can come from anywhere!

    By the way, here's my review of this book. 🙂

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