Steinem, Cannon among readers at poetry benefit

AP News
Posted: Apr 16, 2015 1:26 AM
Steinem, Cannon among readers at poetry benefit

NEW YORK (AP) — Gloria Steinem, Nick Cannon and Holly Hunter were among the readers. Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou were among the poets they read.

The 13th annual "Poetry & and the Creative Mind" benefit was held Wednesday night at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center. With an eclectic group of celebrity readers drawn from various arts and other parts of the culture, the event helped celebrate National Poetry Month and raise money for the nonprofit Academy of American Poets. Guests ranged from Steinem and Cannon to musicians Sam Beam and Kris Kristofferson to actresses Hunter and Debra Winger to chef and restaurateur Anita Lo.

The host, author and longtime book designer Chip Kidd, asked the audience not to clap until all 11 readers were introduced at the beginning, but a few claps broke out anyway for Cannon and the applause was even louder for Steinem. She turned 81 last month, but the longtime feminist looked more than ready to fulfill her vow of living to 100 and upon her turn to recite approached the podium with a youthful stride.

"My name is Gloria Steinem" began the guest least in need of introduction, to yet another ovation. "I just wanted to say thank you to you, to all of you who have taken poetry out of the place that I thought it was when I was growing up in Toledo, Ohio.

"I thought it was an obscure room, with three white guys who wore tweed jackets, smoked unlit pipes, had suede patches on their elbows under which there was no hole — that it was completely, utterly removed from my life."

Steinem read three poems, including works by her friends Robin Morgan and Alice Walker and Steinem's favorite "organizing" poem, Marge Piercy's "The Low Road":

A dozen make a demonstration.

A hundred fill a hall.

A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter; ten thousand, power and your own paper;

a hundred thousand, your own media;

ten million, your own country.

Others also spoke of their personal ties to poetry. Cannon, a looker in his fedora and three-piece suit, praised his great-grandmother for introducing him to the work of Hughes and read the poet's "Dream." Vanessa Williams gave a spirited, joyful recital of Angelou's "Extraordinary Woman" and remembered reading Angelou when she was young. Dancer-choreographer Judith Jamison savored David Budbill's "Tomorrow" and its call to go dancing "while we've/still got feet." Lo chose three works about food, including Amy Gerstler's "Fruit Cocktail in Light Syrup," her mouth contorting humorously at the very mention of "anemic grapes, wrinkled and pale" and "deflated maraschino cherries."

Guests had been encouraged to improvise and they took advantage. Beam was supposed to read a single William Stafford poem, but instead chose several, offered a mini-biography of the late, Kansas-born poet and threw in a song he said was inspired in part by Stafford's plain style. Kristofferson, the last performer, went straight to music. He skipped the William Blake poem listed on the program, strapped on a guitar and crooned some modern verse, his signature "Me and Bobby McGee."

Seated behind him, Hunter smiled and nodded her head in time.