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Poems for Life: Famous People Select Their…

Poems for Life: Famous People Select Their Favorite Poem and Say Why It… (1995)

by Anna Quindlen

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Well, I didn't mean to, but I picked up this little volume last night and read the whole thing! It's obviously a quick read, and not as weighty or as peopled with really famous individuals as I had expected. Basically it was a project "compiled by the Grade V Classes of The Nightingale-Bamford School" to benefit the International Rescue Committee. The students wrote to various celebrities and "important" people asking that they contribute a favorite poem and explain its significance to them.

As is always likely when approaching a large group of individuals, particularly when most of them are creative and/or driven, the result is somewhat erratic. Some people gave long, thoughtful responses; some jotted a quick note; some dictated an answer to a secretary. Some sent poems; some sent scraps of poems; some referred the students to poems; and some sent or referred to prose selections instead (why not?). The contributors range from "really" famous (Angela Lansbury, Yo-Yo Ma), to well-known in literary circles (E. L. Doctorow, Joyce Carol Oates), to "huh?" (Whitney North Seymour Jr., Richard W. Riley). They are authors, politicians, teachers, priests, rabbis, actors, movie producers, photographers, and poets.

The selections include some fairly predictable choices, such as "If," by Rudyard Kipling, and "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening," by Robert Frost, but there are some lesser known poems and at least one that was composed for this book.

I think the one that spoke most strongly to me was Elie Wiesel's contribution, written by a Jewish boy named Motele in Yiddish (no last name, date, or poem title is provided):

From tomorrow on, I shall be sad --
From tomorrow on!
Today I will be gay.

What is the use of sadness -- tell me that? --
Because these evil winds begin to blow?
Why should I grieve for tomorrow -- today?
Tomorrow may be so good, so sunny,
Tomorrow the sun may shine for us again;
We shall no longer need to be sad.

From tomorrow on, I shall be sad --
From tomorrow on!
Not today, no! today I will be glad.
And every day, no matter how bitter it be,
I will say:
From tomorrow on, I shall be sad,
Not today!

This is an enjoyable little collection. I will likely keep it for a while and reread it. ( )
  glade1 | Aug 28, 2012 |
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Responses from fifty celebrities who received letters from fifth-grade students posing the question, "What is your favorite poem?".

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Arcade Publishing

An edition of this book was published by Arcade Publishing.

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