If you think Bill Murray in real life is the callow jokester or the curmudgeonly misanthrope he's played in movies, it's time to reassess. It turns out he's a lifelong lover of verse who's been a supporter of New York City's Poets House for more than 20 years. (Check out the YouTube video of him reading Emily Dickinson's "I Dwell in Possibility" to a gathering of construction workers.)

In celebration of National Poetry Month, we asked Murray to share a few of his favorite poems. His idea? Present them to us in person. So, after inviting us to his room at the Carlyle hotel in Manhattan, he read each one aloud with feeling and humor. In preparation, he'd scrawled notes on what impressed him most about each. We listened and jotted down notes of our own. When we were done, our host rolled out a glass cart, on which a shaker and three martini glasses sat, and poured drinks—an act of poetry all its own.

1. From "Famous" by Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so...

I want to be famous in the way
a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did
anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot
what it could do.

MURRAY: "It's not the dream of being big, it's the dream of being real. That's what stands out to me."

2. "What the Mirror Said" by Lucille Clifton

you a wonder.
you a city
of a woman.
you got a geography
of your own.
somebody need a map
to understand you.
somebody need
to move around you.
you not a noplace
mister with his hands
on you
he got his hands on

MURRAY: "Everybody needs an 'Attagirl!' now and then."

3. From "Oatmeal" by Galway Kinnell

I am aware it is not good to eat oatmeal alone...
Possibly it is even worse to eat oatmeal with an imaginary companion.
Nevertheless, yesterday morning I ate my oatmeal with John Keats.
Keats said I was right to invite him: due to its glutinous texture, gluey lumpishness, hint of slime, and unusual willingness to disintegrate, oatmeal must never be eaten alone.
He said it is perfectly OK, however, to eat it with an imaginary companion.

MURRAY: "Alas, Kinnell, too, is now available for breakfast. (We lost him two years ago.)"

4. From"I Love You Sweetheart" by Thomas Lux

She will know I love her now,
the world will know
my love for her! A man risked his life to
write the words.
Love is like this at the
bone, we hope, love
is like this, Sweatheart,
all sore and dumb
and dangerous...

MURRAY: "This poem vibrates the insides of my ribs, where the meat is most tender."


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