A Poetic Celebration of Shakespeare on His Birthday

April is National Poetry Month, and we've been celebrating with a month-long 30 Days of Poetry series. We asked thirty of our librarians and other staff members to select a poem. We then recorded them each reading the poem and talking about the reason behind their selections. We've been releasing one poem per day all month, and you can listen to all the installments here.

Today's poem is selected and read by Doug Reside, Lewis and Dorothy Cullman Curator for the Billy Rose Theatre Division at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. A passage from The Tempest, Doug's selection also celebrates today's birthday boy: William Shakespeare!

We asked Doug a few questions about his selection, time machines, and the relationship between theater and poetry.

When did you first read The Tempest?

It was my sophomore year of college in an intro to Shakespeare course taught by a great professor Mary Lou Woehlk at Truman State University.

If you had a time machine and could travel back to see an original production of one Shakespeare play, which one would you want to see and why?

I think it would be either The Tempest or Hamlet. The Tempest because I love the play and would love to hear the original music used in all those songs. The Tempest is basically a musical, with this huge 11 o'clock number where Prospero conjures up this big dance of the gods, but we don't really know what it sounded like. I'd like to see Hamlet because the earliest texts differ so much from quarto to quarto and to Folio that it would be fun to see what they finally used in the original production...though I'd want to use this time machine to see it several times over the course of the run. And on my way back I may look in at The Winter's Tale just to see if Antigonus does actually "exeunt pursued by bear."

What are some of your favorite Shakespeare materials in The Library for the Performing Art's collections?

I love our set models from the Delacorte Theater. The New York Shakespeare Festival materials are pretty great, as they tell the story of one of the really great truly public theaters in NYC.

What ways do you see poetry and theater overlap?

Aristotle wrote that poetry and music are essential elements of theatre, and I agree. Musical theater is probably the best example of contemporary popular verse drama, but I think some of the best non-musical theater and films have very poetic dialogue. Even plays that aren't written in verse have language that is just really enjoyable to hear. There are lots of examples, but Tony Kushner's screenplay for Lincoln is my favorite recent example. The language in that film is as beautiful as the cinematography.

What are some of your favorite poems/poets?

The big English epics are some of my favorites -- Beowulf, Paradise Lost, parts of the Faerie Queene. I love poems that tell a story. I think T.S. Eliot does this really well, too. I think the Wasteland and the Four Quartets have an almost frightening beauty. On the other side of the spectrum, I think Billy Collins is really funny. I love his poem "Litany" in which he mocks the questionable metaphors of some grandiose poets. My wife and I often quote to each other, "There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air."