Bill Murray is an avid supporter of Poets House and likes to take part in its major annual fundraiser Poetry Walk.

Bill Murray is an avid supporter of Poets House and likes to take part in its major annual fundraiser Poetry Walk.

Poets House

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” is a pretty enough turn of phrase, but Poets House takes the metaphor literally each year. Its annual Poetry Walk, taking place June 11 at 6 p.m., combines poetry readings and a ceremonial crossing of the Brooklyn Bridge. The event even claims a frequent major celebrity guest: actor and avid poetry fan Bill Murray.

“He’s been a great supporter, though we never know for sure whether he can make it. He’s very busy, but we always expect him,” says Lee Briccetti, executive director of Poets House.

When Murray was filming Moonrise Kingdom — Wes Anderson’s charming 2012 summer camp flick, which was mostly filmed in Rhode Island — “he borrowed one of the planes on set and had someone fly him in up the river. There was one year we didn’t walk the bridge because it was raining, and he did it with his group in the rain, regardless,” Briccetti says.

 

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The event supports the nonprofit Poets House, the 30-year-old poetry library located in Battery Park City. The assembled bards and their avid audience start their day at City Hall Park with readings, then continue with a procession across the Brooklyn Bridge into Brooklyn Bridge Park, where the readings continue. Walt Whitman’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry is always the commanding finale.

As a resident of nearby Brooklyn Heights, Whitman wrote this existential time-traveling tome before the bridge existed, when New York City’s pace was gentler, but human existence no less complicated. “You’re in the space Walt Whitman was writing about,” says Briccetti. “It’s beautiful, it’s very spiritual, and there’s a ritual component of doing it every year. It’s like a pilgrimage.”

The world of poetry isn’t exactly well-stocked with celebrities, which is why Murray brings a little oomph to the proceedings. But the literary stars of the event are the celebrated writers; this year, they include Patricia Smith, Willie Perdomo, Yanyi, Sophie Cabot Black and Tina Chang. Smith gets the honor of reading Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.

 

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“In the poetry world, these are celebrities,” says Briccetti. “Patricia Smith, well, she just won everything for her book Incendiary Art. This year, the first woman of color reads Crossing Brooklyn Ferry for us. That’s remarkable. There is frisson when, every year, you’re hearing it read in a different voice.”

The event launches Poets House’s busy summer season, which includes the 26th annual Poets House Showcase of every American book of poetry published in the past year. The opening reception is June 28, and there are subsequent readings every Thursday through August. “There are 750 poetry presses in the U.S. We’ve had a 3,500-book year,” says Briccetti of the task ahead of them. “After the reception and readings, we have four poets read every Thursday.”

These free events would not be possible without the walk.

“It helps support everything we do. It’s the biggest part of our programming,” says Briccetti. “It’s wonderful: It’s a parade, and then a wonderful three-course dinner with more poetry readings. And Bill reading, too,” she enthuses. “He truly loves the event. When he walks the bridge, people do a double take.”

The Poetry Walk takes place June 12 at 6 p.m. Tickets are $300. Poets House is free and open Tues-Fri from 11a.m.-7 p.m. at 10 River Terrace, poetshouse.org