Crossed in Translation: Besieged Bill Murray Pounds Pavement, Eats Pie with Poets

Poets House of Soho, founded by Stanley Kunitz and Elizabeth Kray in 1985, has long had a devoted patron in the actor Bill Murray, who played a cameo role in the Transom’s childhood: En route to nursery school one day, we met him shooting Ghostbusters at a firehouse on North Moore Street; according to the Transom’s mother, he offered to buy our Smurf lunchbox. (We declined.)

Despite or perhaps in defiance of recently reported marital difficulties, Mr. Murray was among the hundreds of men and women who gathered at Centre Street on Monday, June 9, for the House’s annual Poetry Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge. “Would now be a good time to share our Smurf anecdote?” we asked our liaison. “Maybe later,” she said.

Poet Thomas Lux, the evening’s emcee and self-proclaimed Safety Captain, walked over the bridge backward, making sure, as he said, that no poetry nut was killed by a bicycle nut. On Fulton Ferry Landing, poet Martín Espada read lustily from a Mayakovsky poem, and Pulitzer Prize winner Galway Kinnell read, as he does every year, Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.”

During a banquet at Bubby’s Brooklyn, the Transom was told that Mr. Murray was in no mood to talk. A note was circulated, but never came back. Later, the star rose before the crowd. “I am aware,” he read, from Mr. Kinnell’s poem “Oatmeal,” as Mr. Kinnell turned his chair to face the lectern and ate from a plate of cherry pie in his lap, “it is not good to eat oatmeal alone.”

As the evening drew to a close, the Transom approached Mr. Murray directly, forgot the Smurf anecdote, and asked, instead, how reading poetry compares to acting.

“I like this,” Mr. Murray replied, before disappearing into the night, “because it’s a live take.”

wheinrich@observer.com Crossed in Translation: Besieged Bill Murray Pounds Pavement, Eats Pie with Poets