Last night, we sold out Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall for the 15th annual Poetry & the Creative Mind, a gala celebration of poetry’s important place in our culture and its impact on the lives of readers and artists working in other disciplines. This year’s event featured twelve featured readers, including Uzo Aduba, Wayne Brady, Maurice Hines, Madhur Jaffrey, Sebastian Junger, James Lapine, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Amanda Palmer, Meg Ryan, National Student Poet Joey Reisberg, Master of Ceremonies Elizabeth Alexander, and Honorary Host Meryl Streep.

Streep, a three-time Academy Award winning actress and the recipient of the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented Gary Snyder’s poem “Mother Earth: Her Whales” and Maggie Smith’s poem “Good Bones.” Snyder wrote "Mother Earth: Her Whales" the summer solstice in 1972, when he was in attendance at the United Nations Environmental Conference in Stockholm, Sweden. Snyder, who was skeptical about the proceedings, calls out various nations in this poem and urges people around the globe to protest the ruination of the planet, its animals, and its natural resources: “Is man most precious of all things? / —then let us love him, and his brothers, all those / Fading living beings—.”

The night, which was punctuated with musical performances by Palmer and Salvant, as well as Streep—who began her reading with an impromptu performance of a lullaby her mother used to sing her—was full of poems that championed empathy, equality, and the value of the arts, from Junger’s reading of Walt Whitman’s universal epic “Song of Myself” to Hines’s rendition of Maya Angelou’s proud “Ain’t That Bad?” and Salvant’s declaration, in the words of Langston Hughes’s famous poem, that “I, too, sing America.”

Streep capped off the event with her rendering of “Good Bones,” which first went viral last June in the wake of the Orlando massacre and has been shared countless times since. The poem begins with a grim realization about the state of the world, as the speaker says, “The world is at least / fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative / estimate,” but ultimately ends with the prospect of a world made better through work and intention: “This place could be beautiful, / right? You could make this place beautiful.”

Poetry & the Creative Mind supports our education program and, this year, helped us illustrate how vital and relevant the arts are in our country now more than ever. Through our celebration this year—at which we also distributed brand-new #SaveTheNEA buttons to gala attendees and hosts—we spread the word about our efforts to protect funding for the arts. Find out more about how you can help #SaveTheNEA