It’s the half-embarrassed faces of the workers that make the clip of Bill Murray reading poetry at a construction site so compelling. The camera moves from Murray to the workers, Murray his usual cool and self-deprecating self (that man, the older he gets, the more I like him), the workers, in their safety helmets, taking videos with their cell phones, chucking self-consciously.
The short clip thrives on the contrast between the environment (a construction site with construction workers) and the content of the exchange (poetry). It works because nothing could be more alien than poetry on a construction site, or could it?
Yes it could. If you were to transport the same setting on any construction site in Iran, the result would be interesting (from an anthropological point of view) but of little entertainment value. Because in Iran (as in many other countries linked to the ancient Arabic culture), poetry has never ceased to be integral part of the daily life. People commonly talk about poetry and discuss poems on their working breaks, at home, at the cafe.
For millennia poetry was the common way to do literature in the world, until the first half of the 18th century when the novel started to take over.
There is something about poetry, especially poetry in rhyme, that makes it difficult to identify oneself with the narrating voice at the beginning. But it is especially with poetry in rhyme that, once the identification happens, every word is amplified and resonates, often becoming a mantra that our mind surreptitiously retrieves at poignant moments in our lives.
I miss the habit of learning poems by heart.