Words in the Air: Poetry on Audio

Caedmon in stained glassAs most of us know, listening to poetry is nothing new. Poetry started out in the audio format. Rhyme and meter and many other poetic conventions were essentially mnemonic devices to help itinerant poets keep the story going so that they might earn a place by the fire for the night. Back then, a poet couldn’t read his stuff off the page making minimal eye-contact with the audience like we do now. For one thing, until relatively recently, there were no pages to read off of. For another, after getting conked on the head by a flying tankard or turkey leg hurled by some philistine in chain mail, poets figured out it paid to keep their hands free and their eyes peeled.

Needless to say, poets really mattered back then (flying poultry limbs, notwithstanding). A really good one was the equivalent of premium cable and the Encyclopædia Britannica rolled into one unwashed, unshaven, mead-guzzling ball o' wisdom. The poet was both entertainer and keeper of history. Those roles have been largely stripped from us poets by ever more efficient and dazzling technologies (including premium cable and the Encyclopædia Britannica). It's just as well, all that responsibility was making our hair fall out and seriously cutting into mead-guzzling time.

In my (not entirely) humble opinion, listening to verse is still the best way to encounter it. What may seem inscrutable on the page can become crystalline when heard performed. On any given night, there are poetry readings and/or slams all over the county and I would suggest you take one in sometime (NOTE: you will be frisked at the door, so don't try to smuggle in any turkey legs). Failing that, I've compiled a list of some poetry in audio formats from Harris County Public Library's collection.

81 Famous Poems: an Audio Companion to the Norton Anthology of Poetry
Adrienne Rich [Voice of the Poet series]
The Aeneid of Virgil Cover Art: Beowulf / trans. Seamus Heaney
The African American Audio Experience
At Blackwater Pond: Mary Oliver Reads Mary Oliver
Beowulf / translated and read by Seamus Heaney
The Best Cigarette / Billy Collins
The Best Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Billy Collins Live! A Performance at the Peter Norton Symphony Space, April 20, 2005
Caedmon Poetry Collection: A Century of Poets Reading their Work
The Canterbury Tales / Geoffrey Chaucer
Celebrations: Rituals of Peace and Prayer / Maya Angelou
Classic American Poetry: 65 Poems by Longfellow, Poe, Emerson, Whitman, Frost, Cummings, Dickinson, Parker, Sandburg & Many Others  [electronic audiobook]
Classical Love Poetry [electronic audiobook] 
The Divine Comedy [Carlyle-Wicksteed Translation] Cover art Billy Collins
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow Is Enuf / Ntosake Shange
Frank O’Hara
Good Poems / Selected by Garrison Keillor
I Want Burning: The Ecstatic World of Rumi, Hafiz and Lalla
The Iliad / Homer
James Merrill (The Voice of the Poet series)
Knopf National Poetry Month Collection
Langston Hughes (The Voice of the Poet series)
The Maya Angelou Poetry Collection
Nightmare & Other Poems / Stephen Vincent Benet
Poetry of Robert Frost
The Prophet / Kahlil Gibran Cover Art: Your Own, Sylvia
Richard Wilbur (The Voice of the Poet series)
Spoken Arts Treasury Vol I and II: 100 Modern Poets Reading their Poems
Spoon River Anthology / Edgar Lee Masters
T.S.E. / T.S. Eliot
W.H. Auden (The Voice of the Poet series)
War Poetry: Poets from the First World War
We Speak Your Names / Pearl Cleage
Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath / Stephanie Hemphill

Author's Note: Unlike, Garrison Keillor, who is the self-appointed arbiter of all things poetry in this country, I have no interest in telling you what is a good poem and what is a bad poem. Heck, I'm not sure half of the time myself. This list and all the others I have compiled for the poetry blogs over the last couple of years are not necessarily comprised of recommendations. I merely try to give you a wide sampling of HCPL's collection and let you choose what you think might interest you.

As always, comments, questions or anything else you can put into words and into the comments box are encouraged--especially if you have an idea for a future post because frankly I'm running out. Also as always, thanks for reading. Happy Holidays to all. ~dc

[sotto voce] Pssst. Psssssst. Yeah, you. C'mere. I'm really not supposed to do this but I figure if you have read all the way down to here, you would probably be interested in poetry readings around town. The oldest and (perhaps) best is First Fridays. Spread the word.