…Reading one’s own poems aloud is letting the cat out of the bag. You may have always suspected bits of a poem to be overweighted, overviolent, or daft, and then, suddenly, with the poet’s tongue around them, your suspicion is made certain. How he slows up a line to savour it, remembering what trouble it took, once upon a time, to make it just so, at the very moment, you may think, when the poem needs crispness and speed. Does the cat snarl or mew the better when its original owner – or father, even, the tom poet – lets it out of the bag, than when another does, who never put it in? ~ Dylan Thomas
A recent comment posted here from one of my blogging buddies, Ron Scheer of Buddies in the Saddle, got me thinking about recordings of poets reading their work.
Sometimes the experience of hearing a poet read his or her work can be illuminating or exhilarating. Sometimes it can be disappointing for all the reasons that Dylan Thomas suggests above.
I have been collecting discs and iTunes over the years of recorded poetry, some read by actors and some by the poets themselves. I like to listen to poetry being read when I am walking the dog at night. There is something about moving through the darkness to the music of language that is as near to prayer as anything I know.
Copyright law and a conscience will not allow me to post some of my favorite recordings here. But here are a few links I think you may well enjoy.
Links to poets reading their works
This is a scratchy wax recording of Whitman reading just a few lines from “America.” But listen a few times and you will get a sense of the true power and beauty of Whitman. Whitman reading link.
There is an other-worldly quality to this recording of Yeats reading “Lake Isle of Innisfree” that seems appropriate to a poet who spent so much time writing and thinking about the magical and mystical. There is a sense of a voice coming from beyond this world in the way Yeats reads his much beloved poem. Yeats reading link.
I first heard this recording of Frost reading “The Road Not Taken” in an American Literature class. It was, I must admit, a bit of a shock to hear his flat, Yankee voice reading a poem I had memorized and recited to myself so many times. My first response was to not like the way he read this and the few other poems of his we listened to. But over time I have grown to love the sound of Frost reading. Frost reading link.
There is no poet I enjoy hearing read his own work more than Auden. He reads his poems exactly as I read them in my own mind, only better. Since Auden was a compulsive re-writer, sometime you hear when he reads a poem slight differences from what you may be familiar with or have in one edition of his printed poems. Here is a recording of Auden reading “First Things First.” Auden reading link.
Thomas is legendary as a reader of his own work and that of others. This and “Fern Hill” are his best known poems and his most popular recordings. If every English teacher could read poetry to their classes like Dylan Thomas does, I think poetry would be more popular than music. Thomas reading link.
Donald Hall has been much mentioned here at MontanaWriter. I enjoy the recordings of Hall reading his work. There are a number of his poems that have become favorites of mine only after hearing him read them. Here is a recording of Hall reading “Gold.” Hall reading link.
Next to Auden, there is no poet whose recordings I value more. Hughes also reads his poetry exactly as I read them in my own mind. Where Auden’s voice captivates me in its essential Britishness, Hughes’ voice captivates me in its essential Americanness. Listening to Hughes read his poetry, one begins to wonder if maybe Hughes can be said to be the most American of all poets. Here is Hughes reading “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” Hughes reading link.