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Reading by Ear for National Poetry Month

"A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. It is never a thought to begin with."

—Robert Frost, The Figure a Poem Makes

We recognize National Poetry Month, a literary celebration every April dedicated to honoring the profound role of poets and poetry in our culture, with this eclectic selection of poetry audiobooks. Poet Robert Frost paid keen attention to the sound and rhythm of the language in his poems. "The ear is the best reader" is a quote often attributed to Frost, and it emphasizes the importance of auditory experience in appreciating poetry's essence, whether it follows a traditional poetic form or is more unconventional. The narrators of the audiobooks that follow take listeners on an immersive auditory journey: They embrace the sounds, syntax, and sensations of the poems that illuminate the beauty, tribulations, and complexity of the human experience. 

THE DRIFTED STREAMTHE DRIFTED STREAM: An Anthology of British and Irish Poetry
by Andrew Motion [Ed.], read by Matt Addis, Nicholas Boulton, Imogen Church, Simon Dormandy, Stephen Hogan, Joe Jameson, Jonathan Keeble, Shaheen Khan, Abraham Popoola, David Rintoul, Natalie Simpson, Siân Thomas, Homer Todiwala, Gabby Wong, Leo Wringer
Audible, Inc.
AudioFile Earphones Award

This audiobook, compiled especially with a listening—rather than a reading—audience in mind, is a perfect compilation for poetry lovers and newbies alike who wish to experience the sound as well as the sense of poetry. Andrew Motion, former poet laureate of the United Kingdom, narrates with a resonance and sincerity that set the tone for the rest of the exceptional performances. Motion provides a history of poetry from the UK, from the time of Chaucer to WWI, and includes a few contemporary poems in this collection. The variety of historical and geographically appropriate accents are resonant and engaging. Motion has made a particular effort to include poets beyond the traditional "dead white guys." Although not all the narrators are the same gender as the authors, they all demonstrate an integral understanding and expressive ability in their performance. 

by Adrienne Chung, selected by Solmaz Sharif, read by Adrienne Chung
Penguin Audio

Adrienne Chung narrates her collection of pondering and thought-provoking poetry in a tone full of questioning. Many of the poems themselves feel like questions as they explore the transient thoughts that preoccupy the mind. Chung's narration of the vivid and haunting poems is smooth and rhythmic, and her ability to capture the rhyme and unconventional form of her work gives the whole audiobook a sense of movement that can be intense, unhurried, and meandering. A captivating auditory reflection of concepts such as science, bodies, time, dreams, love, and memory. 

THIS IS THE HONEYTHIS IS THE HONEY: An Anthology of Contemporary Black Poets
by Kwame Alexander [Ed.], read by Mahogany L. Brown, Joel Damany Steingold
Hachette Audio
AudioFile Earphones Award

This anthology of contemporary Black poetry features big names, including Rita Dove and Nikki Giovanni, as well as a great many less famous but highly skilled poets. Mahogany L. Brown and Joel Damany Steingold’s dynamic performances spotlight their understanding of poetry, and how to convey it to listeners. They are both excellent as they handle tones, accents, and emotions ranging from ultra-cool to deeply passionate. Listeners interested in American poetry—from Black poets or not—are in for a sweet treat. 

written and read by Hala Alyan
Harper Audio

Hala Alyan’s haunting voice echoes the vibes of another land and time in this collection of poems exploring themes of displacement, and identity. Alyan's velvety tones add a paradoxical dimension to her performance—sometimes inviting, sometimes cool, and always evocative and inspiring. Amidst the darkness, her poetry and voice uplift with glimmers of hope, transformation, and renewal. This penetrating poetry experience, with its powerful imagery, metaphors, succinct and candid language, may be especially appealing to those interested in the diasporic experience.

written and read by Clint Smith
Hachette Audio

Clint Smith performs his well-crafted poems with depth and resonance, delivering a clear understanding of their significance to listeners. Smith's poems delve into diverse facets of fatherhood, spanning from the anticipation of a first pregnancy to the challenges of raising young children. Smith's tone is confiding and welcoming. While some of Smith's experiences reflect those unique to Black families, many resonate universally, making this audiobook relatable to parents of all backgrounds. 

by Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Countee Cullen, Read by Kevin Kenerly, Robin Miles, Ron Butler
AudioFile Earphones Award

Skillful narration by Kevin Kenerly, Robin Miles, and Ron Butler provides a captivating listening experience of this anthology of more than 250 poems from the Harlem Renaissance’s peak in the 1920s. Ron Butler highlights the classical tones and themes of Countee Cullen's work. Robin Miles brings out the warmth and intellect in Georgia Douglas Johnson's finest pieces, and Kevin Kenerly captures Langston Hughes's groundbreaking jazz rhythms with precision. Pieces like Hughes's "Weary Blues" and "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," Johnson's "Tears and Kisses," and Cullen's "Uncle Jim" reflected the voices of African American artists claiming their space in the American Dream. Through the skillful narration of these talented performers, the poems remain as vibrant, compelling, and relevant today as they were a century ago, offering readers a captivating introduction to this vital literary era.

Don't miss two narrator videos that dive deeper into this collection: watch Kevin Kenerly on the poetry of Langston Hughes and Ron Butler on the poetry of Countee Cullen.

Here’s wishing you an evocative, enlightening and enchanting month of poetry discovery.


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