Poetry on Record: 98 Poets Read Their Work

May 31, 2017
Poetry on Record: 98 Poets Read Their Work (1888-2006) Book Cover Poetry on Record: 98 Poets Read Their Work (1888-2006)
Shout! Factory
April 18th, 2006
Rebekah Presson Mosby

Poetry On Record: 98 Poets Read Their Work (1888-2006) is an engrossing collection of poems read by the people who wrote them, from the dawn of sound recording to the current day. Over the course of four CDs and an info-packed book, it tells the story of the past 120 years of poetry in English, from Romanticism (Dylan Thomas) to Modernism (T.S. Eliot), from the Harlem Renaissance (Langston Hughes) to Black Arts (Amiri Baraka), from rhyme and meter (Alfred, Lord Tennyson) to free verse (Adrienne Rich), and beyond. Equally important, it allows listeners to understand exactly how the poets intended their poems to be read aloud. Poetry On Record is the most comprehensive collection of its kind and is a must-have for any fan of poetry, or for anyone who wants an expertly chosen overview as a starting point.

(via Goodreads)

Growing up, I did not have a particularly positive experience with poetry. It was challenging. I was frustrated with the way it was taught and how I was expected to interpret, understand, and dissect it. Unfortunately, it meant that once I passed the Dr. Seuss/Shel Silverstein years of my life, I stopped appreciating it. Thankfully, the wonderful Gretchen @ ChicNerdReads came into my life. Thanks to her I got back into poetry.

Poetry on Record: 98 Poets Read Their Work is perfect for anyone who thinks poetry isn’t for them. 4 discs, 98 poems, all recordings of the poets reading their own works. Suddenly, it all makes sense; this is how poetry is meant to be experienced. Thrust into this world you can hear how poetry can be an incredibly moving art. But, just like physical art, you won’t enjoy all 98 works. And that’s okay. To each their own.

Each poet is as diverse as their words. For example, Gertrude Stein knows her poetry is a form of performance art and owns it in If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso (which is an AMAZING poem). On the other hand, Ogden Nash seems to merely read, rather than recite his poetry. That said, his words still rang true to my ears. And Anne Waldman’s Uh Oh Plutonium shocked me– I cannot imagine this poem performed in any other way. It must always be done with 80’stastic rock music and back-up singers.

There were two poets in particular which stood out to me. In school, I had studied both Jack Kerouac and Amiri Baraka, but I didn’t really connect to either poet’s work. Listening to selections from Kerouac’s American Haikus transported me back to the beatniks. I suddenly understood how a haiku can be Americanized. With bongos and all, Kerouac’s works were brief but profound. I found myself moved by no more than a handful of words each time. In Bang, Bang Outlishly I heard the music of Thelonious Monk. I understood through Baraka’s recitation how the music influenced his words. The strange “bohm” was suddenly the piano, suddenly Monk in a trio playing magically– and the poem finally meant something to me.

The 98 poems from Poetry on Record are listed in chronological order. As a music professional, I loved listening to how the quality of recordings changed throughout time. Starting with the barely audible recitation of The Change of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson all the way to the powerfully clear Fragments of the Forgotten War by Suji Kwock Kim. I played a game with myself trying to figure out how these were recorded. Once we hit the late 20th century it was almost impossible to figure out, but I enjoyed it none-the-less.

My favorite poems, in chronological order:

While I immensely enjoyed some singular moments, there were many moments which weren’t for me. Like I mentioned, some of the recordings were of a very poor quality. To the point where some poems were completely unlistenable. Also, the magic of poetry is that pieces which speak to one person might not speak to others. I only really reacted positively to about 40% of the poems. About 40% I felt indifferent towards and about 20% I was just bored or annoyed by. But that’s okay! That’s the point– to challenge oneself with the HUGE variety of poets, styles, and topics throughout this complete work. My three star rating isn’t meant to deter you, but to ensure you know what you’re getting into before you start this journey.

All-in-all, I’d recommend Poetry on Record to anyone who thinks they don’t like poetry or who is convinced poetry is a waste. This will change your mind if you can get past some of the poor quality recordings and seek out the gems of poems waiting for you. And if you love poetry, or even have a cursory enjoyment, but you haven’t heard the original poets read their own works– check this out. Please. You won’t regret it.

What do you think?

  • Do you read poetry? Who are your favorite poets?
  • Have you listened to authors recite their poems? How does that change your interpretation?
  • Have you heard of any of these poems before?
  • What is your favorite poem?


  • Books, Vertigo and Tea May 31, 2017 at 3:47 pm

    How much time do you think you had invested in this experience altogether? Very curious 🙂

    • Jackie B May 31, 2017 at 5:29 pm

      That’s a great question. It’s 4 discs long, but the 4th disc is a bit shorter than the other three… Probably 4.5 hours? I listened to it in the car as I drove to and from work, so it passed quickly. For example, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (which I’m listening to right now) is 10 hours 44 minutes on 9 discs.

  • Books, Vertigo and Tea June 1, 2017 at 7:52 am

    Wow 9 discs! I didn’t realize. I usually download mine through audible because I have no disc player in the house. That is insane haha.

    • Jackie B June 1, 2017 at 6:47 pm

      I know, right? Can you imagine listening to a high fantasy novel on disc? It would be a billionty discs. That’s a real number. I counted them. But seriously, I only use discs because I get them for free from the library. While I’m sure I’d use my Audible subscription, I love supporting my library.

      • Books, Vertigo and Tea June 2, 2017 at 9:35 am

        Haha I don’t actually sub to audible. Audio is so expensive. I just purchase audio upgrades for Kindle titles when they go on sale for 1.99. Most of my ebooks also come from the library. I play them through the overdrive app though 😉

        • Jackie B June 6, 2017 at 6:14 pm

          That’s smart, purchasing audio upgrades for $1.99! I should look into that… I’m not attentive enough, I don’t think. O_o Also: I LOVE OVERDRIVE. It helps me with soooo much. A tiny library in my pocket! <3

  • theorangutanlibrarian June 1, 2017 at 4:34 pm

    This sounds cool. I’m not someone that thinks poetry is a waste of time, but I do think that I tend to get stuck in my ways when it comes to poetry and can be reluctant to try new things. So this sounds like it could be an interesting way to explore poets I’m not familiar with

    • Jackie B June 1, 2017 at 6:56 pm

      Poetry is so personal, and the cadence of the recitation matters so much to the interpretation, that I completely understand where you are coming from. I really struggled with poetry for a long time. However, small bite-sized pieces also help me. I have Gretchen’s poetry book on my nightstand right now and I’m reading one poem a night to help me digest it. Giving myself space to appreciate the poem alone has helped some too.

      • theorangutanlibrarian June 3, 2017 at 1:07 pm

        Yes agree so much!! Ahh that’s great! And I do agree that more time is needed to appreciate a poem in general

        • Jackie B June 6, 2017 at 5:54 pm

          Are there any poems in particular which really speak to you? Any favorites?

          • theorangutanlibrarian June 7, 2017 at 5:39 pm

            Hard question! I tend to be quite boring and traditional- so I love Romantic poetry, you know Keats, Blake and Shelley in particular. Then I also really like Emily Dickinson and T S Eliot. And first world war poetry for some reason. I tend to be fussier about modern poetry, probably really limiting my preferences down to just Sylvia Plath and a bit of Larkin- but it doesn’t do it for me as much. (Although there are bad older poets, they just tend to have been weeded out of collections over the course of hundreds of years).

  • ChicNerdReads June 1, 2017 at 8:56 pm

    I am so freaking happy that I got you into poetry again!! Thank you so much for reading my words.
    I am sorry to hear that some of the poems were unlistenable but at least you found some good ones <3

    • Jackie B June 6, 2017 at 3:10 pm

      Of course you did! You’re magical. I’m reading love, and you right now one poem at a time each night before going to bed. It gives me a lot of food for thought, and I appreciate being able to drag out reading it. 🙂 You have quite a magical way with words!

      • ChicNerdReads June 6, 2017 at 4:20 pm

        oh thank you! you can read it as a whole in one sitting though because it tells a story =)

        • Jackie B June 6, 2017 at 5:27 pm

          I did pick up on that– but I like this for my processing. It helps me consider the relationship between people, words, emotions, and results. I plan on also reading it straight through in a single sitting before publishing my review and sharing what I learned on the two read-throughs, though. 🙂 Powerful stuff.

          • ChicNerdReads June 6, 2017 at 9:41 pm

            omg thank you!!!!! i can’t wait to read your thoughts

  • Grab the Lapels June 3, 2017 at 8:40 am

    I’m going to have to see if my library has this. In college, where I read the most poetry, I ingested poetry in seminars, which blue through about 200 years of novels, short stories, and poetry in one semester. Not exactly a good way to learn! I love, love, love Amiri Baraka’s play, Dutchman. There is a film version on YouTube (broken into two parts, I think?) that is REALLY moving. I think Langston Hughes is my favorite to listen to, especially this one: https://youtu.be/5mFp40WJbsA

    • Jackie B June 20, 2017 at 1:26 pm

      !! I am so embarrassed that I missed this comment. Ugh. This is why I do monthly checks for this sort of thing.

      Wow– that’s a TON of poetry in one semester! It does sound like a challenging way to learn. Did you feel like cramming poetry like that made it challenging to appreciate the content of your courses? Personally, I think I’d love to take a (less intense) poetry course. I want to “get it” more than I do. I feel like I am missing a lot of intended depth. I don’t want to sell some amazing poets short!

      This particular recording of Langston Hughes reciting The Negro Speaks of Rivers is on the collection! I also didn’t realize that Amiri Baraka wrote a play– I’ll have to check it out. I like reading plays, but I prefer to watch them, so I’ll search for a live performance if I can. 🙂

      • Grab the Lapels June 21, 2017 at 11:20 am

        Baraka’s play is so very chilling. Fun Fact! The woman who plays opposite him is the grandma in the film Grandma’s Boy. You can see the entire play on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VRoOAmtHsQ

        I tried to buy the film once, but it’s hundreds of dollars. I don’t think they make copies of it anymore. To answer your question about college seminars–I think they’re a massive waste of time. I can tell you WHO I read let alone WHAT I read. It’s more like, “You read it? Good, let’s move on.” You can’t really study anything that way. Almost all colleges do seminars, but I wish they did them differently, such as having students write a paper or do a project to focus in on one work or author from the course.

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