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:
- If I Told Him, A Completed Portrait of Picasso by Gertrude Stein
- Love is Not All by Edna St. Vincent Millay
- America by Allen Ginsburg
- Ray by Hayden Carruth
- Right to Life by Marge Piercy
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?