If you want to hear how poetry should SOUND, there is no better source than hearing the poets themselves read their poems aloud. And we’re fortunate to have more and more access to the recorded poem through iTunes, audioclips, CDs and tapes, and more.
The two major publishers of audiobooks for young people, Listening Library and Recorded Books offer several choices, such as Jack Prelutsky and Kalli Dakos, for example. And publishers such as HarperCollins (Harper Children’s Audio) and Scholastic (including Weston Woods) often publish audiobook versions of print books they produce, including Shel Silverstein reading his work aloud. The Caedmon Records imprint, now a part of HarperAudio, has a long history of issuing excellent recordings of poetry, including classic works by the likes of A.A. Milne. Audio Bookshelf offers the Newbery medal poetry book, Joyful Noise as well as works by Ashley Bryan. Live Oak Media’s audiopoetry selections include Javaka Steptoe’s anthology In Daddy’s Arms I am Tall as well as John Updike’s A Child’s Calendar. In recent years, many publishers offer free promotional CDs featuring poems and poets from current works available at conferences or via the publishing company itself.
It is also possible to access some audiofiles of poetry read aloud and available on the Internet. For example, Audible.com, a major provider of audiobooks via downloadable files offers a handful of children’s poetry books such as Paul Fleischman’s Joyful Noise. Other poetry-related web sites include audiofiles among their links, such as the audio archives of The Academy of American Poets. The Poetry Magazine web site is also rich in audio. Of particular note is this site’s emphasis on providing audio recordings of many major poets reading their own works aloud as well as interviews with and speeches by many different poets. This does not include children’s poets, but it is an inspiring example.
And more and more children’s poets are making audio recordings of themselves reading their own poetry available on their personal web sites. For example, Kristine O’Connell George reads aloud over a dozen of her poems, in her “Poetry Aloud” link accessible via simple free software such as RealAudio or Windows Media.
One recently published anthology that features an audio component is Poetry Speaks to Children, edited by Elise Paschen. It includes an audio CD of many of the poets featured in the book reading their own work including Roald Dahl, Robert Frost, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ogden Nash, Billy Collins, Nikki Giovanni and X.J. Kennedy. Thus, children can read the poem and follow along as they listen to the poet read the poem aloud, an ideal combination of multimodal sources for learning to read and comprehending the poem. Pages and tracks are readily marked and matched, making it easy for independent use by children. And the poems include a pleasing mix of classic and contemporary gems. One of my graduate students shared it with her son and reported, “My nine-year-old loves the CD from the poetry anthology. I'm not sure my skeptical little one really believed poets are real people until he listened to some of that recording and heard actual poets reading actual poems they'd written.” (Thanks for sharing, Beth Enochs!)
If equipment and access is available, providing children these audio experiences is a powerful component in their exposure to poetry. It helps them hear the sounds of the words, rhythm of the lines, and expression of the reader in a way that makes the poem come alive. And although you can provide that as an adult model, hearing the poet read her/his original work is a unique and memorable experience for adults, too. It’s worth the extra effort in seeking out and is the next best thing to hosting an author/poet visit in person!