Poetry Month in Audio

A microphone on a stand waits to be used at an open mic night.There's a reason poetry slams and open mic nights for poets have long been popular, both for attendees and for writers/performers.  Poetry just hits different when it's read aloud.  The way the meter flows and words bend to explore new associations and new meanings is something that just can't be captured on the page.  But with pandemic precautions still putting a damper on such literary gatherings in many places, we thought we'd share an alternative way to appreciate the auditory joys of poetry: audiobooks!

The following collections run the gamut from the kinds of classics you might have bemoaned reading in high school (give them a try and see how hearing them makes a difference!) to the contemporary works poetry buffs wish all their friends were reading so they can dissect them at length.  What are you listening to this poetry month?

 

Highly Recommended

Whether you're just getting into poetry for the first time or have been devouring it for years, here are some collections our booksellers think are must-reads!

A Sand Book by Ariana Reines

A Sand Book by Ariana Reines

Reading A Sand Book is a vivid, intense experience.  Ariana's style is both intimate and free flowing, drawing you into her landscape so she can whisper all of her secrets into your ear:

"Bring me my gold
My serpent my rod
Pour hot gold into my teeth
Bind my silver tongue
Soak it in soft white gold
Jupiter
And unbind my tongue Jupiter
And loose it on the world"

—Mike, Bookseller at Large

 

The Truth of You by Iain S. Thomas

The Truth of You by Iain S. Thomas

Listening to Iain S. Thomas is having a friend beside you gently reminding you of the joy of love and beauty.  Someone who tells you you’re not alone and everything might not be so great, but it’s going to be OK.

—Peter, Proprietor

This is the truth of you.
Because you are all I see.
Because you are all I breathe.
Because when I cannot find you, I am lost.
Because when I’m with you, I am found.
Because you have the fire of the universe in you, and sometimes you forget.
So this book is here to remind you.

Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith

Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith

I used to hate poetry and Tracey K. Smith's Life on Mars was the collection to smack me into place.  —Miracle, Bookseller at Large

In these brilliant new poems, Smith envisions a sci-fi future sucked clean of any real dangers, contemplates the dark matter that keeps people both close and distant, and revisits the kitschy concepts like "love" and "illness" now relegated to the Museum of Obsolescence. These poems reveal the realities of life lived here, on the ground, where a daughter is imprisoned in the basement by her own father, where celebrities and pop stars walk among us, and where the poet herself loses her father, one of the engineers who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope. With this remarkable third collection, Smith establishes herself among the best poets of her generation.

 

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes

Terrance Hayes bursts the seams of the sonnet form in this intensely realized collection of poems. Think you don’t like sonnets? Read this. Blistering, powerful, melancholic, funny, he runs contemporary America through a sieve and, rather than have this constrain him, lets the results refract and scintillate.

—Stefen, Bookseller

In seventy poems bearing the same title, Terrance Hayes explores the meanings of American, of assassin, and of love in the sonnet form. Written during the first two hundred days of the Trump presidency, these poems are haunted by the country's past and future eras and errors, its dreams and nightmares. Inventive, compassionate, hilarious, melancholy, and bewildered—the wonders of this new collection are irreducible and stunning.

 

Read by the Author

One of the great things about poetry audiobooks is that they are very often read by their authors!  It lends an intimacy to the performance that can't be matched—except maybe by attending a reading in person!  Since you might not have a chance to meet these poets in person, here are a few collections you won't want to miss, as presented by the poets themselves!

 

Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong

Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong

The highly anticipated collection of poems from the award-winning writer Ocean Vuong

How else do we return to ourselves but to fold
The page so it points to the good part

 
In this deeply intimate second poetry collection, Ocean Vuong searches for life among the aftershocks of his mother’s death, embodying the paradox of sitting within grief while being determined to survive beyond it. Shifting through memory, and in concert with the themes of his novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Vuong contends with personal loss, the meaning of family, and the cost of being the product of an American war in America. At once vivid, brave, and propulsive, Vuong’s poems circle fragmented lives to find both restoration as well as the epicenter of the break.

 

Call Us What We Cary by Amanda Gorman

Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman

The breakout poetry collection by #1 New York Times bestselling author and presidential inaugural poet Amanda Gorman

Formerly titled The Hill We Climb and Other Poems, the luminous poetry collection by #1 New York Times bestselling author and presidential inaugural poet Amanda Gorman captures a shipwrecked moment in time and transforms it into a lyric of hope and healing. In Call Us What We Carry, Gorman explores history, language, identity, and erasure through an imaginative and intimate collage. Harnessing the collective grief of a global pandemic, this beautifully designed volume features poems in many inventive styles and structures and shines a light on a moment of reckoning. Call Us What We Carry reveals that Gorman has become our messenger from the past, our voice for the future.

 

All the Flowers Kneeing by Paul Tran

All the Flowers Kneeling by Paul Tran

A profound meditation on physical, emotional, and psychological transformation in the aftermath of imperial violence and interpersonal abuse, from a poet both “tender and unflinching” (Khadijah Queen)

Visceral and astonishing, Paul Tran's debut poetry collection All the Flowers Kneeling investigates intergenerational trauma, sexual violence, and U.S. imperialism in order to radically alter our understanding of freedom, power, and control. In poems of desire, gender, bodies, legacies, and imagined futures, Tran’s poems elucidate the complex and harrowing processes of reckoning and recovery, enhanced by innovative poetic forms that mirror the nonlinear emotional and psychological experiences of trauma survivors. At once grand and intimate, commanding and deeply vulnerable, All the Flowers Kneeling revels in rediscovering and reconfiguring the self, and ultimately becomes an essential testament to the human capacity for resilience, endurance, and love.

 

Authors Known for Prose

You might recognize these authors from their novels, essays, and other works in prose, but have you heard their poetry?  For the reluctant poetry reader, a familiar guide might be the perfect entry point into a whole new genre.    

 

Dearly by Margaret Atwood

Dearly by Margaret Atwood

A new book of poetry from internationally acclaimed, award-winning and bestselling author Margaret Atwood

In Dearly, Margaret Atwood’s first collection of poetry in over a decade, Atwood addresses themes such as love, loss, the passage of time, the nature of nature and - zombies. Her new poetry is introspective and personal in tone, but wide-ranging in topic. In poem after poem, she casts her unique imagination and unyielding, observant eye over the landscape of a life carefully and intuitively lived.

While many are familiar with Atwood’s fiction—including her groundbreaking and bestselling novels The Handmaid’s TaleThe TestamentsOryx and Crake, among others—she has, from the beginning of her career, been one of our most significant contemporary poets, equally accomplished in fiction and poetry.  This collection is a stunning achievement that will be appreciated by fans of her novels and poetry readers alike.

 

How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons) by Barbara Kingsolver

How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons) by Barbara Kingsolver

In this intimate collection, the beloved author of The Poisonwood Bible and more than a dozen other New York Times bestsellers, winner or finalist for the Pulitzer and countless other prizes, now trains her eye on the everyday and the metaphysical in poems that are smartly crafted, emotionally rich, and luminous. 

In her second poetry collection, Barbara Kingsolver offers reflections on the practical, the spiritual, and the wild. She begins with “how to” poems addressing everyday matters such as being hopeful, married, divorced; shearing a sheep; praying to unreliable gods; doing nothing at all; and of course, flying. Next come rafts of poems about making peace (or not) with the complicated bonds of friendship and family, and making peace (or not) with death, in the many ways it finds us. Some poems reflect on the redemptive powers of art and poetry itself; others consider where everything begins.

 

 

Vinegar Hill by Colm Toibin

Vinegar Hill by Colm Tóibín

From the New York Times best-selling author of Brooklyn, Colm Tóibín’s first collection of poetry explores sexuality, religion, and belonging through a modern lens.

Fans of Colm Tóibín’s novels, including The Magician, The Master, and Nora Webster, will relish the opportunity to re-encounter Tóibín in verse. Vinegar Hill explores the liminal space between private experiences and public events as Tóibín examines a wide range of subjects—politics, queer love, reflections on literary and artistic greats, living through COVID, and facing mortality. The poems reflect a life well-traveled and well-lived; from growing up in the town of Enniscorthy, wandering the streets of Dublin, and crossing the bridges of Venice to visiting the White House, readers will travel through familiar locations and new destinations through Tóibín’s unique lens.

 

Classics

The authors and titles might sound familiar, but trust us—listening to these performances will be nothing like sitting through a dull high school English class.  Check out these classic poems with an audio twist!

 

Beowulf, translated by Maria Dahvana Headley

Beowulf translated by Maria Dahvana Headley

"Narrator JD Jackson addresses his listener as "bro" in this decidedly contemporary retelling of the classic saga...His brilliant performance captures all the artistry, wit, and immediacy of this fresh translation, and breathes new life into what for most has been a literary fossil." -- AudioFile Magazine, Earphones Award winner

Nearly twenty years after Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf—and fifty years after the translation that continues to torment high-school students around the world—there is a radical new verse translation of the epic poem by Maria Dahvana Headley, which brings to light elements that have never before been translated into English, recontextualizing the binary narrative of monsters and heroes into a tale in which the two categories often entwine, justice is rarely served, and dragons live among us.

 

The Essential T. S. Eliot, introduced by Vijay Seshadri

The Essential T. S. Eliot introduced by Vijay Seshadri

A selection of the most significant and enduring poems from one of the twentieth century’s major writers, chosen and introduced by Vijay Seshadri and performed an absolute all-star cast including Vijay Seshadri,  Willem Dafoe, Natasha Trethewey, Natalie Diaz, Joy Harjo, Rosanna Warren, Tracy K. Smith, Louise Glück, and even historical recordings of Eliot himself.

T.S. Eliot was a towering figure in twentieth century literature, a renowned poet, playwright, and critic whose work continues to be among the most-read and influential in the canon of American literature. 

The Essential T.S. Eliot collects Eliot’s most lasting and important poetry in one career-spanning audiobook, with an introduction from Vijay Seshadri, one of our foremost poets.

 

The Allen Ginsberg Audio Collection by Allen Ginsberg

The Allen Ginsberg Audio Collection by Allen Ginsberg

A collection of recordings written and read by one of the greatest literary and cultural figures of the 20th century.  

Upon the release of his first published work, Howl and Other Poems (1956), Allen Ginsberg became the unlikely force of a movement that would change a generation: art, literature, sex, love, family and politics. None would ever be seen the same way again. The Beat Generation was born. And with it, the legend of the free-spirited, rule-breaking, brillian group of friends Ginsberg kept close--Jack Keroac, William Burroughts, Gregory Corso and Neal Cassady.

Including Ginsberg’s two seminal works, Howl and Kaddish, as well as nearly two dozen other works, this collection celebrates a cultural icon who was of his time, ahead of his time, and whose legacy will transcend time.

 

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