Here at LitKicks we’re big fans of spoken word and recordings of poetry readings of all shapes and sizes. When poetry (and prose, from time to time) jumps from the page into the air on voices of poets themselves — whether they’re behind a microphone in a recording studio, on a stage in a club or on the street preaching poetic harmony — hearing definitely is believing. Here are just a few new audio selections that have captured our attention over the past year:
— A few weeks ago, the literary world was abuzz with the news of a new audio archive project, backed by Andrew Motion, the UK Poet Laureate. Actually I’m not sure they were as abuzz as they should have been — open archives of poetry recordings are a great resource not only for literary buffs, but for teachers and students as well. Recordings of poets doing their thing supply a great example for anyone wanting to know more about poetry and the reading of it. The Poetry Archive covers a wide variety of poets and is searchable by poet, poem, theme or form. In the mood for a villanelle? No problem. The site also has a special Children’s Archive, which offers a great selection of fun poems just for kids. The Poetry Archive is still evolving and we hope that the collection expands quickly over the next year.
— Not to be outdone by the Brits, Poets.org has added a few new items to their Academy of American Poets Listening Booth. The collection which houses over 150 audio clips now features a 1978 reading by Margaret Atwood and Kamau Brathwaite with selections from The Rwanda Poems.
— 2005 has been quite a year for Lawrence Ferlinghetti: the 50th anniversary of City Lights Publishers, receiving the lifetime achievement award from the National Book Foundation and the release of the CD/DVD combo of Pictures of the Gone World. Accompanied by the one and only David Amram, the performance of the poems from the book of the same name offers a glimpse of a literary and publishing great backed by a musical great. Ferlinghetti is a magical reader, twisting his voice around words and scenes with the skill and flexibility of an acrobat. The delivery of each one of these solid, classic poems is unique, yet holds the same careful reserve that is soothing, despite the fact that some of the pieces are brisk whirlwinds through the “gone world” itself. Amram’s music is a perfect match for Ferlinghetti’s words and tone, hinting at nature and emotion. This is a must-have for any Beat aficionado, spoken word collector or literary historian. Pictures of the Gone World is available online at City Lights or through CD Universe.
— Billy Collins Live, A performance at the Peter Norton Symphony Space: With an introduction by Bill Murray, Collins’ performance is clear and friendly — and fun. This doesn’t diminish the strength of his words or delivery. The former US Poet Laureate often peppers his poems with wry humor, sometimes dark references and simple observations that combine to form poems that you can easily connect with … and make you wonder awkwardly, “Should I be laughing at this?” He deftly weaves short punches of humor in with more serious pieces, blurring the line of sarcasm and reverence with a delicious deadpan. Collins takes his words and meaning seriously, but doesn’t take himself or poetry too seriously, which is a refreshing and inviting approach, especially for people who think they “don’t like poetry”. Case in point — one of the sharpest tracks is The Trouble with Poetry. Billy Collins Live is available through Amazon and Audible.com.
— I’m especially excited about the new audioquarterly, Verb. Verb is described as “an audio literary magazine by America’s top writers.” What happens when you take a quality literary journal and send it out on a CD? A great sampling of contemporary poetry, fiction and music, as Verb adeptly proves with its inaugural issue. Verb kicks off with poetry from Thomas Lux, a song by author Stuart Dybek and a selection of opening chapters from an unpublished novel by Robert Olen Butler. The issue closes with a story and a poem by James Dickey, plus a clip of the inimitable Walt Whitman. Sometimes veering toward quirkiness, the variety of authors and subject matter appeals to a broad audience. This would make a great gift to anyone on the go, commuters — or for yourself. Verb is an ambitious and remarkable publication and is off to a powerful start — I only hope they can keep it up for many issues to come. You can order a subscription to Verb (or purchase a single issue) through the Verb website, Audible.com or in major bookstores across the country.
— Although the wonderful spoken word/musical fusion of reVerse, Vol. 1 has been out for about a year, I continue to be so impressed with this project that I wanted to give it a quick mention again. The diversity and stylistic catalog of this CD makes it a great choice for music lovers, poetry fans and anyone looking for a unique collection to add to their library. Read the review and interview with KC Clarke here. In an update, Clarke promises that reVerse Vol. 2 is in the works. reVerse Vol. 1 is available through Amazon, iTunes or directly from reVerse.
Here’s to many more great audio selections, online archives and performances in 2006. If you’ve got a favorite audio clip or poetry CD, please be sure to share it with us.