For this National Poetry Month, we’ve brought the poetry reading to you. While we cherish the poetry collections on our shelves, we also love our poetry audiobooks. One of the very best ways to experience poetry is to hear it read aloud, especially when it’s read by the poets themselves or by a skilled voice actor. Put on your beret and black turtleneck and plug in your headphones, because we’ve rounded up 10 poetry audiobooks for your listening pleasure.
Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith
In this searing collection Tracy K. Smith, recipient of the Pulitzer prize and poet laureate from 2017-2019, gives voice to those lost to time and those never heard, as she examines the hideous sin of slavery and the bruise that remains upon the body of America. The title poem is as piercingly painful as it is brilliantly uplifting. Smith’s voice imbues these poems with both love and clarity.
At Blackwater Pond by Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver was a prolific and much-loved poet who did not often read her work in public. Oliver passed in early 2019, making this audio collection of her reading 40 of her poems even more of a treasure. With her keen insights into the natural world juxtaposed against the human condition, Oliver’s reading brings these poems to life in a new and remarkable way.
Poet Fatimah Asghar is the co-creator of the Emmy-nominated web series Brown Girls. Here, she offers a searing collection that is one part coming-of-age stories and one part history lesson. These poems, born from a family’s horror as they leave Kashmir during Partition, are fierce, humane, time-bending, and mind-blowing. Asghar’s tone is both strident and soft, dark and light, luminous and depraved, as she reads about the horror and the glory of a world in transition.
The poems collected here and read in Angelou’s distinctive poetic and literal voice are not only about the poet’s connection to the world around her but also about how we are all connected through the act of creation. As the title suggests, these poems are both ritual and prayer and offer the listener a chance for rumination, reflection, and hope.
Poems by Emily Dickinson
Though we don’t have any recorded poems read by Emily Dickinson herself, the poems in this collection are beautifully narrated by actress Marianne Fraulo. In this collection, the editor has broken the poems into five sections: Life, Love, Nature, Time, and Eternity. Whether you have a dog-eared copy of Dickinson’s Complete Poems or you’re coming to this audiobook with fresh ears, you will surely be delighted by the experience of hearing the work of one of America’s most beloved poets read aloud.
Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey
This exciting audiobook is a little different. It features the Alliance Theatre’s production based on Natasha Trethewey’s Pulitzer-winning collection Native Guard. Both an examination of how the Civil War has been memorialized and a portrait of the poet as a young woman, this performance starring January LaVoy as “The Poet,” brings Trethewey’s words to life in an inspiring new way.
With straightforward and affecting language, Nikki Giovanni narrates the deeply personal and yet universal poems found within this collection. Listeners will feel as though they are at the table with Giovanni as she shares her words. Perhaps even the same table she used to sit at with her dear friend Maya Angelou, whom she also celebrates in this book.
Tackling the trope of the magical negro, Morgan Parker powerfully describes her identity, in particular the identity of blackness, womanhood, and the intersection between the two. Parker’s words are both deadly serious and humorously painful in their truthfulness, all the while exploring what it means to be a black woman.
The Voice of the Poet by Adrienne Rich
Though Adrienne Rich died in 2012, her words most certainly live on. In this audiobook, Rich’s poems, arranged in chronological order, cover her familiar territory of the personal, the political, and all the space between. The Yale Review editor J.D. McClatchy provides written insight into Rich’s work in the accompanying essay booklet.