Listening to poetry can make it more accessible as well deepen our understanding of a poet's work, especially when the poet is sharing it in their own voice. With audiobooks, we celebrate the power of the spoken word—which is, after all, poetry's power. Discover recommendations for contemporary and classic poetry on this list.
Award-winning poet Eve L. Ewing narrates her provocative poetry, which uncovers the race riots of 1919 in Chicago. In the beginning she sounds like she is reading. She's clear and speaks at a moderate pace, emphasizing certain words. Then her tone begins to change. The rhythm in her voice creates its own melody. As she progresses, she becomes spritely at times. The ebb and flow... Read More
Poet Paul Tran's emotional, operatic narration of their debut poetry collection takes a moment to get used to, but once one does, it's nearly impossible to stop listening. Their voice rises and falls with the cadence of their words; at times the book seems like a musical performance. The poems are intimate and immediate, exploring the legacies of war and U.S. imperialism,... Read More
Teacher, saxophonist, and poet laureate of the United States, Joy Harjo does not just read her poems. She performs them with passion and music; some are literally songs, and she sings them. This collection focuses on the many trails of tears, from those of her Cherokee and Muscogee ancestors to those of Central American natives today. The poems are beautiful, made more... Read More
Sharon Olds is noted for the extent to which she exposes her inner world in her poetry, and this collection is no exception. The poems are intensely personal and sometimes extremely sexual, but never pornographic. They examine a woman in her 70s who is looking back to see how she got where she is; she is also mourning the death of the man who may prove to have been her last... Read More
Spoken-word poet Jasmine Mans narrates her poetry collection. This audiobook serves as a call to oneself and a return to one's truth. Mans speaks openly and honestly about race, womanhood, sexuality, and family. She begins with a list poem about her hair. Her words are thick and intentionally punctuated. She is clear, strong, and purposeful in both content and tone. Although... Read More
This exceptional listening experience features tributes to 40 incredible Black women. Poet Harold Green's narration matches the passion, eloquence, and breadth of knowledge that he infuses into each of his powerful odes. Green shares his own motivation and influences, and also emphasizes the importance of the affirmation, appreciation, and emotional equity given to the wide... Read More
Fans of Mary Oliver will recognize familiar themes in this collection of poems first published in 2014. Newly released on audio, they are narrated beautifully by Kimberly Farr. Farr's low voice is slow and even. She takes care with her words, pausing often, leaving plenty of space for the images and ideas to settle. Her narration evokes the kind of careful attention that Oliver... Read More
Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman delivers this collection of poetry with precision and purpose. She lifts her words off the page and offers her perspective on social and global issues. Gorman is timely in her diction. She recites deliberately and uses a rhythm that can be easily followed. Her steady monotone allows listeners to focus more on her words and less on her voice.... Read More
Most poets mine their own experiences and their histories, and Joy Harjo is no exception. In this audiobook she brings to life many of the stories, songs, and traditions of her Muscogee and Cherokee ancestors. Her poetry can fairly be called polemical in its intention, but it is also deeply human, working in ranges of experience that many listeners may have been fortunate... Read More
Margaret Atwood is best known as a novelist, of course, but she is also quite a fine poet, and her reading of her poems is also quite fine. The poems focus largely on nature and the nature of being a woman in the modern world, but these potentially fraught subjects do not tempt Atwood, in writing or reading, into stridency. Her performance throughout the collection is low-key,... Read More
Mary Oliver’s wise, lived-in voice is just the one you want to be pouring these dog songs into your ears, and anyone who has loved a dog will thank her for this audiobook. It’s a vivid collection of portraits of beloved beasts past and present and an exploration of the many ways we love dogs—their devotion, patience, comedy, manifold sins— and experience the pain of losing... Read More
Pulitzer Prize winner and Poet Laureate of the United States Tracy K. Smith has a voice that is almost as beautiful as the imagery in this second collection of her work. She uses her voice well to clarify the structure of each poem and avoid the tics (such as that rising lilt at the end of each line) that make so many poets poor readers of their own work. Her reading is helped,... Read More
Eve L. Ewing reads her first poetry collection with brio and a tang that hook the listener from the get-go. She has a youthful lilting voice that lifts listeners into the funny poems and carries them safely over the tough ones, singeing them perhaps, but not letting them drop into the flames. A trained sociologist as well as a poet, Ewing ranges across the experience of being... Read More
Young People's Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye is a warm and comforting guide though this collection of her poems. Just because these are poems for young listeners doesn't mean that they're not sophisticated. Nye reflects on everything from a lost, and found, Christmas present in "Yellow Glove" to travelers overcoming barriers of language and culture with kindness and sweets in... Read More
A number of influences make themselves heard in Nate Marshall's readings of his own poems. He uses a variety of voices--ranging from that of a South Side Chicago homie to that of an elite university graduate. They are all his own authentic voices, and he explores the varieties of his own existence with them--as well as those of the "alternate" Nate Marshalls who come up in an... Read More
Author and narrator Nikita Gill eloquently unfolds the story of Paro, a young woman from India who is navigating various hardships that shape her journey to womanhood. There is a poetic quality in the content of this story and in its narration. Gill's voice is airy and soft yet commanding. It is not difficult to imagine Paro as a divine being, given the combination of Gill's... Read More
Michael Sheen is at his best narrating the two long narrative pieces here, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and a section of the first canto of "Don Juan." In both he's assisted by two fine but unnamed women. He's consistently good throughout the whole anthology. His Blake is prophetic and a bit mad, his Wordsworth is more stately, his Keats more wistful, and so on. The... Read More
"The Hill We Climb" is a balm and a benediction for a country wracked with strife, trauma, outrage, and grief. Oprah Winfrey's introduction invites listeners to reflect on the circumstances surrounding this 2021 inaugural poem and on the brilliance of its writer. Gorman's performance shines. She encourages listeners to meditate on the various legacies of white supremacy that... Read More
Danez Smith IS spoken-word art! This gender-neutral National Book Award finalist is full of funk and flavor, and is fearless in delivering personal poetic narratives. Smith opens by discussing why their audiobook is called HOMIE. This work is definitely not for the faint of heart. It wakes you up. Smith speaks of identity through experiences addressing race, queerness,... Read More
With a quiet but driving intensity, Richard Blanco delivers poems that speak to our times. He addresses the push-pull of his identity as a Cuban-American, confronts his own mortality (his father died at 55), and touches on national tragedies such as the Pulse nightclub and Parkland high school mass shootings and the Boston bombing. In the affecting "November Eyes," the author... Read More
Newly announced poet laureate Ada Limón delivers her own marvelous poetry very well indeed. Nearly all of the poems involve, in one way or another, the relationship between humans and the natural world through images, ideas, or acute observation. Like many fine poets, Limón takes her own life and experiences and works them toward a resolution that can be healing for herself and... Read More
Fatimah Asghar, co-creator of the Emmy-nominated web series Brown Girls, beautifully writes and delivers narrative poems about what it means to be a Pakistani, a Muslim, and a woman in America. In a voice that is steady and piercing, she pushes boundaries with her words of longing for maternal comforts and discomforts. She is unafraid to speak of cultural atrocities. Her voice... Read More
In this audiobook, Kwame Alexander delivers three of his poems about the struggles of Black Americans. He begins with a stirring foreword in which he remembers a time in November 1978 when his father--also his school principal-- brought the entire student body out to protest the police killing of Arthur Miller in Brooklyn. Alexander recounts his fear of police violence and the... Read More
Nikki Giovanni's slightly raspy, slightly sibilant voice draws listeners into this important collection of poetry and prose. Letting her poet's sense guide her tempo, Giovanni wrings the humor, anger, and sorrow out of being Black in America. In "And So It Comes to This," Giovanni's mocking tone is the perfect match for a scathing indictment of white men and their obsession... Read More
Billy Collins embraces extreme compression in this collection of very short poems. Some of them are worthy of Henny Youngman; others are potentially heartbreaking if you pause the audiobook to think about them. Most of the poems are under 25 words. Even more than with most audio poetry collections, this one rewards the pause for reflection, since without it you are already into... Read More
The acclaimed activist, educator, and poet shares her life story through poetry and narrative. Her voice is familiar to the ear--it's a voice that has been used to combat injustices, honor unsung heroes, and create old and new ways to love. She whips through certain poems as if their rhythm and timing call for speed. At times, she offers a rhyming intonation that sounds a bit... Read More
Those who claim modern poetry is inaccessible are not reading--or listening to--Marge Piercy. Her poetry is not shallow, but it is clear and, at least on one level, easy to follow. Her readings, likewise, are strong and inviting. Piercy's diction is not always perfect, but, like the poetry, it is always authentically hers, and the slight flaws never get in the way of... Read More
What happens when you combine the important works of 50 stellar poets with actors as diverse as Jodie Foster, Billy Connolly, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Lynn Redgrave, Gary Sinise, and Sam Waterston (to name but a few) and commentary from actor, writer, and poetry lover John Lithgow? You get an outstanding audio presentation that truly matches its billing as “The... Read More
Poetry is meant to be heard, and this detailed explanation of its pistons and gears finds its natural form as an audiobook. Poet and critic Brad Leithauser’s analysis of rhyme and meter is designed for a general audience and is illuminated with a succession of sharp, inventive similes and metaphors. Given some of the greatest lines in literature, narrator Kevin R. Free is... Read More
Ai Qing is considered by many to be one of the most important Chinese poets of the last century, and this audiobook of poems from his career helps explain why. Devoted to the land and people of China, he was imprisoned by both the Kuomintang and the Communists. The poems here range from an elegy to his wet nurse to a metaphorical treatment of the Japanese invasion, and the... Read More
Reading his own poetry in this audiobook, Robert Hass is reminiscent of Robinson Jeffers in his love of the California landscape and, sometimes, his lyricism. The award-winning poet (National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, among others) was Poet Laureate of the United States from 1995 to 1997. His voice is warm and sincere, and occasionally he seems to be overcome with emotion (or... Read More
Cree poet and scholar Billy-Ray Belcourt's debut poetry collection is a captivating listen. Narrating with a blend of steadiness and emotion, he delivers this memoir-manifesto-meditation in a voice uniquely his. Expressing themes of queerness, indigeneity, the corporeal, and the ethereal, Belcourt's lines are at once accessible and challenging. They challenge the listener to... Read More
Award-winning bestselling author Ocean Vuong narrates a profoundly visceral collection of poetry in which he unfurls his life after the death of his mother. His voice establishes a heartfelt cadence that fills each poem. He evokes a sense of neediness, as well as sad normalcy, through a heavy tone and moderately slow pace. Then there are poems--like "Dear Peter,'' for... Read More
Naomi Shihab Nye delivers her remarkable poems with understated yet fierce urgency. The audiobook's inspiration is Janna Jihad Ayyad, the "youngest journalist in Palestine," a 7-year-old girl who recorded smartphone videos of anti-occupation protests. Nye's vision combined with her finely crafted language creates tangible images for the listener and gives each work subtle... Read More
There is something for everyone in this timely poetry collection. Varied voices ring throughout the performances, ranging from quiet to cacophonous. The narrators are well matched to the style of each poem, moving from sassily irreverent to coolly somber. The order of the poems is also suitable, carrying the listener from joy to despair to hope and back again. Assembled over 40... Read More
In this third collection of poems by the 2020 Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jericho Brown, narrator JD Jackson steadily delivers a heartfelt narration of what Brown describes his book to be about: "the normalization of evil . . . and why these things, as heinous as they are, are normal in our time and in our culture." In this short audiobook, Jackson is clear, moderately... Read More
Dion Graham's deep, melodious voice and natural sense of story give this classic book of Hughes's early poems a revelatory power. His sense of timing, clear timbre, and syncopated cadence elevate this remarkably diverse collection. Voicing the poet's jazz style, Graham smartly hooks onto Hughes's musicality: notably in the jazzy "Harlem Nightclub," rhythmic "Song for a Banjo... Read More
Billy Collins may be the most popular poet working in America today, and this audio edition of his latest collection is a good demonstration of why that is so. In both speaking and writing, his voice is intimate and conversational, never declamatory, inviting us into the poems. The poems cover a wide range of subjects, although aging and death come up repeatedly, which is not... Read More
The 2020 winner of the Yale Younger Poets prize is sometimes emotionally difficult to hear. The poetry is unstintingly honest and unafraid of challenging the listener. Those unfamiliar with Caribbean speech may also have some trouble with the intense Trinidadian accent the author uses in many of the poems, but a second listen should enable anyone to get the full power of this... Read More
Chen Chen narrates his debut poetry collection with tenderness and joy. Demonstrating his keen self-awareness, Chen's performance of these vulnerable yet impactful poems leaves the listener with a renewed belief in life's possibilities. Chen's writing and narration are examples of how an author's masterful performance can reveal the heart of his material and captivate his... Read More
Sandra Cisneros’s performance of her poetry is a marvel. She is so good that one wishes she would record poetry by other writers as well. Her voice is a wonderful instrument, and she explores its possibilities with tone, accent, and timbre while conveying her intentions in these deeply personal poems. The poems examine life as a woman of a certain age in Mexico and the U.S.... Read More
Ama Asantewa Diaka narrates her collection of poetry in this deeply personal audiobook. Diaka explores several topics relating to the female body, such as misogyny, motherhood, pain, and pleasure, along with her experiences as a Black Ghanaian woman. Her delicate voice delivers meditations on a female body broken down into pieces and chiseled to a version of herself others... Read More
Franny Choi delivers these hopeful, heartbreaking, beautiful, sorrowful poems with quiet ardor. Her voice is soft and expressive, perfectly capturing the musical yet conversational tone of the whole collection. The poems are about everyday apocalypses and historical apocalypses; small moments of terror and joy; and the paradox of living on this planet, full of so much suffering... Read More
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