Poetry on Record
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2006, Volume 13, #6
Written by Tracy M. Rogers
Reading poetry presents numerous problems of interpretation, the foremost of which is that the reader often transposes his or her own voice onto the written word. Poetry on Record, a four-disc collection recently released by Shout! Factory, seeks to solve this problem by compiling sound recordings of 98 poets reading their work. Beginning with Alfred Lord Tennyson reading his Charge of the Light Brigade, which incidentally was captured for posterity by Thomas Edison, Poetry on Record serves not only as a historical document but also as a showcase for the evolution of English as a language and poetry as a genre.
The first CD highlights the romanticism and theatricality of late 19th and early 20th century poetry, most notably in W. B. Yeats’ soaring The Lake Isle of Innisfree and his half-spoken, half-sung The Song of the Old Mother. Experimentation and modernism come to the fore in the form of Gertrude Stein’s unruly If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso and Ezra Pound’s dynamic recitation of From Hugh Selwyn Mauberly. The second CD finds humorous beat poets Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac intermingling with confessional wordsmiths like John Berryman and David Ignatow. Dylan Thomas’ readings of And Death Shall Have No Dominion and The Tombstone Told When She Died underscore the Welsh poet’s popularity with radio audiences, while The Mother finds Gwendolyn Brooks at her most militant and vivacious.
The third CD features poets of the post-World War Two era, including Ted Hughes’ angry, sexual Lovesong and his wife Sylvia Plath’s equally incendiary Daddy. Nevertheless, it’s Gloria Vando’s Fire, with its racial commentary and engaging narration, that serves as a high point on this portion of Poetry on Record, though Russian-born Joseph Brodsky’s neo-classical, neo-romantic Oddyseus to Telemachus is equally inspired. The fourth disc begins with Sharon Olds’ dramatic reading of Wonder and ends with Jonathan Lamfers’ post-modern, anti-love poem scab. Anne Waldman’s techno-graced, anti-nuclear weapons polemic Uh Oh Plutonium and Joy Harjo’s country-rock Grace serve as both songs and poetry, while Peter Balakian’s History of Armenia is a much more traditional poetic rendering that is at once political and personal. In fact, History of Armenia is a fitting metaphor for the entirety of this collection. Encompassing ruminations upon equality and segregation, loves lost and gained, as well as fear of death and joy of living, Poetry on Record is essential for literary historians, poets, and fans of good literature.
Poetry on Record is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box