Haunting voices from the grave
Poems to explore what changes when you listen to a poem as well as or instead of encountering it on the page. Teachers often know at least one of the poems, but these haunting voices from the grave add a different dimension of understanding.
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I'll be at...
Listening to Langston Hughes talk about the plight of black Americans a hundred years after the abolition of slavery sends shivers down my spine. He talks in such a measured way, and his poem, too, is measured and calm even as it is an impassioned declaration of inclusion. I'm always in awe of the grace and dignity and depth in his voice.
First, are you our sort of a person?
Do you wear
A glass eye, false teeth or a crutch,
A brace or a hook,
Rubber breasts or a rubber crotch,
Stitches to show...
My immediate reaction to this poem was laughter - a reaction to a mixture of delighted shock and enjoyment of its over-the-top absurdity. Hearing Plath read it was like having a bucket of ice cold water thrown over my head.
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade....
No-one is ever neutral about this recording! Yeats's incantatory recitation style is variably seen by workshop participants as mesmerising, infuriating and illuminating. I love the way it subverted in a second my previously slightly misty-eyed allotment-holders reading of the poem.
E. E. Cummings (1894-1962) was born and brought up in Cambridge Massachusetts, and is remembered above all for his startling innovations in syntax and typography. His early experiments in poetry whilst still a child were...
I first encountered this poem at school at about age 12. I understood it as a lightly tripping, breezy kind of poem. Mostly I was fascinated by the fact that he was allowed not to use capital letters. Imagine my shock, then, thirty years later, when I heard cummings's reading with all that brooding intensity and dark menace!
Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the spreading
Of the straw for a bedding,
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
This was one of my very favourite poems as a child, but one I don't remember ever hearing. It just lived inside my Faber Book of Children's Verse and inside my head, where I loved its swirling sounds. But "swirling" doesn't come anywhere near this recording, a masterclass in the physical embodiment of a poem in performance.