Karen Farmer is an avid reader, audiobook listener, and the Director of Customer Experience at Libro.fm. She has an MFA in poetry from the University of San Francisco, and shares her favorite books on Instagram @librarypoweruser.
It’s possible that poetry is one of the most-debated genres I’ve come across. People seem to either love poetry or actively avoid crossing its path. As someone who falls into the first category, I often recommend that people who are anxious about poetry try listening first. As it turns out, audiobooks have made quite a few of my friends into poetry fans! I’ve shared some of the reasons for this below because nothing makes me happier than seeing book-lovers give new genres a try.
1. Poems are meant to be shared aloud.
Because poetry is tied so closely to music, it’s a genre that existed before people were writing things down. Early poets relied heavily on rhythm and rhyme to help with memorization, so that important events could be easily passed between communities and generations. While a lot of modern poetry has moved away from structured rhyme, musicality and story-telling are still very much at the heart of a poet’s process. Try listening for the songs at the heart of each of these collections:
By Ada Limón • Narrated by the author
By Nikki Giovanni • Narrated by the author
By Tommy Pico • Narrated by the author
2. Collections can be savored in bite-sized pieces.
Many poetry collections are made up of individual pieces that can stand on their own, so it’s easy for a listener to enjoy at their own pace. No time in the day to pause for an hour of audio? Not to worry! You can always listen to just a few poems at a time, and later pick back up where you left off. And even if you want to listen in one go, most poetry audiobooks are a lesser time commitment than listening to a full novel. Whichever path you choose, I do recommend listening to the poems in sequential order, so that you can fully appreciate the overarching themes and structure the poet has carefully crafted.
By Kate Baer • Narrated by the author
By Mary Oliver • Narrated by the author
3. Listening can feel less intimidating.
Have you ever opened a book of poetry and, based on how it appeared on the page, been unsure of how it should be read? This is a great reason to try listening to poetry before (or while) reading the print version. You’ll be able to experience the poem as the poet intended it to be read, including things like pauses and line breaks, navigating creative spacing on the page, and how language is used in new or experimental ways. The narrator will do the heavy lifting for you, so that all you need to do is listen and savor the message.
By Billy-Ray Belcourt • Narrated by the author
By Mary Karr • Narrated by the author
4. Poetry has a sense of humor.
Maybe you hear the word poetry and immediately picture a dusty, leather bound tome filled with complicated language and a sense of impending doom. These books certainly exist, but there are so many amazing poetry collections that are carefully crafted using a lens of humor. Some of my favorite poets pair the most difficult topics with a playful use of language. I find this to be a thought-provoking, impactful way to unpack challenging concepts and help listeners think about them in new ways.
By Danez Smith • Narrated by the author
By Catherine Cohen • Narrated by the author
5. Narrators bring new meaning to poetry from your past.
I love re-listening to poetry that I first encountered in high school and college. Poetry sometimes felt like a break between longer works of literature on the syllabus, so I often didn’t allow it the time or appreciation that was so deserved. By enjoying these books through the voice of a narrator, I’ve finally tapped into much more nuance than I previously picked up on. No more worrying about taking notes for midterms! Try re-experiencing one of the epic works below for the sheer sake of enjoyment, and see if the story begins to emerge in new ways.
By Dante Alighieri • Narrated by Charles Armstrong
By Emily Dickinson • Narrated by Amy Landon
By Robert K. Gordon, Yuri Rasovsky & Anonymous • Narrated by Robertson Dean