Listen to the greatest 20th century British and American poets read their own work

To celebrate National Poetry Day on 7 October, the British Library releases two new additions to its popular series of literary spoken word CDs, featuring many previously unpublished recordings of great British and American poets of the 20th century reading their own poems and often with their own spoken introductions. From T S Eliot’s sombre, measured reading from ‘The Waste Land’ to William Carlos Williams’ confident, humorous reading of ‘This is Just to Say’ and the gravelly purr of Walter de la Mare introducing and reading ‘Thomas Hardy’, these CDs comprise a wealth of rare historic recordings.

Other poets featured include Stevie Smith, Philip Larkin, Thom Gunn, Ted Hughes, John Betjeman, Louis MacNeice, Dylan Thomas, Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, John Masefield, Cecil Day Lewis, Edith Sitwell, Edwin Morgan, Robert Frost, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg, John Ashbery, Sylvia Plat! h, Anne Sexton, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ogden Nash, Gertrude Stein, Amiri Baraka, E E Cummings, Ezra Pound, Langston Hughes and Robinson Jeffers.

British Poets: The Spoken Word and American Poets: The Spoken Word together form the largest survey of historic studio recordings and live recordings by English-language poets ever published. Both CDs include a booklet with an introduction by Sir Andrew Motion, former Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom.

The 3-CD compilation British Poets includes 30 poets from Tennyson and Browning in the late 19th century to Thom Gunn and Ted Hughes in the mid-20th century, reading from their own work, often with their own spoken introductions. The selection features historic recor! dings by poets laureate John Masefield, Cecil Day Lewis, and John Betjeman; unforgettable voices such as W H Auden, Edith Sitwell and Stevie Smith; and rare recordings by Philip Larkin, Edwin Morgan, and Ian Hamilton Finlay. Almost all of the recordings in this collection are published for the first time here.

Highlights include:

  • Previously unpublished recordings of John Betjeman live at the Poetry Centre in London
  • Extracts from an unusual programme that Edwin Morgan made in collaboration with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
  • Philip Larkin reciting ‘The Whitsun Weddings’ at his first ever poetry reading in front of a live audience
  • Rare recording of Laurence Binyon reading ‘For the Fallen’
  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson reading ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ at his home on the Isle of Wight in 1890 – one of the earliest poetry recordings ever made
  • Previously unreleased recording of Dylan Thomas live at the Museum of Modern Art in New York at the height of his career

The 3-CD set American Poets includes recordings of 27 poets from Gertrude Stein (born in 1874) to Amiri Baraka (born in 1934). The 20th century was a time of enormous energy and variety in American poetry, embracing such eminent names as T S Eliot, E E Cummings, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Robinson Jeffers, Langston Hughes, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. The majority of the recordings have not been published before.

Highlights include:

  • Charles Bukowski self-recorded at his home in East Hollywood in 1969
  • Randall Jarrell recorded in a Washington hotel room in 1963
  • Previously unreleased recordings made by an elderly Robert Frost in the BBC studios
  • Previously unpublished live recording of Wallace Stevens reading ‘Credences of Summer’ on a hot October day at Harvard University
  • Previously unreleased BBC studio recordings of E E Cummings
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gregory Corso live at the Royal Albert Hall in 1964
  • Allen Ginsberg live in London in 1967

Sir Andrew Motion, the former Poet Laureate, said; “These CDs are a treasure-trove. Always fascinating and instructive, and always proving that the sound and sense of poetry cannot be separated.”

Richard Fairman, British Library Sound Archive, commented; “Producing these two new British Library audio CD sets has been a real journey of discovery. The vast majority of the recordings are previously unreleased and it has been a joy to find so many wonderful readings by the great poets of the 20th century. Taken together, British Poets: The Spoken Word and American Poets: The Spoken Word form one of the most wide-ranging surveys of poetry in the English language ever released on CD.”

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