The Poetry Archive is an online collection of recordings of poets reading their work. From their About us page:

The Poetry Archive exists to help make poetry accessible, relevant and enjoyable to a wide audience. It came into being as a result of a meeting, in a recording studio, between Andrew Motion, soon after he became U.K. Poet Laureate in 1999, and the recording producer, Richard Carrington. They agreed about how enjoyable and illuminating it is to hear poets reading their work and about how regrettable it was that, even in the recent past, many important poets had not been properly recorded.
Poetry was an oral art form before it became textual. Homer’s work lived through the spoken word long before any markings were made on a page. Hearing a poet reading his or her work remains uniquely illuminating. It helps us to understand the work as well as helping us to enjoy it. When a poet dies without making a recording, a precious resource is lost for ever and as time goes by that loss is felt more and more keenly. What would we not give to be able to hear Keats and Byron reading their work? And, if recording had been possible in the early nineteenth century, how inexplicable it would seem now if no-one had recorded their voices. Yet in the twentieth century, when recording technology became universal, there was no systematic attempt to record all significant poets for posterity and even some major poets – Thomas Hardy and A. E. Housman (as far as we know. Please tell us if you have a recording of Hardy or Housman reading his poetry!), for example – died without having been recorded at all. The Poetry Archive has, therefore, been created to make sure that such omissions never happen again and that everyone has a chance to hear major poets reading their work.

I can’t believe I haven’t linked to it before, but now I’ve remedied that omission. Thanks, Grumbly!


  1. dearieme says

    I saw recently in the Telegraph that there is no surviving recording, audio or video, of George Orwell. Stone the crows!

  2. That is shocking. I wonder if he hated being recorded the way other people hate having their picture taken?

  3. jamessal says

    I wonder if he hated being recorded the way other people hate having their picture taken?
    He did do a BBC broadcast during WW2. His voice was supposedly unappealing.

  4. marie-lucie says

    Sometimes authors are not the best people to read their works aloud. Some of them read with a monotonous, inexpressive voice which puts listeners to sleep, and their words would be better appreciated in writing, when the reader can mentally supply the expressiveness, or read by a good oral performer. (Conversely, some charismatic speakers are much better orally than in writing, and reading their works is a letdown). Perhaps that is one reason some writers don’t like being recorded. Also, some good writers don’t think easily on their feet, and might find it frustrating to be interviewed and expected to come up with witty answers on the spur of the moment.

  5. jamessal says

    or read by a good oral performer.
    John Cleese. I want John Cleese to read everything I ever write. Including this comment.

  6. Is your voice recorded anywhere so we can hear it, jamessal?

  7. Listening to Joyce reading “Anna Livia Pluribelle”, while far from thespian quality, can’t be bettered as an act of literary conveyance.

  8. A handy resource. Why is Pound not there though? (For our Ezra, we can go here, as I learned in another LH thread.)

  9. I think I read somewhere on the site that there are copyright issues still under negotiation.

  10. I just listened to a few Ez clips at PennSound. What energetic ear-bending (earlier), what melancholy energy (later)! I wish I’d thought to call myself Growly Stu, but I don’t have the delivery. Does anyone know why he slips into a kind of Scottish diction, rolling his “r”s like the North Sea?

  11. Does anyone know why he slips into a kind of Scottish diction, rolling his “r”s like the North Sea?
    I think it’s his idea of a true classicist’s delivery. None of yer effete single tongue-flicks and -flaps.

  12. jamessal says

    Is your voice recorded anywhere so we can hear it, jamessal?
    I’m pretty sure no. I was only on the radio once, some NY station at 3am, and I totally bombed.

  13. i was to comment on the Sotomayor thread, couldn’t b/c it seems closed
    so just wanted to say that i have checked the latest news articles on my country and there didn’t find the sentence i was objecting to, by Reuters! a nice surprise
    it’s like how scary influential the LH blog is perhaps
    let’s see how long will it keep though, perhaps i should complain here more and on other objectionable topics too
    so that to be heard, so to speak

  14. scarabaeus says

    “expected to come up with witty answers on the spur of the moment.”
    Must always practice thy impromptu before being a guess’ speaker.

  15. John Emerson says

    Way off-topic, but I’m going through Schama’s “Landscape and Memory” right now and loving it. LOTS of little details of the kind I like. He even put in New Ulm Minnesota’s Herman the German statue. He seems to understand that it’s REALLY BORING and UTTERLY DETESTABLE to stick to the point and limit oneself to the important questions. I wonder how he managed to get through graduate school. (He did, though, I looked it up. Albeit in Britain, where the schools are probably less insane than here due to feudal survivals and the like.)

  16. JE! i’ve read elsewhere you were missing..
    hope you’re okay / kidding 🙂
    when i listen to my recorded voice it’s so like tembreless, i thought it should sound a bit softer/gender appropriate or something, but no, one person on the phone told me i sound like ‘crook’
    it’s because i’m too self-conscious to talk on the phone and in English
    we call such a not very musical voice grey voice, when one is too excited or disappointed and his voice changes ‘duu n saaraltax’
    i’ve listened before to N. Gumilev, Akhmatova, Bunin, Nabokov’s voices reading their poems, all sounded greyish with a lot of other noises and cracks, interesting

  17. her

  18. John just sometimes disappears for a while, read. He’ll have no memory, but the families always get well compensated.

  19. Yeah, the joke was people were missing him and I wrote as if JE were missing, not that I expressed my worry, b/c I miss too, the misplaced emoticon
    I recalled kaznit’ nel’zya pomilovat’ verdict, (prosecute shouldn’t be spared?), used in schools to illustrate importance of commas

  20. mollymooly says

    I think Dylan Thomas’ recording of “Under Milk Wood” is rubbish. Also, Yeats had a weirdly affected declamatory style.

  21. Yeats had a weirdly affected declamatory style.
    From this NYRB piece:

    In a recording of his poetry made for the BBC in 1932, William Butler Yeats prefaced his stirring rendition of pieces such as “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and “The Fiddler of Dooney” by explaining that he would read “with great emphasis upon the rhythm, and that may seem strange if you are not used to it.” “It gave me,” he continues, “a devil of a lot of trouble to get into verse the poems that I am going to read, and that is why I will not read them as if they were prose.” There is indeed nothing prosaic in his incantatory method of delivery—”I will ariiiiiise and gooooo noooow, and gooo to Innisfrreee…”—and it takes him a full five seconds to do justice to the long vowels of the poem’s final line, “I heeeeaar it in the deeeep heeaart’s coooore.”

    Yeats once observed that he found it extraordinarily difficult to explain his system of scansion, “for I have very little but an instinct.” We know he enjoyed chanting out loud poems in progress, and Pound included an amusing glimpse in one of his Pisan Cantos of Yeats at work during one of the winters they spent together in Stone Cottage in Sussex: what sounded like “the wind in the chimney”

    was in reality Uncle William
    downstairs composing
    that had made a great Peeeeacock
        in the proide ov his oiye
        had made a great peeeeeeecock in the…
    made a great peacock
        in the proide of his oyyee…

  22. John Emerson says

    Joyce was trained as an opera singer and presumably had a great voice. According to a friend, Yeats had a thin, nasal, absolutely inadequate voice.

  23. At that time I was just beginning to be interested in acoustic relationships, the relationship of a fundamental tone to its other partials. This too interested Joyce a great deal, particularly when I pointed out that the third partial of the note C was G and the fifth partial was E and that I saw no reason why polvtonal passages in which the music was played in C major, G major, and E major at the same time were not only logical but were rooted in natural relationships in the harmonic series.
    Joyce’s actual experience with music was so different from his intellectualizing about counterpoint that he seemed to be two people. He had heard Hans Zimmerman, a student of mine and later director of the Zurich Opera, conduct a chamber orchestra for which I had arranged and performed a suite of Gluck’s music, including the famous flute solo “Dance of the Departed Spirits” from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. Afterwards, Joyce said that he considered this solo to be the greatest piece of music ever written. He began going through the piece, note by note and phrase by phrase, literally transposing it first into word inflections and then into verbal images. At the end of this evening with Jovce I had learned more about the relationship of language to music than ever before or since.
    Joyce enjoyed giving literary interpretations of the contrapuntal techniques in music. This turned into a kind of intellectual exercise in which he professed to use the devices for his own purposes in his own medium.
    On June 18, 1919, he walked with George Borach around the Zurich See justifying his writing of “Sirens”. He said, “I finished the ‘Sirens’ chapter during the last three days — a big job. I wrote this chapter with the technical resources of music. It is a fugue with all musical notations: piano, forte, rallentando, and so on. A quintet occurs in it too as in the “Meistersinger”, my favorite Wagnerian opera. Since exploring the resources and artifices of music and employing them in this chapter, I haven’t cared for music any more. I, the great friend of music, can no longer listen to it. I see through all the tricks and can’t enjoy it any more.”
    — Otto Luening
    The Odyssey of an American Composer,
    New York, 1980

  24. marie-lucie says

    Did Joyce write about the relationship of language to music (or vice-versa)?

  25. … the relationship of a fundamental tone to its other partials. This too interested Joyce a great deal, …
    There is incidental evidence of this concern with fundamentals and “partials” in Ulýsses (the Circe episode):

    THE CAP Bah!
    STEPHEN Here’s another for you. (He frowns.) The reason is because the fundamental and the dominant are separated by the greatest possible interval which.
    THE CAP Which? Finish. You can’t.
    STEPHEN (With [an] effort.) Interval which. Is the greatest possible ellipse. Consistent with. The ultimate return. The octave. Which.

    Which. Echoes this, earlier. In the same episode:

    Stephen stands at the pianola on which sprawl his hat and ashplant. With two fingers he repeats once more the series of empty fifths.

    (Had to quote something from The Novel; it being Bloomsday, and all.)

  26. Oscar Wilde was recorded reciting on a cylinder. Hoping for the brisk, curled-upper-lip queerness of Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited (the TV serial version), I was disappointed by his flaccid and flowery tone.

  27. Did Joyce write about the relationship of language to music (or vice-versa)?
    Good question. We should at least note his collection of poems called Chamber Music – not, as some have thought, a matter of Jungfernpisse.
    Ulysses is crammed with operatic and other musical references. But then, it is crammed with just about everything.

  28. Dr No: I was disappointed by his flaccid and flowery tone.
    Okay, but look at the photographs, he was flaccid.
    I might be wrong, but I thought Anthony Blanche was at least partly based on Maurice Bowra. The reason I’m a bit doubtful is I know Mr Samgrass was based on Bowra and I wonder how many characters in the same book you can base on one man, however complex and peculiar.

  29. marie-lucie says

    Oscar Wilde was recorded reciting on a cylinder
    That may explain some of it. There were wax cylinders and metal cylinders. I have not listened to OW but I have heard other cylinder recordings and the sound quality was extremely poor. One feature might be that the wax or metal deteriorated significantly with repeated playing.

  30. Don DeLillo sounds a lot like Clint Eastwood — though he might have just had a sore throat or something when I heard him at the 92nd St Y. Not a great reader, either way.

  31. I might be wrong, but I thought Anthony Blanche was at least partly based on Maurice Bowra.
    As Buck Mulligan says: “What? Where? I can’t remember anything. I remember only ideas and sensations. Why?” In my case, I know nothing of who is based on whom, and I know very little about Brideshead Revisited.
    This Bloomsday in Australia (RN, ABC Radio) there was discussion of Mulligan being partly modelled on Wilde, rather than straightforwardly on Oliver St John Gogarty. Mulligan twice mentions Wilde in the Telemachus episode:

    The rage of Caliban at not seeing his face in a mirror, he said. If Wilde were only alive to see you.

    We have grown out of Wilde and paradoxes. It’s quite simple. He proves by algebra that Hamlet’s grandson is Shakespeare’s grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father.

    One feature might be that the wax or metal deteriorated significantly with repeated playing.
    Thank you for renewing hope, Marie-Lucie. I now find even better hope from this close analysis, which proves by partial differential equations that the recording is most likely not genuine. A ghost that talks but did not walk as Wilde.
    And yes, you can catch this faux Wilde on YouTube. Could Twitter be far behind?

  32. So, did Housman sound like Richard Easton?

  33. I’ve noticed the spammers talk to me and they agree with my comments.

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