Poets’ performances, whether live or recorded, bring to life a form of literature that is meant to be read aloud and listened to with attentive ears. In today’s era of social distancing, poetry on audio is a great way to listen to a poet perform their own work when you can’t go see them in person. There are a wealth of great poetry collections on audio read by their authors, but here are a few of my favorites.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Verse novels act as a great gateway into poetry, and Elizabeth Acevedo is one of the best. In The Poet X, we meet Xiomara, a teenage girl from Harlem who writes poetry in her diary, which she keeps safely tucked under her bed. But when she joins a slam poetry club, she begins to find her voice and bring her work out into the light.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
When Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming came out a few years ago, it seemed to win ALL of the things—and for good reason. This middle grade story in verse follows Woodson from her early childhood in South Carolina to her later adolescence in New York City. Through her experience growing up as a Black girl in the 1960s and 1970s, Woodson gives us a glimpse into America’s not-so-distant past.
Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith
You can never go wrong picking up anything by former American Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, but a great place to start is her Pulitzer Prize winning Life on Mars. In this collection, Smith’s poems feature situations like a sterile futuristic world, a man holding his own daughter prisoner in his basement, and an engineer working on the Hubble telescope. Whatever the focus, Smith’s poems will be ones that stay with you long after you’ve finished listening to them.
Homie by Danez Smith
Spoken word poet Danez Smith’s performances draw you in from their first few words. Smith is one of those poets I always pick up on audio because listening to them read their work feels like you’re witnessing some sort of miracle. When Smith reads their poetry, you can hear the layers of meaning and passion behind each word. Smith’s most recent collection, Homie, focuses on relationships between Black people, the closeness of friends, family, or lovers.
dayliGht by Roya Marsh
In dayliGht, Roya Marsh writes about what it’s like being a butch Black woman in America. This collection confronts the lack of representation that Marsh experienced growing up. Marsh’s poems discuss working through trauma, resilience, and coming to terms with who you are in a world that rarely acknowledges that you exist.
Electric Arches by Eve. L. Ewing
Through visual elements and freeform verse, Eve L. Ewing writes about girlhood and young womanhood as a Black woman. From Chicago to unnamed possibilities, Ewing’s work is often playful and imaginative as it discusses topics around race, class, and gender. Since visual elements are particularly important to this collection, if you can, I would definitely recommend reading a print text along with listening to the audio.
Magical Negro by Morgan Parker
In Magical Negro, Morgan Parker uses the lens of legends and folk heroes to discuss topics around Black womanhood in America. Often featuring her own personal narratives and perspectives, Parker examines society and customs of Black culture, ancestral grief, trauma, and resilience. With their incredible amount of depth and complexity, these are poems you’ll return to again and again.
Make Me Rain: Poetry & Prose by Nikki Giovanni
In her most recent work, much-beloved poet Nikki Giovanni celebrates her loved ones and the Black community from which they came. These poems are full of warmth and encouragement as she switches from poetry to prose. Giovanni’s work features a community that persists and uplifts one another, in both good times and bad.