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Free Poetry Culture: LibriVox Edition

posted: 3.29.10 by archived

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about Yale Open Courses, and this week I’d like to highlight another great free audio resource online—LibriVox.

A sort of audio version of Project Gutenberg, LibriVox aims to put online audio recordings of all public domain books. This includes the novels of Dickens, Austen, Eliot, most of Conrad, and the bulk of Joyce.  (Membership in the canon is not a prerequisite, however; the database also includes selections such as “Selections From General Instructions For The Guidance Of Post Office Inspectors In The Dominion Of Canada”.)

There’s a lot of great  poetry in the public domain (by Yeats, Shelley, Keats, Tennyson, Hopkins, and many others), making Librivox a good resource for recordings of teachable poems. Additionally, LibriVox provides 84 mixed collections of short poetry,  perfect for loading on your iPod if you like to prep for class while jogging or commuting.

Volunteers, rather than actors, read the selections included in the LibriVox database, but the quality is generally high. (Even the best recordings of John Donne’s poetry couldn’t match the Richard Burton versions, though.)

If you find yourself intrigued by the project, you may want to volunteer yourself–or your students. (Instructions are found here.) It’s easy to get involved. Readers of this blog may be especially interested in recording a poem for the collections of short poetry.

In the Classroom

  • Start class by playing a recording of a poem before students read the poem.
  • Craft a short unit on the principles of reading poetry aloud.  Discuss poetry’s beginning in oral traditions. (LibriVox, of course, has recordings of the great, originally oral epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey.) Split students into groups, and have them listen to several recordings and then make a list of what helps and/or hinders their ability to understand and enjoy the poem when they listen rather than read it.
  • Once students understand what makes for a good reading, have them choose a poem they’re drawn to and add it to the LibriVox canon.  They could even memorize it, participating in the oral tradition.  (See our post on the virtues of memorization.)

Related Posts

Poetry Speaks!

Memorization and Its Discontents

In Defense of Recitation


Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before working at Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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