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Norton kicks off National Poetry Month

April 1, 2009 | 11:30 am

To celebrate National Poetry Month, W.W. Norton has launched the site Poems Out Loud; not surprisingly, it features recordings of poets reading poetry. The poems can be listened to online or downloaded for later. Often the poets read their own work — as is the case for Rita Dove and Todd Boss, above. But former poet laureate Robert Pinsky reads Anne Bradstreet and the poem "Of Money" by Barnabe Googe — the latter, written more than 400 years ago, is still painfully true.

Some of the recordings sound carefully produced, but others were made over telephone lines, and the scratch and compression are audible. This annoyed me when I began listening to Dove, but then, partway through her poem "Ludwig van Beethoven Returns to Vienna," I wondered if they'd somehow cleaned up the sound — because her reading suddenly seemed crystal clear.

They hadn't. I had simply fallen into her reading.

I went back to check — it really is scratchy all the way through, but I had to rewind more than once. Each time I listen I begin to fall in again.

The site was inspired by Pinsky's "Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Out Loud," published by W.W. Norton. All the poets featured on the site are with the publishing house, which has a pretty significant poetry roster. They caught up with many of them at a writers conference earlier this year and asked them "What is poetry for?" The answers include a lot of blank stares and some inspired off-the-cuff responses: "for tresspassing and feeling at home at the same time" and "change ... witness ... celebration." The video is after the jump.

 If you know of a National Poetry Month celebration, let us know at jacketcopyla [at] gmail.com, or tell everyone about it in the comments.

— Carolyn Kellogg

Images: W.W. Norton