My favorite poems ignite my imagination and ask me to actively participate in the reading process. I want the poet to encourage me to make the poem my own. The books on this list will challenge your assumptions, spark your creativity, and move you with vivid language and fantastic descriptions.
Sometimes, a reader can find new meaning in a poem by experiencing it in a new medium. Listening to someone perform a poem is so different from reading it quietly on the page.
Recently released by my record label, GPR Records, "Poetic License" is an audio compilation of 100 well-loved poems read by 100 famous performers. You can preview and purchase each track from the album by using the links in the descriptions below.
by A. A. Milne
Though best known for beloved fictional character Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne was also a notable English author and playwright. "When We Were Very Young" is a collection of poems for children, about childhood. However, adults will take great pleasure in revisiting the feeling of perpetual wonderment. Read by Cynthia Nixon on the "Poetic License" album, Milne's poem "Vespers" (explore on iTunes now) features well-known character Christopher Robin. This poem about the innocence and apprehension of bedtime will help you better appreciate the nights you fall asleep as your head hits the pillow.
by Dylan Thomas, illustrated by Murray Kimber
Dylan Thomas' "Fern Hill" is a poem filled with vivid imagery and carefully chosen language. Read by Golden Globe nominated actor Philip Casnoff on the "Poetic License" album, "Fern Hill" describes the simple pleasures of the outdoors (explore on iTunes now). Spending too much time in the office and not enough time enjoying trees and sunshine? Lose yourself in Dylan's vivid descriptions: "Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air /And playing, lovely and watery /And fire green as grass." Even city-dwellers will start to imagine tall buildings as mountains and concrete as grass.
by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Jane Breskin Zalben
What better way to spark your imagination than to read something completely nonsensical? Lewis Carroll's "The Walrus and the Carpenter" is a book-length poem about a walrus and a carpenter who lure oysters to their dinner table. Trying to brainstorm new ways about how you can achieve a goal or get what you want out of life? The walrus and the carpenter will serve as an inspiration. On "Poetic License," actor Jason Alexander reads the poem in his expressive, easy-to-recognize voice (explore on iTunes now).
by Michael Ondaatje
Ondaatje is best known for using language that captures the landscapes of dreams. "The Cinnamon Peeler," found in this collection, is a love poem enhanced by sensory information like scent, touch, and sound. Looking for that special someone? "The Cinnamon Peeler" truly captures the ways we can push our minds and our hearts to love another person deeply and fully. Read by singer and actor Michael Cerveris on "Poetic License," Ondaatje's poem is a testament to true love (explore on iTunes now).
by Edgar Allan Poe, illustrated by Gilles Tibo
Even though most people consider Edgar Allen Poe's "Annabel Lee" to be a poem for younger readers, the subject matter is actually very mature and complex. Poe's intense imagery and incisive language truly move the reader to push his/her imagination. Read by actor Donald Corren on "Poetic License," "Annabel Lee" calls the reader to consider the boundaries and realities of true love (explore on iTunes now). The haunting lines will stay with the readers long after the book is closed.
by Don Blanding
Too afraid to drop everything and leave your real life behind? Enjoy the story of a vagabond with a serious case of wanderlust. Set in pre-statehood Hawaii and the South Seas, this book transports the reader to an exotic vacation without eating up precious vacation days. Actor Reed Birney reads Blanding's poem "Some Lines Scrawled on The Door of a Vagabond's House" on "Poetic License" (explore on iTunes now). With books like these, a reader doesn't even need a plane ticket to stretch the imagination to new corners of the world.
by John Milton
John Milton's Paradise Lost is a book-length poem about a battle that takes place across heaven, hell, and earth. Encounter worlds you've only imagined in your wildest dreams and witness conversations between characters you will probably never know in real life. Read by Veanne Cox on "Poetic License," "Paradise Lost (Eve)" exemplifies Milton's own power of imagination (explore on iTunes now). Train yourself to be a more open-minded, sympathetic person by putting yourself in the shoes of fictional characters fighting the most epic battles ever staged.
Recommending books so good, they'll keep you up past your bedtime. more...
About Glen Roven
Glen Roven is a four-time Emmy Award winner. Career highlights include conducting the original Broadway production of Sugar Babies, four Presidential Inaugurations, and both Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.’s final television appearances. On May 23rd, in honor of author Margaret Wise Brown’s 100th birthday, GPR Records will release “Goodnight Moon: a lullaby for Soprano and Orchestra.” You can email Glen or follow GPR Records on Twitter.
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