January 18, 2013

Poems Out Loud

I enjoy hearing poems read aloud, but not everyone can get to readings in their area, especially ones by well-known poets. And, of course, we only have authors recorded reading their poetry going back about 100 years.

Although the site launched in April 2009, I only recently discovered Poems Out Loud.  It features recorded readings by well-known and award-winning poets, columns and general poetry news.

The name of the site was inspired by the anthology edited by Robert Pinsky called Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud and the site is sponsored by that book's publisher, W. W. Norton & Company

Portrait of a Woman by Bartolomeo Veneto,
traditionally assumed to be Lucrezia Borgia.
It seems that the site stopped adding new content back in 2011, but in the archive and on others like are plenty of opportunities to discover poets and poems.

Recently, someone asked a question on Facebook about the poet Walter Savage Landor. I confess that I had never heard of him.

A quick search turned up lots of links, including one to his poem "On Lucretia Borgia's Hair" read by Robert Pinsky on the Poems Out Loud site.

I have heard of Lucretia (AKA Lucrezia) Borgia and the 2011 TV series, The Borgias, brought that family back into discussions.

The family came to epitomize Machiavellian politics and sexual corruption in the time of the Renaissance Papacy. Lucrezia is seen as a femme fatale in many artworks, novels, and films.

So, I clicked over to the poem.

I like the short text attached to the audio:

"The story is that the poet Leigh Hunt showed Landor a long, blonde strand of hair—said to be stolen from an Italian museum by Byron—of the glamorous, powerful, nefarious Lucretia Borgia. (It is tempting to think that the Italians who ran the museum were accustomed to English gentlemen stealing the purported hair several times a month, and that the museum replaced it each time from an ample supply.)

Landor, a great master of the epigram form, composed many dazzling poems of as few as two lines. In this one, the reach of the grammer across the rhyme-word “august” is expressive, a kind of flourish or fanfare preparing the way for the curt “Now thou’rt dust.” Different published versions have the final word as “unfold” and “enfold”—an interesting small ambiguity in itself, the hair as keeping the history it represents either unfolded to us, or enfolded away from us."

The poem is only four lines, and honestly, not one I would probably read if I stumbled upon it, brief as it is. But hearing it read, it worked for me.

Borgia, thou once wert almost too august
And high for adoration; now thou’rt dust.
All that remains of thee these plaits unfold,
Calm hair, meandering with pellucid gold.

Such is the power of poetry read aloud.

For more poetry read aloud, check out these sites:

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