Poetry While Driving

03 December 2020 on Storystorm  

What are you listening to while you drive? There are long drives ahead of many of us this holiday season as we retreat to our quarantine dens and visit the family that we can. Even during a short drive, everyone I know is listening to something in the car: radio, podcasts, music from their phones, CDs. So why not poetry? 

I have a 2011 Subaru Outback with a CD player and no Bluetooth. On my last drive, from Durham, NH to Ithaca, NY, I listened to Rita Dove and Rosanna Warren, then Lucille Clifton and Gwendolyn Brooks recorded live on CD. Brooks and Dove are fabulous readers. I love how when I am listening, I can’t rush. When I am in the car, while I am going somewhere, I also can’t go anywhere from where I am sitting. It feels like the perfect intersection of states of mind to absorb audio. Listening to Dove, I was often jolted into understanding of tone and delivery—more immediate than if I was reading.

It was a huge discovery for me when I found the poetry collection in my local library’s CD collection—The Academy of American Poets Audio Archive, which is a series of live recordings spanning from roughly 1960-1995. Sometimes, you can hear ambient noise, applause or comments from the audience in the background. Some other favorite recordings in this series include Phillip Levine, Stanley Kunitz and Louise Glück. 

Driving, especially long distances, is my surprise time to listen to poetry. I rarely listen to poetry except during a live reading. Usually, I read it in silence. Many of us, especially those of us who do not come from a spoken word background, have a primarily visual experience of poetry when we read it on a page. Listening to a live recording (and for me, while in transit) is a way to change your experience of poetry and broaden your own knowledge of poets—their work and how they read. Check your local libraries for similar collections, or online for live poetry recordings! In my car, listening to Dove, (while, of course, focusing on the road!) kept me moving for miles.  

Eve Glasergreen is the poetry editor of Barnstorm. She is a second-year MFA student at the University of New Hampshire. Follow her on Instagram @evgreens.

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