As a teenager I read and admired Langston Hughes's poetry. Given the powerful drama of lines like "What happens to a dream deferred?/ Does it dry up/ like a raisin in the sun?.../Or does it explode?," I expected that Hughes would speak in deep, stentorian tones.
Hearing his voice on the Poetry Speaks to Children CD surprised me recently. Hughes introduces another poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," telling a bit about how he wrote it, and then reads it. To my ear, he is much more of a tenor, although his message is still basso profundo: "I've known rivers/Ancient, dusky rivers./My soul has grown deep like the rivers." I enjoyed the contrast—and the gift of hearing the poet, who died in 1967, read his own work. (I should mention that the "raisin in the sun" poem is not on the CD.)
"The Negro Speaks of Rivers" is just one selection in Poetry Speaks to Children, which is accompanied by a CD of some 60 tracks of poets and others reciting their own poems. Roald Dahl is on there, as are Rita Dove and Robert Frost. Compiled by Elise Paschen, the wide-ranging anthology offers lots of pictures and works from the serious (Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening") to the very silly (C.K. Williams' "Gas").
I'm sharing the book a little at a time with my 7 year old, who is a great age for Poetry Speaks to Children. There's plenty here for younger kiddos, too.
The book and CD remind me how much I like Langston Hughes, and I am happy to catch up with him again. The bonus is getting to meet a number of new (to me) writers, too.
Pssst. Hey, you poetry folks. You can also hear Hughes read and introduce "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" at the Academy of American Poets.
Liz B. rounds up all the participants in Poetry Friday today at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy.