Poetry Out Loud


National Poetry Month

Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month is now held every April when publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, schools, and poets around the country band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture. Thousands of businesses and non-profit organizations participate through readings, festivals, book displays, workshops, and other events.

For more information, visit poets.org.

Poetry Out Loud

How does poetry change when it transforms from written to spoken word? How can music compliment or change a recited poem's interpretation?

In this activity, well-known voices and musical selections relate the work of three celebrated poets: Emily Dickenson, Langston Hughes, and Jenny Joseph.

Think About...

Because I Could Not Stop for Death

by Emily Dickenson

  • How does the music enhance the piece? Is it thematically appropriate?
  • How do you feel as you hear about Death and the Poet driving by school recess and fields of grain?
  • When you hear the poem, describe how you feel as Death and the Poet approach Death’s house at the end of the poem.

Let America be America Again

by Langston Hughes

  • Hughes wrote about the struggle for equality in America in 1935. How has this struggle changed since the poem’s composition?
  • How many different groups of people that Hughes alludes to in the poem can you identify? Why are these groups significant?
  • When Hughes speaks about the struggles of subjugated groups, what imagery does he evoke?


by Jenny Joseph 

  • What is the significance of the first line of the poem: “…I shall wear purple with a red hat, which doesn’t go…”?
  • Joseph says she “…shall make up for the sobriety of my youth.” How do you think Joseph sees her youth based on this sentence? Is she content with the way she has lived?

Learn More

In Your Own Words

Often, the world around the poet is what influences his or her work. After listening to the poems performed in the Resource Carousel above, think about your world and how it influences you. Each of the poets chose something that was impactful to them. Jenny Joseph writes about aging, Emily Dickenson deals with her feelings concerning death, and Langston Hughes talks about the impact of segregation on America.

You are going to write your own poem about an issue that is important to you. Examples of important social issues that may be relevant to you include:

  • Bullying 
  • Peer Pressure 
  • Prejudice 
  • Academic Pressure 
  • Divorce 
  • Cheating 
  • Global Warming 
  • Education

Hughes, Joseph, and Dickenson used a lot of imagery to get their ideas across to the reader. While you are writing your own poem, make sure to include allusions to images that help reinforce the theme you have chosen to write about.

You will not have to perform your poem if you do not want to. This is an exercise in artistic expression, and after you are done writing, think about the following questions:

  1. Why was it difficult to come up with meaningful imagery? 
  2. Did you struggle with choosing a topic for your poem? Why? 
  3. When listening to popular music, do you notice similar themes to what you wrote about? In what songs? 
  4. Is there a specific song you would choose to have playing while reading your poem aloud? Which one and why?

For the Educator

These recordings are part of Words For You, a collection of 22 of the greatest poems of all time, read by great voices in acting and set to classical music.

Words For You features readings from Meryl Streep, James Earl Jones, Helena Bonham Carter, Garrison Keillor, Terence Stamp, Jim Broadbent, and Ruby Dee, with Amber Rose Johnson, the teenage winner of the 2010 Poetry Out Loud competition.

Words For You includes poems by Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, and Maya Angelou, with the music of classical giants such as Chopin, Debussy, Grieg, and Mahler.

The actors on this album have waived their royalty, donating to "First Book," a non-profit organization with a single mission: to give children from low-income families the opportunity to read and own their first new books.



Words For You
The Greatest Poems, the Finest Voices, Glorious Music

Hip-O Records

Because I Could Not Stop for Death
by Emily Dickenson
read by Meryl Streep
Antonio Vivaldi - The Four Seasons Concerto; No. 3 'Autumn' Mvt. 2 Largo

Let America be America Again
by Langston Hughes
read by James Earl Jones
Stephen Darrell Smith - Recovery

by Jenny Joseph
read by Helena Bonham Carter
Antonín Dvořák - Waltz No. 1 op. 54

Copyright 2010 IBC Representation Ltd trading as Mighty Village, exclusively licensed to Universal Records Ltd.

The actors on this album have waived their royalty, donating to firstbook.org; a non-profit organization with a single mission: to give children from low-income families the opportunity to read and own their first new books

Recordings provided courtesy of Universal Music Enterprises

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