Their Own Words, in Their Own Voices

To read a poem is a quiet joy. To read some authors’ prose is as wonderful as reading a poem. It’s just the poet, or the writer, and you. Right there, in black and white. What could be better?

How about hearing it “in color” as a poet or author reads to you from his own work, out loud?

You might get a whole different interpretation of a poem you thought you knew inside out.   You might get new insight into an author, hearing that author read her work to you.

Pablo Neruda records his work in the Library's lab

Pablo Neruda records his work in the Library’s lab

The Library of Congress, as part of 2015 Hispanic Heritage Month, is going to give you that experience this year–because it has launched a new streaming website where you can hear selections from the Library’s Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape, audio recordings of world-famous authors and poets from the Iberian Peninsula, Latin America, the Caribbean, and U.S. Hispanics reading from their work. Most of the readings will be in Spanish, but some will be in Portuguese or other languages from places touched by Spanish or Portuguese influence.

I can still remember the first time I read Gabriel García Márquez (in the 1970s), and Octavio Paz and Pablo Neruda (in the ’80s). Their books, among my favorites, still wait for me at home. But now, I can hear them as they heard it in their own minds, as they wrote it to be heard.

Gabriel García Márquez reads an excerpt, recorded in 1977, from his novel El otoño del patriarca (The Autumn of the Patriarch); Pablo Neruda, who recorded in 1966, reads his poem “Alturas de Machu Picchu” (“Heights of Machu Picchu”). Here’s an excerpt from its Canto Xii, translated into English:

Look at me from the depths of the earth,

tiller of fields, weaver, reticent shepherd,

groom of totemic guanacos,

mason high on your treacherous scaffolding,

iceman of Andean tears,

jeweler with crushed fingers,

farmer anxious among his seedlings,

potter wasted among his clays–

bring to the cup of this new life

your ancient buried sorrows.

Show me your blood and your furrow;

say to me: here I was scourged

because a gem was dull or because the earth

failed to give up in time its tithe of corn or stone.

Gabriela Mistral reads, among her other writings, her poems “”Canción Quechua” (“Quechua Song”), and “País de la ausencia”(“Country of Absence”). She recorded these in 1950.

Octavio Paz, who recorded in 1961, reads from his books of poems Piedra de Sol (Sun Stone), Semillas para un himno (Seeds for a Hymn), Salamandra (Salamander), and ¿Águila o sol? (Eagle or Sun?). Here’s a little bit of his “Salamander:”

The salamander

a lizard

her tongue ends in a dart

her tail ends in a dart

She is unhissable        She is unsayable

she rests upon hot coals

queens it over firebrands

If she carves herself in the flame

she burns her monument

Fire is her passion, her patience

There is more, much more to the Library’s celebration this year of Hispanic Heritage Month. See the website for more activities and presentations.



Reintroducing Poetry 180 – A Poem a Day for High School Students

The following post, written by Peter Armenti, was originally published on the blog From the Catbird Seat: Poetry & Literature at the Library of Congress. In 2001, the then U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins launched the online poetry project Poetry 180 as a way to introduce American high school students to contemporary poetry. Poetry 180 quickly […]

A Founder and a Firebrand

The nation and the world are mourning the passing of civil-rights activist Julian Bond, who died on Saturday in Florida at age 75. Brought up in an intellectual family, he was a skinny, witty, articulate young man when he helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, in 1960, traveling around the south to […]

Freshening Our Perspectives

For more than a decade, the Library of Congress has been pleased to participate in an internship program sponsored by the Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities, or HACU. Talented young students work paid, 15-week internships with various Library divisions, getting a hands-on view of the options here and helping us get the work done […]

The Wandering Sculpture of a Thirsty POEt: A Look into Copyright Archives

The following is a post written by Gina Apone, one of 36 college students who spent the last two months working at the Library as part of the 2015 Junior Fellows Summer Intern Program. Apone currently attends Michigan State University pursuing a dual degree in Pre-Law and Professional Writing with a minor in Public Relations. […]

Library in the News: June 2015 Edition

  In June, the Library of Congress issued two major announcements that made headlines nationwide: the appointment of a new Poet Laureate and the retirement of the current Librarian of Congress. After nearly three decades of service, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced his retirement effective January 2016. Speaker of the House John Boehner, Democrat […]

Inquiring Minds: How a New Walt Whitman Poem was Found at the Library of Congress

(The following is a post written by Peter Armenti from the Poetry and Literature Center’s blog, From the Catbird Seat. Armenti spoke with a researcher who discovered a new Walt Whitman poem in the Library’s collections.) Walt Whitman enthusiasts were treated to a surprise last December when news broke that Wendy Katz, an associate professor […]

Library in the News: April 2015 Edition

April headlines covered a wide range of stories about the Library of Congress. The Library recently acquired a collection of rare Civil War stereographs from Robin Stanford, and 87-year-old Texas grandmother and avid collector. “The images are rich and incredibly detailed,” wrote reporter Michael Scotto for New York 1. Michael E. Ruane of The Washington Post […]

The Power of a Poem

(The following is an article from the March/April 2015 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. Editor Audrey Fischer wrote the story. You can read the issue in its entirety here.) Billie Holiday’s iconic song about racial inequality was penned by a poet whose works are preserved at the Library of Congress. Recorded in […]

The Golden Fleecer

Who the devil was Soapy Smith? Some would say the devil was Soapy Smith. He was a swindler, a con artist, a bunco steerer. In the 1880s and ’90s he fleeced rubes from Denver to Skagway, Alaska and at many points in-between. He was dubbed “Soapy” because an early con involved selling overpriced soap by […]