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Exploring Poetry through Moving Image and Recorded Sound

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The following is a guest post by Karen Fishman, Research Center Supervisor for the Recorded Sound Research Center and the Motion Picture and Television Research Center at the Library of Congress. It originally appeared on Now See Hear! The National Audio-Visual Conservation Center Blog.

In addition to celebrating jazz music, April is also designated National Poetry Month!

This month-long celebration has been organized by the Academy of American Poets since 1996 to spread awareness about and encourage appreciation of poetry. National Poetry Month has grown into a worldwide event that encourages reading, writing, and sharing poetry, as well as recognizing its importance in and impact on our culture.

Spoken word collections in the Recorded Sound Section include poetry of all kinds. Collected here are a few online resources to kick-start your exploration of poetry in the audiovisual collections of the Library of Congress.


Poetry in the American Archive of Public Broadcasting

The American Archive of Public Broadcasting is a partnership between the Library of Congress and WGBH, a public broadcasting station in Boston, that was established to preserve and share public television and radio programs from the past 60 years. The goal of the Archive is to ensure that this rich source of American political, social, and cultural history and creativity will be saved and made available once again to future generations. In addition to national programming, stations from all over the country contribute content to the Archive, including local news and public affairs programs, local history productions that document the heritage of local communities, and programs dealing with education, environmental issues, music, art, literature, dance, poetry, religion, and filmmaking on a local level.

Searching “poetry” in the Archive will return both public radio and public television programs. You can see Audre Lorde and Marge Piercy reading and discussing their works, listen to Alice Walker and Archibald MacLeish (a former Librarian of Congress) reading their poetry at Antioch College in Ohio, and watch an interview with Billy Collins from Nashville Public Television.

Many radio and television programs are available to stream anywhere in the world, while even more content is available on-site at the Library of Congress.


Poetry in the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature

The Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division is the custodial home of literary events and readings recorded throughout the twentieth century by the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress. The digital collection features nearly 500 recordings of former Poet Laureates, Nobel prizewinners, and renowned writers that have been preserved and stored at the Library’s National Audio-Visual Conservation Center.

Listen to former Poet Laureate Audre Lorde reading her poems for the Archive:


Poetry in the National Jukebox

The National Jukebox doesn’t just contain music—it also provides access to many spoken word recordings, including recordings of poetry.

Here are a few poems and rhymes you may recognize:

To find more spoken word recordings, head to the “Genres” section of the Jukebox, found in the menu on the left-hand side. Under the Spoken Word category, you’ll see “Monologues, dialogues, and recitations”—here you’ll find literary readings, popular humorous recordings from the early 1900s, and more.

Note: You must have Flash installed in your web browser in order to listen to recordings in the Jukebox—and even if you do have it installed, you may still have to allow it to run. Get in touch with Recorded Sound reference librarians if you have problems with the Jukebox—we may be able to troubleshoot.


Poetry in the Studs Terkel Radio Archive

The Studs Terkel Radio Archive is the result of a partnership between the WFMT Radio Network, the Chicago History Museum, and the Library of Congress. Terkel, a radio personality, author, and oral historian, interviewed people on topics ranging from Civil Rights, activism, war, and education, to film, music, theater, travel, journalism and much more. Thousands of hours of recordings of Terkel’s radio program at WFMT in Chicago, recorded between 1953 and 1997, are currently undergoing digitization by the Library. They are available in the Recorded Sound Research Center and in the online archive. Many recordings are available for streaming online, which others only have catalog information and summaries.

You can explore the online archive through a variety of topics, including poetry. Terkel interviewed hundreds of poets, including Maya Angelou, Allen GinsburgGwendolyn Brooks, John Beecher, Ed English, Thich Nhat Hanh, Margaret Atwood, Tennessee Williams, Sandra Cisneros, and more. He also read and commented on poetry himself on dozens of programs.


Don’t hesitate to reach out to reference librarians in the Moving Image and Recorded Sound Research Centers if you have questions or are looking for a particular film, video, or audio recording.

Happy National Poetry Month!


  1. I’m just wrapping up a class that I taught on Audre Lorde and James Baldwin this winter. It was so moving to witness the powers of connection that these writers still exert with young readers–maybe now, more than ever.

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