Everyday Poetry: Audiovisual Poetry

Book Links March 2009 (vol. 18, no. 4)

by Sylvia Vardell

If you’re looking for fresh ways to approach poetry with young people, you might consider multimedia methods for experiencing the visual and aural qualities of poetry. Using popular Internet sites, CDs, and a variety of software, kids can explore the imagery, emotion, and language of poetry in ways that are creative, playful, and multisensory.

Video

Look to the Internet for examples of poetry in various visual formats. On TeacherTube, you can find school-­friendly videos of young people reading poetry aloud, including their own original poetry, as well as teachers presenting a variety of poetry lessons. For example, I found several Jack Prelutsky poems, including “Today Is Very Boring,” animated and read by kids; “Be Glad Your Nose Is on Your Face,” presented as a “digital story”; and “It’s Halloween,” billed as a “photostory” set to music. There are class projects on Shel Silverstein’s life and poetry, and a “Poem PowerPoint” of Naomi Shihab Nye’s poetry, just to name a few. In some cases, kids create unique avatars or alternative personas to share their responses to poetry, complete with rap soundtracks.

Nearly everyone enjoys searching YouTube for fun, but it can also be a great site for poetry resources. One new trend is the video booktalk or book trailer. Current examples by poets include Chess Rumble by G. Neri, The Death of Jayson Porter by Jaime Adoff, and Girl Coming in for a Landing by April Halprin Wayland. Some are created by the poet, some by the publisher, and some by fans—a project possibility for kids, teachers, and librarians.

On YouTube you can also find live-action and animated, amateur adult- and student-created video interpretations of poems. Some video poems use the audio track of the poet’s reading, while others use the voices of children performing the poem. A whole series of “Billy Collins Animated Poetry” offers creative interpretations of his poetry and video responses from fans.

Would you like to introduce kids to the poets themselves? On YouTube you’ll find speeches and readings by and interviews with Billy Collins, Pat Mora, Nikki Grimes, Naomi Shihab Nye, and an American Idol–style introduction of J. Patrick Lewis.

Some poets even feature video clips on their personal Web sites. Michael Rosen's Web site, for example, has 49 videos of the poet reciting poems from an out-of-print book.

Audio

There are several places to find audio adaptations of poetry for young people. Many are available as CDs accompanying print books, such as Blues Journey or the Odyssey Award–winning Jazz, both by Walter Dean Myers; Javaka Steptoe’s anthology In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall; Paul Fleischman’s Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices; the Poetry (and Hip Hop) Speaks to Children anthologies; all three of Shel Silverstein’s big collections, narrated in his own gravelly voice; and many of Jack Prelutsky’s books, read, sung, and yodeled by the poet himself.

Many poetry-related Web sites include audio files among their links, such as the Academy of American Poets, PoetryMagazine.com, Poets and Writers, LibriVox.org (for amateur recordings of books in the public domain), and the Favorite Poem Project, which features average citizens reading aloud their favorite poems. Children can record their own friends and family reading their favorite poems
on audio.

More children’s poets are making audio recordings of themselves reading their own poetry available on their personal Web sites. For example, Kristine O’Connell George reads more than a dozen of her poems on her “Poetry Aloud” Web page. Other poets with audio links on their Web sites include Janet S. Wong, Nikki Grimes, and Joyce Sidman.

If audio announcements are made at your school or library, include the oral reading of a poem (by a child volunteer) on a daily or weekly basis. Then record and podcast it on the school Web site, with permission. As children experiment with technological tools of all kinds, they can be very savvy about finding ways to express themselves through poetry. 

Sylvia M. Vardell is a professor of children’s and young-adult literature at Texas Woman’s University.