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Anyone who has attended poetry readings knows that some poetry is best left on the page for the reader to experience privately, while other work makes the transition from print to spoken word quite well. To hear Langston Hughes (1902–1967) read his own poetry is to experience an epiphany. While his poetry is by nature deceptively simple and easy to read, reading it aloud gives it a whole new life. With jazz and blues as his style manual, his soulful, singsong voice is reminiscent of Vachel Lindsay's, one of his early influences. In these recordings, Hughes introduces most of his poems with a short anecdote or explanation of what he was trying to do with the piece. Particularly enlightening is the first track, in which Hughes gives an 11-minute synopsis of his childhood and of his becoming a poet (knowing nothing about poetry, Hughes was voted Class Poet by his high school class because his schoolmates assumed he had natural rhythm). This gem of a collection gathers Hughes's readings of 55 of his poems at various points in his career. A 64-page booklet accompanies the recording with a thoughtful essay by series editor McClatchy. The only information lacking is documentation of when and where the recordings were made. (On sale Mar. 26)
FYI: Previous installments of this standout series have featured W.H. Auden, Sylvia Plath, James Merrill, Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell and others.