Some dreams really do come true. In the case of J.D. McClatchy and Jane Garmey, one dream was to bring poetry—read by the poets who created it—to the audiobook medium. Granted, Caedmon Audio achieved great success in this very endeavor beginning 50 years ago with now-classic recordings of Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats and others. But McClatchy and Garmey longed to put their own stamp on the idea. They have achieved that goal as editor and producer, respectively, of the Voice of the Poet series from Random House Audio, a growing line of audiobooks featuring the writings and readings of 20th-century American poets. Last month, Voice of the Poet added Richard Wilbur, Robert Frost and American Wits (Dorothy Parker, Ogden Nash and Phyllis McGinley) to its lineup, bringing the series roster to a total of 18 volumes since its launch in 1999.

What makes the Voice of the Poet series unique, in McClatchy's and Garmey's estimation, is the inclusion of a 64-page book containing print versions of the poetry as well as complementary materials. "We didn't want it to be like the old days," McClatchy said of the productions. "We wanted to demonstrate the true collaboration between the way a poem looks on the page and how it sounds in space. "In addition, he explained, "With the inclusion of a text with the recordings, listeners get a full sense of the literary creation of the series." Each Voice of the Poet package (designed by Chip Kidd) contains one CD and a slim 4½"×7" black-and-white paperback, which includes the poems, photographs, an essay about the poet (by McClatchy) and a bibliography suggesting further reading.

As another bonus, the Voice CDs contain materials never before released commercially. McClatchy and Garmey do intensive research to track down available—and ultimately suitable—recordings of poets (the majority of those in the series are deceased). One prime source is the Yale Sound Recording archives in the university's library. "Yale and Harvard were both very good about taping poets when they've come to read at the universities," Garmey said. Other sound sleuthing includes combing the Library of Congress: "they're so attentive; not what you'd expect from a huge government institution," Garmey marveled. They also search university libraries because, Garmey noted, "they tend to get left estates."

Word-of-mouth often plays a role as well. "We look for clues, and sometimes clues come from the weirdest places," Garmey said. "It's a labor of love—and it's turning into a good repository of poetry."

But locating the recordings is only the beginning. Permissions must then be secured to use both the recorded and print material. In the permissions realm, McClatchy recalls a particularly challenging project, Elizabeth Bishop. "Upon her death, Bishop left specific instructions that no recordings of her voice be released," he said. "She hated her voice. But I contacted her literary executor and argued that although the recordings were not great readings, there were historical reasons they should be issued. It's been said that Lincoln's voice was not great either, but you would want to hear him reading the Gettysburg Address if you could." In the end, McClatchy convinced the executor to override the late poet's wishes, and she says that Elizabeth Bishop is one of the series' more popular titles.

Everything Old Is New Again

When it comes to mining recordings from the past, technology obviously comes into play, too. "Some of the stuff is unusable—tape gets damaged over the years and sometimes it cannot be restored or repaired," said Garmey. However, she praises talented post-production experts, including Charles de Montebello, for being able to clean up the sound on much of the material by using high-tech equipment.

Despite the challenges, all projects but one have gone smoothly. Both Garmey and McClatchy expressed amazement at one executor who initially granted permission and then rescinded it at the last minute, forcing cancellation of the project. "It caused a lot of problems," Garmey commented. Overall, though, "The estates or poets themselves are always eager to have their work out in public," McClatchy said.

In the case of living poets in the series, new material is sometimes recorded and paired with the archival recordings. For example, the Richard Wilbur CD includes a recording made at Yale in 1951 and new work recorded in 2002, a 50-year span. "It's a nice sound portrait," McClatchy noted.

And such sound portraits bring a dream full circle for McClatchy. "This all goes back to when I first became interested in poetry as a teenager," he recalled. "I loved those anthologies of modern poetry that had pictures of the poets in them. I began to buy the old Caedmon recordings and was fascinated by them. Once you have the voice of the poet in your mind's ear, the poems are never the same again," he said. "You heard the poetry as the poet heard it while writing it. No actor, no solitary reader can duplicate that experience." These days, in addition to his audiobook work, McClatchy maintains a full schedule as an author (of four books of poetry) and as a professor at Yale where has been editor of the Yale Review since 1991.

Garmey, an accomplished producer, editor and author who has worked with her friend McClatchy on other projects, relishes the opportunity to "bring poetry to a new audience. I like to do projects where you develop something, so I tend to bring things to publishers rather than the other way around. We're thrilled that Random House has shown wonderful commitment to the series." . The plan is to continue releasing three Voice of the Poet titles each spring in time for April's National Poetry Month celebration—definitely something for poetry lovers to celebrate.