There is always something special about hearing a poet read his or her own words, and perhaps something extra special about hearing a recorded poet read these words posthumously. This act reminds us that even the poems that end up commonly anthologized and in the canon are meant to be heard aloud, that they speak from the past most eloquently when we breathe life into them.
Langston Hughes poems frequently surface in student anthologies. In this video, students have the chance to hear Langston Hughes talk about the experience that led him to write "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" as a young man just out of high school, and then he reads the poem aloud.
An intriguing video to pair with this: a contemporary high school student recites the same poem in the twenty-first century for the Poetry Out Loud competition:
Three questions to discuss with students after sharing this poem:
- How does knowing the background of the poem and hearing it in the writer's own voice affect our experience with the poem?
- How does listening to a poem written nearly one hundred years ago give voice to the past?
- How does the content of the poem give voice to the poet's past?
Brett Vogelsinger is a ninth-grade English teacher at Holicong Middle School in Bucks County, PA. He is the faculty adviser for the school literary magazine, Sevenatenine. Besides his annual blogging adventure on this site, he has published work on Nerdy Book Club, The New York Times Learning Network, and Edutopia and you can follow him on Twitter (@theVogelman).