April 2020 is the 24th annual National Poetry Month. Of course, this celebration is a little different than in previous years— coronavirus has made life unrecognizable, and in-person poetry readings impossible. Instead, we're celebrating this year with buried treasures from the internet archives.
Below are five recorded readings of sci-fi and fantasy poems, featuring greats like Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, and other renowned authors of speculative fiction.
Ranging from the funny to the funereal, these readings offer a moment of respite — and a reminder of why, to quote Ursula K. Le Guin, "dictators are always afraid of poets."
The video opens with Bradbury joking about the scientific accuracy of his short story anthology The Martian Chronicles, before giving a powerful reading of his poem "If Only We Had Taller Been."
A genre-defying genius that wrote across sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, Bradbury penned short stories, novels, screenplays, and essays, in addition to poetry.
For more of Bradbury's transcendent poetry, download Zen in the Art of Writing. Originally written in 1992, this anthology combines poetry and essays to explore Bradbury's personal passion for the written word, and what he hopes to convey through his life-long obsession with storytelling.
Ursula K. Le Guin
Although Grand Master Ursula K. Le Guin is perhaps best known for her Earthsea fantasy series and sci-fi novel The Left Hand of Darkness, as a young writer she was first interested in poetry. According to the Poetry Foundation, Le Guin wrote a dozen volumes of poetry during her long and prolific career.
In the below video from November 2012, Le Guin—who was 83 at the time—reads from her 2012 collection Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems at the Milwaukie, Oregon poetry series. In the reading, she explores the beauty of the natural world, the surreality of spending much of her life in imaginary realms, and the responsibilities of aging.
In addition to writing poetry, Le Guin wrote masterfully about poetry. Her 1989 novel Dancing at the Edge of the World features two essays on poetry, "Forsaking Kingdoms: Five Poets" and "Reciprocity of Prose and Poetry."
Novelist Neil Gaiman is also a poet, whose poems range from the hilarious to the haunting. His poem "The Day the Saucers Came" is firmly in the former category. Watch a reading of the poem below, filmed in 2011 at a staged radio recording for Minnesota Public Radio.
More of Gaiman's poetry can be found in his anthologies Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions, and Adventures in the Dream Trade. Gaiman's poetry is also featured in Black Heart, Ivory Bones, an anthology of adult fairy tales collected by award-winning editor Ellen Datlow.
Sci-Fi and Fantasy Grand Master Jane Yolen writes speculative fiction that is often inspired by myths and fairy tales. She is also a prolific poet, from picture books like How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?, to The Radiation Sonnets, a stunning compilation of the poems Yolen wrote daily during her late husband's chemotherapy treatment.
"Robot Baby," the bittersweet poem Yolen reads in the below video from 2018, has a message for readers of all ages.
RELATED: 10 Must-Read Jane Yolen Books
"Robot Baby" appeared in Multiverse: an international anthology of science fiction poetry. For more of Yolen's poetry, download Dragonfield, a magical collection of poems and stories.
Tracy K. Smith
Tracy K. Smith served as the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2017 to 2019, and has published four volumes of poetry and one memoir. In 2011 she won the Pulitzer Prize for her poetry volume Life on Mars, which honors her late father, an engineer who worked on the Hubble Telescope.
As Smith reveals in the 2011 PBS clip below, Life on Mars was inspired by the aesthetic of sci-fi like 2001: A Space Odyssey, and probes questions about matter, existence, and mortality.
For more from Smith, download Freeman's: Power, an anthology of writing from world-class authors on the subject of empowerment.