Ears on the Odyssey

Review: Poet X and Swing


As the old adage goes, poetry is meant to spoken. And nowhere is it more true than with the current crop of books in verse audiobooks. In both The Poet X and Swing, teen characters discover the incredible power of art to unlock their self-empowerment and independence. The book in verse style helps to enrich these stories with emotional punches that will make a lasting impact on listeners.

Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo, read Elizabeth Acevedo. 3 hours and 30 minutes. HarperAudio

Xiomara (X) Barista uncovers poetry as the means to wrestle with the universal questions of identity in her religious Dominican-American family. X is fighting for her space in her world:  her curvy body is blamed for the attention it grabs, her religion imposes an idea of what a young woman should be, and her family has their own struggles and expectations for her life.

Acevedo’s background as a performance poet infuses her reading with a powerful rhythmic flow that transports listeners to X’s inner thoughts and feelings. Each bit of well crafted language is savored and delivered with care. As an #ownvoices story, Avecedo’s pronunciations and characterizations are lovingly influenced by NYC Dominican culture. Teens will be drawn to Avecedo’s emotional rawness and the audio makes the style and story immediate and gripping.

One of the last poems in the book, At the New York City Wide Slam, exhibits the potential of books in verse. As Avecedo explains in the audio’s back matter, the poem intertwines two separate poems into a single composition known as a contrapuntal poem. Read in two separate ways, it allows the listener to choose how to interrupt X’s feeling about her big slam poetry performance. The structure requires a few re-listens and makes the listener ponder a bit deeper the poem’s meaning. Feminist and fierce to the last word, Poet X is the ”lantern glowing in the dark” that we seek as an exceptionally done audio for youth.

Swing, by Kwame Alexander, read by Kwame Alexander. 4 hours and 8 minutes. Blink.

Noah and his best bud , Walt aka the self-appointed  “Swing”, have been [?] yet again from the school baseball team. Noah is struggling to tell his long-time crush, Sam, about his feelings and looks to Swing and his art for courage and inspiration.

Like Solo before it, Alexander’s narration brings a lot of the passion and commitment to his poetic verse. This audio, too, includes clips of originally composed music. This time it is short little bursts of expressive instrumental jazz that underscore Noah and Swing’s emotional states.

Alexander shines as the two boys, and the friendship between them feels just as playful, caring, and brotherly as the characters’ relationship in the text. Alexander reads the story’s heartbreaking ending with unyielding emotion and listeners can’t help but feel the blow. Swing matches the tone of the characters’ arcs moment by careful moment and leaves listeners with a genuine glimpse into their lives. 

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