Poetry and Stories for Memorizing/Presentation
Updated: 14 July 2021

8-part video interview with Ashley

Ashley Q&A
College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, ME
January 20, 2015
(mp3, 79min, 38MB)

1969 poetry by Tom Atlee
      Ashley Bryan is a widely-published award-winning children's book author, poet, story-teller, artist and craftsman who lives in a hard-to-believe house on nearby Little Cranberry Island. I've known him for over 35 years, and he is one of the most inspiring people I have met, not only personally, but particularly in the realm of oral presentation -- poetry and story-telling.

Ashley has said that if music had been treated the way we treat poetry (black marks on a page), it would have died out long ago. Like music, poetry needs performance. What this means might not be clear until you experience Ashley in one of the thousands of presentations of poetry and story-telling that he has given to audiences all over the world -- particularly to kids, whose jaws drop and eyes bug out. His voice is all over the place, in volume, pitch and character. A couple of examples:

Blackbird's Party (mp3, 1 min)
Hen and Frog (mp3, 3 min)
   (from interview at left)
Example of Ashley's voice dynamics in Hen and Frog:   talk - recite - talk

He says that you have to find the voice, rhythm, and music in a poem or story, that you have to spend of time with it.

And he's right. Over fifty years ago, I memorized Poe's The Raven during my weekly house-vacuuming chore. But that was the extent of my memorization work until twenty years ago I decided to take Ashley seriously. I started to memorize Coleridge's The Ryme of the Ancient Mariner. It took me at least a year, going over pieces of it wherever I went, on walks, commuting to work, sitting quietly.

I found that once you have a piece memorized, and can go through it comfortably, "things" begin to come out of its woodwork. Sounds you hadn't realized were present. Connections that weren't immediately obvious. The piece begins to change, as you deliberately or accidentally come up with variations of voice. There's always something new and intriguing turning up. And eventually it becomes your own. And after that, every time you go through them, they're different. It's like learning a piece of music so well, that you can free yourself from the musical page and improvise on the melody, only in this case it's improvising on the voice. I've experienced this again and again with the scores of poems and stories I've "made my own" over the past two decades.

I have only occasionally found formal venues for reciting. When I have, the poems have always been well received (thank you, Ashley!). But taking walks in the woods, or on long (or short) drives, or standing in a grocery line, they are always with me. The spots where life could get boring don't happen.

On this site you will find some of the poems and stories that have become my companions. I offer them in several versions. They are here for web viewing, and also in PDF form, so that they can be printed out and folded up or cut out and shoved in a pocket, for those long walks or drives. And I offer some sample vocal renditions of them, for your entertainment or interest.

Caveat on vocals -- It must be said about these last, that nothing is perfect, that there is always some slip or another in terms of following the text exactly, even after many takes. So trust the text versions, not the vocal ones. And my recording technology, while producing clear sound, does not pick up the full dyanamics of the presentation that are available in person. So use your imagination.

Note: This is just getting started. There will be many poems here soon.

Bridal Shower   George Bilgere   pdf    
Cremation of Sam McGee, The   Robert Service   pdf   vocal  
Eletelephony   Laura Richards   pdf   vocal  
Girl Writing a Letter
    musical adaptation
  Bill Carpenter
    Lori Lieberman
Ice-Worm Cocktail, The Ballad of the   Robert Service   pdf   vocal  
Lobster Barbie, The Tale of   Amos Jessup & Charles Ipcar   pdf   vocal  
Mouse and the Cake, The   Eliza Cook   pdf   vocal
Muddy Reef, A Tale of the Old   Jay Speakman   pdf   vocal  
One Day While Walking On the Stair   Unknown (to me)   pdf   vocal  
The Raven
    The End of the Raven
  Edgar Allen Poe
Rime of the Ancient Mariner, The   Samuel Taylor Coleridge   pdf    
Sea Slug Cocktail, The   David Higgins et al   pdf   vocal  
Shag-Eyed Shark, Tale of a   Holman Day   pdf   vocal  
Shine, Perishing Republic   Robinson Jeffers   pdf      
Shooting of Dan McGrew, The   Robert Service   pdf   vocal  
Something Told the Wild Geese   Rachel Field   pdf   vocal  
Twins, The   Henry Sambrooke Leigh   pdf   vocal  
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
    (also: Easter in a Texas Roadhouse)
  Barbara Robinson
Wayne Reece
Betty Crocker Cookbook (1969)   "Betty Crocker"   pdf   audio   video
David He No Fear   Lorenz Graham   pdf   vocal  
Waltz, The   Dorothy Parker   pdf   vocal  
War Prayer, The   Mark Twain   pdf   vocal   video

Careful: This will probably catch you off guard.

Ashley Bryan's awards

(partial list; see more at https://ashleybryancenter.org/awards.html)
  • :  
  • 1981:  Coretta Scott King Award Winner for outstanding illustration in Beat the Story Drum, Pum-Pum
  • 1983:  Coretta Scott King Award Honor for outstanding illustration in I'm Going to Sing: Black American Spirituals
  • 1987:  Coretta Scott King Award Honor for outstanding author and illustration in Lion and the Ostrich Chicks and Other African Folk Tales
  • 1988:  Coretta Scott King Award Honor for outstanding illustration in What a Morning! The Christmas Story in Black Spirituals
  • 1992:  Coretta Scott King Award Honor for outstanding illustration in All Night, All Day: A Child's First Book of African American Spirituals
  • 1992:   Maine Lupine Award for Sing to the Sun
  • 1993:   Lee Bennet Hopkins Award for Poetry (Penn State U—first year) for Sing to the Sun
  • 1998:  Coretta Scott King Award Honor for outstanding illustration in Ashley Bryan's ABC of African American Poetry
  • 2004:  Coretta Scott King Award Winner for outstanding illustration in Beautiful Blackbird
  • 2005:  The Atlanta literary festival was named for him.
  • 2008:  Coretta Scott King Award Winner for outstanding illustration in Let it Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals
  • 2008:  New York Public Library "Library Lions" award for lifetime achievement
  • 2009:  Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for substantial and lasting contributions to children's literature
  • 2010:  Golden Kite Award for nonfiction for Ashley Bryan: Words to My Life's Song
  • 2012:  Coretta Scott King–Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement presented to an African American author, illustrator or author/illustrator for a body of his or her published books for children and/or young adults, and who has made a significant and lasting literary contribution.  (ALA, local)