There is a small number of people for whom the audio recording of William Butler Yeats reading "The Second Coming" into a phonograph might as well be Prince's "Purple Rain."

"It's just so much better to hear a poem read by the poet," says Kelly Schirmann, founder of Black Cake Records. But it's nonetheless become rare practice outside of grainy YouTube clips.

(Emma Browne)
(Emma Browne)

And so in 2013, Schirmann contacted some of her favorite writers and offered to record them reading their own work—local and national poets like Zachary Schomburg, Emily Kendal Frey, Bianca Stone, Chelsea Hodson and Brandon Shimoda. Each album can be downloaded on a pay-what-you-want model or streamed for free, and half of all revenue goes back to the artists.

Not every poet has offered pure poetry.

Sommer Browning recorded a standup comedy album. And on Diana Ross & the Supremes, Jon-Michael Frank reads poems titled after Supremes songs while the songs play in the background.

"It was my hope," Schirmann says, "that people would just do something weird."