Ours Poetica are, in their own words, on a mission to ‘make poetry personal, in the hands of people who love it’. This may sound a little on the intense/threatening side, but fear not – essentially, ‘Ours…’ is a Youtube channel where famous people (or people who just have really nice voices) read their favourite poems for the listener to enjoy. There were many to choose from, but we’ve narrowed it down to three videos for our writers to review: ‘Arhm Choi Wild reads “The Family Business”‘, ‘Savannah Brown reads “the universe may stop expanding in five billion years”‘ and ‘Edgar Kunz reads “Scheherazade”‘. Enjoy…
credit: Book Riot
One of my all-time favourite videos on YouTube is Maya Angelo reading ‘Still I Rise’ live at Lewisham Hippodrome in 1987. She recited her iconic poem from memory with ease as though she’d creating it on the spot. I remember watching the video in secondary school, feeling itchy as always and biting my nails as always, probably hungry as always too. She was hypnotic. I’d never seen anything like it.
So I was particularly relieved when I realised that Ours Poetica wasn’t trying to do anything like that. This dedicated poetry channel was created by Paige Lewis in collaboration with The Poetry Foundation and Complexly (even if you don’t think you know the name Complexly, you’ve probably stumbled across one of its many online projects – it’s the ultimate brainchild of John and Hank Green).
The videos are only a couple of minutes long, which demonstrates a real authenticity in the intentions of the channel. Paige Lewis curates poets and lovers of poetry to share their genuine favourite poems and it really does feel like they mean it. Unless you’re T.S. Elliot or some other Modernist who loves the shape of their own words just a bit too much, people’s favourite poem tends to be a short one. We live in the age of TikTok attention spans. I’m not going to start preaching about how the kids need to get out more and stick their faces in the mud (although I enjoyed that plenty). Change is what you make of it, and Ours Poetica has cottoned on to a growing audience who want easily accessible content and lots of feels. Cat videos just aren’t cutting it anymore.
As a keen lover of poetry myself, I wish I’d had a project like this as a teen. The way I was taught poetry in school couldn’t cater to the incredible variety out there. There’s a poem for everyone that will change the way they look at the world and their place within it. In every video, the focus is on the page rather than the speaker, so it’s as though you’re seeing the poem from the reader’s point of view. Combine this with the gentle voice reading the words to you, and the whole experience is calming and joyful. I enjoyed listening to Savannah Brown’s delivery of ‘the universe may stop expanding in five billion years’ so much that I replayed it four times to hear her rich, close voice describe small pleasures and forgettable moments until I was full to the brim.
My only critique (and it’s a small one) is that I couldn’t spot many non-American readers on the channel. I hope they’ll broaden their range soon because I’d love to see UK poets showing up among the roster. Teenage me still remembers Maya Angelo’s performance because it was mesmerising, powerful, but also a little bit impossible. I wanted to aspire to do what she could do, but there was always a glint of knowing I could get close, really close maybe, but not quite there. Ours Poetica is packed with individual poems that speak to their own readers, but as a collection, it’s trying to break down the stigma that poetry is this distant and difficult thing. Please find the time to have a listen – you only need two minutes!
Once I started watching I kept watching. Poem after poem. I enjoy poetry, the only problem is that I find it hard to read. Sometimes when written down, I find it quite hard to connect to poems. I find I kind of skip over the words and don’t let them fully percolate. This means I don’t get the full feeling conveyed by the beautiful words. They very rarely stick with me. But then I find a live reading of them somewhere, and suddenly that gut punch, those words, they land as I connect with them fully. As you can tell, Ours Poetica feels as though it was built for me… Which is nice!
First, I love that as the poems are read out, we also get the words on the screen. That helps me as it blends the emotion of the reading and the words of the poem itself, so I get it on all levels. Having both a visual and audio brings the whole poem to life and surrounds me with it.
The readers were a mixture of authors, reading their work, and those reading the work of others. A great choice as it means that the range of poems you can listen to is broad. Savannah Brown read the poem the universe may stop expanding in five billion years from her poetry book Sweetdark. It was beautiful hearing her thoughts about the poem and a little bit of context and insight into her thoughts. I feel the context helped me ‘live’ in the poem a little more than I would have without it. Arhm Choi Wild read their poem The Family Business, which I found incredibly affecting and beautiful. Again, they gave greater context to the poem, and their delivery was brilliant. Having it read by the author provides a sense of hearing it ‘how they want me to hear it.’ Others who read poems by others gave context through a story about how they first found the poem, the effect it has had on them and why they chose to share it. I feel this context and how people relate to the pieces is what I have always found most interesting about all types of art.
I ended up watching quite a few of the poems about everything from families, the earth and climate, and some of the ‘classics’ I had heard about but never read. Ours Poetica fulfils its promise to “Make poetry personal, in the hands of people who love it.” And I think that is something that I have been missing when reading poetry books, that personal connection. It’s why I skip over words, which always feels so awful as I know every word is essential. Hearing other people read these pieces makes it personal. It gives the words the weight the writers intended to give them, which helps them to sink into my brain better. Ours Poetica feels like an access point, a gateway. If you like a poem, there are links to explore more of that writer’s work. To explore. And that’s how art I like art to feel. It’s an exploration led by me, following what gives me that feeling. Whatever feeling I am seeking at that moment. That feeling of understanding, being heard, helping me to hear others, that feeling of excitement etc. By clicking “play all”, I can see around 172 poems (or videos) currently on the channel. I have been looking for ways to integrate poetry into my day, and this feels like one way to start my exploration. For the next 172 days at least.
You can check out the Ours Poetica channel for yourself on Youtube