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Poetry In Audio

By Kathryn Alley, Rose Cook, Nuria Berbel Torres and Cameron Phillips

When placed in audio format, poetic expression is enhanced to something truly special. The words come to life with the cadence of the narrator’s voice, tone and inflections, creating a captivating experience for listeners. As the days become shorter and darker, there is no better medium than poetry to offer an innate sense of comfort and nostalgia this time of year.

Kathryn’s Pick: Every Word You Cannot Say, written by Iain Thomas, narrated by Iain Thomas and Roshina Ratnam

Every Word You Cannot Say is one of those listens that lingers in your mind forever.

Thomas brilliantly co-narrates his work as he strives to process the words he wishes someone would have told him in the depths of his mental health battles. Facing the daily struggles of depression, Thomas communicates his vulnerability with an underlying message of peace and hope. His words are an artful lifeline to anyone who feels like no one sees them, encouraging them to be in touch with their mental health and allowing them to feel, no matter how much it hurts.

Ultimately, Every Word You Cannot Say stresses beyond a doubt that no one is ever alone. The listen is incredibly beautiful and accessible, evoking universal feelings of heartbreak, melancholy and loss while intricately offering hope. Thomas’ writing and narration made me feel seen in a deeply personal way and I would recommend this to everyone. It’s heavy, raw and perfectly captures what it’s like to be human.

Rose’s Pick: Dearly, written and narrated by Margaret Atwood

Whilst The Handmaid’s Tale often comes to mind when we hear the name Margaret Atwood, she has written more than fifty books of poetry of which Dearly is the most recent.

Narrated in her own voice, Atwood looks back at her life with wisdom to explore the themes of love, loss, nature and time. Dedicated to her late partner, the poems are often serious. In ‘Invisible Man’, she discusses the loss of a loved one and the hole that is left behind and in ‘Oh Children’, she bleakly addresses the climate crisis. But other poems are more light-hearted, creating pockets of humour. One standout is ‘Ghost Cat’ where she brings to life an old cat suffering with dementia “losing what might have been her mind.” Read in her own voice, you feel as if she is talking to you, sharing her anecdotes and wisdom.

The title poem comes second to last. Atwood discusses words threatened with extinction, “dearly” and “sorrow” and their fading use. But ultimately, the poem is Atwood’s comment on the passage of time, how so many things change whilst others stay stagnant. The language is familiar, creating a poetry collection that is accessible and relevant from which we all can learn.

Cameron’s Pick: A Selection of Poems by Jalaluddin Rumi, written by Rumi, narrated by Shyama Perera

Jalaluddin Rumi was a 13th century Persian philosopher, poet, scholar and mystic. As simple as it sounds, this anthology of his work is the best way to read Rumi and the messages he is trying to put across.

Despite his reputation as a learned man, Rumi’s poetry really boils down to two aspects – spirituality and love. Those are two very straightforward things to write about. Yet, Rumi’s melding of the two is really something transcendental. When it comes down to it, love is spiritual in the sense that it is often something we cannot describe and reason for and it is completely different for us all. His achievement as one of the few Muslim scholars and writers to transcend religion, nationality and race is also something to be hugely admired as well, in the way that his work is universally complimented.

In a sub-genre of poetry that is utterly overblown, Rumi’s combination of love and spirituality makes us think about our own view of love and our world and it transports us to that very realm, much like Dante would do a few decades later. Perera’s narration also manages to capture this.

Nuria’s pick: Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, written and narrated by Warsan Shire

Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth takes a look at the experiences and hardships of refugees throughout history and highlights the magnificence of their perseverance. They’re a reflection of a devastating reality and shine a light on the horrors some people must face daily. The narration by Shire herself is not to be overlooked. She gives an honest performance filled with passion and power just as if she was putting pen to paper and writing this piece all over again. This half-hour journey into the rawest form of the soul will fill you with a newfound love for poetry and language. And it’s bound to inspire you to dive deep within yourself and speak your mind.

Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth carries inside it a human depth that makes it a can’t-miss listen. Shire’s work has transcended genres and mediums and even become an important part of pop culture when it made an appearance in several songs on Beyoncé’s 2016 album Lemonade. But this rendition provides a beauty entirely of its own.


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