Thursday, September 16, 2010

YouTube as a Writer's Resource

You probably know about YouTube as a source of entertainment, how-to information, etc. Have you thought of it as a writer's resource? There are a few ways I can think of it as useful to us, but for this post, I'll focus on YouTube as an archive for video/audio of lectures and readings.

Writers frequently give "readings" -- they are invited somewhere ( a college, a bookstore, or some other venue) and read selections from their works. Sometimes, they also lecture on their art; also, they give extended interviews, usually on their influences, their craft, their politics, their live stories, and other matters. There are also a few films about writers and their lives, their times, and their work. Finally (and for this, see some of my posts from last Fall 2009), there are feature films about writers, or -- of course -- films based on their works (even, though rarely, on poems, as opposed to novels).

For now, I will share some YouTube videos of writers reading (and, as often happens at readings, talking about their craft and inspiration).

You can, of course, simple search YouTube (or Google) using any writer's name; but if you search YouTube itself, there are always suggested, related videos on the right. That's one good way to explore and discover new writers. Try that with some of the suggestions I make here.

Also, listen and look at the way writers read their works. Some are terrible at it! Others are very instructive as to how their works, or how poetry and prose, should sound out loud. (By the way: practice reading your own drafts out loud, or reading what you like of others' works out loud, as a way of hearing what's there that silent reading doesn't reveal.)

Some recommendations:

Kay Ryan, former Poet Laureate:

I highly recommend Ryan as a good poet to start with -- she's accessible, amusing, and brief -- but her poems are highly crafted, and explore the edges and interconnections of words and meanings.

Raymond Carver:

Ok, this is mainly for the audio; but listen carefully! Carver was a modern master, brilliant with language, and courageous in his characterizations.

Kevin Young:

Young is a prolific poet, and his poems -- in books that are amazingly long for poetry books these days -- are deeply inclusive, rangy, fluent, amusing or moving, and embracing. Sometimes, as a kind of parlor game, we can ask whether a poet is more "Whitmanesque" or "Dickinsonesque" -- read Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, and see what you think (and yes, it's a trick question).

Sandra Cisneros:

Unfortunately, there aren't so many good YouTube videos of Cisneros reading (some, though, offer us her thoughts on writing); there are good videos elsewhere, and later, we'll explore non-YouTube video & writing resources.

Mary Gaitskill:

A weird camera angle; but a typical sort of literary event, with a good reading presentation from a solid prose stylist and storyteller.

Ann Sexton:

This takes us back a bit: digitized video of older analog film. This combines Sexton reading with documentary.

Allen Ginsberg:

"Howl" was a classic work of the fifties and sixties: the flagship of the Beat movement.

Taylor Mali:

Slam poetry! -- perhaps a different category from "literary" poetry, but let's not be too picky; on the other hand, how is this different from, say, T.S. Eliot? I can guess which one makes us happier, but -- it's worth our while studying the differences and similarities. What, of these two choices, can be combined for something new...?

Wanda Coleman:

...maybe Ms. Coleman shows one way -- literary, fun, lively, well-made, loud!

Thomas Lux:

Tom's an old teacher of mine. Topical poetry! -- note, in particular, how as one goes through the world (driving on the highway, in this case), there are occasions for poems everywhere.


There's much, much more. There is also a lot on YouTube, though, that's BAD -- mainly, I mean the videos themselves: remember, it's everyone who wants to post something (well, with some editorial oversight, I guess) -- so sort the good from the bad: bad production values, in particular. But listen to how poetry and prose come alive when seen and heard, and take those insights back to the page with you.


  1. I really enjoyed Wanda Coleman's reading. It was so vivacious and uplifting, despite the subject matter. In some parts, she was, in a way, singing; something that many of us cannot do as well as she could. So in essence, if you want to truly understand a poetic work, you have to hear it read aloud by the source.

  2. Kay Ryan appeared more like a stand up comedian to me. I guess it is all a form of art. I really like the stories behind poems and the everyday things that gives her inspiration. I like the way she humanizes the characters in her poems. Personally, it gives me an insight to a new way of writing poetry, how to present my characters to appeal to the audience reading it. Also Kay Ryan has inspired me to the tone of my poem and the emotion I how to invoke.

  3. This reminds me of slam poets I once stumbled across on YouTube. The first is Shane Koyczan. The performance I first saw from him was this one:

    Another slam poet that particularly struck me was Katie Makkai in this video:

    In general, I believe bringing visuals or sound to a piece of work greatly adds to its strength. Such as this piece, for instance:

    While I'm an avid reader, I'm guilty of having a narrow palette, and I think much of that is due to how I actually read a piece of work. For instance, my voice is monotone when I read out loud. This is probably the biggest reason why I rarely read poetry(unless it's for an assignment). But when I hear it out loud, and can actually see the creator's body language, or can at least see them performing their piece the way it was meant to be portrayed, I find I take so much more from it than I otherwise would have just staring at a page. For me, it adds vital dimension.

  4. I've used youtube to check out poets on def poetry jam. Great talent on there! Check out these poets:

    I love to see poets perform their work so that I can see how they use their body and voice to further convey their message. The creativity in their delivery can be so inspiring.

  5. I love hearing the artist read their work because they are the only ones that truly know the meaning behind each word. They are able to bring their works to life. By the way Hannah, I love youtubing Def Poetry Jam. One of my favorite act was Yellow Rage.

  6. For me this shows the need to be openminded. It can be looked at differently by optomistic people.