The Cuban American civil engineer turned writer, Richard Blanco, straddles the many ways a sense of place merges with human emotion to make home and belonging — personal and communal. The most recent — and very resonant — question he’s asked by way of poetry is: how to love a country? At Chautauqua, Krista invited him to speak and read from his books. Blanco’s wit, thoughtfulness, and elegance captivated the crowd.
Poets & Poetry
This collection offers episodes and writings from the archive dating back to 2003. To listen to more poems and search our ever-expanding archive, visit our new home for poetry.
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The poet Jericho Brown reminds us to bear witness to the complexity of the human experience, to interrogate the proximity of violence to love, and to look and listen closer so that we might uncover the small truths and surprises in life. His presence is irreverent and magnetic, as the high school students who joined us for this conversation experienced firsthand at the 2018 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. And now he’s won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
Editor’s note: This interview discusses sexual violence and rape.
September 24, 2020
‘Poetry Unbound’ Returns, With Wisdom For Living Now
Poetry rises up in human societies in times of crisis when official words fail us and we lose sight of how to find our way back to one another; how to hear each other’s voices. This week we offer a preview of the next season of our Poetry Unbound podcast, which returns on Monday, Sept. 28. Each episode takes a single poem as its center, with host Pádraig Ó Tuama reading the poem and meditating on it. In this hour, we dwell with six poems that accompany the struggle, strangeness, and possibilities of being alive in this time.
Marilyn Nelson is a storytelling poet. She has taught poetry and contemplative practice to college students and West Point cadets. She brings a contemplative eye to ordinary goodness in the present and to complicated ancestries we’re all reckoning with now. And she imparts a spacious perspective on what “communal pondering” might mean.
We often explore on this show the places in the human experience where ordinary language falls short. The poet Gregory Orr has wrested gentle, healing, life-giving words from extreme grief and trauma. And right now we are all carrying some magnitude of grief in our bodies.
April 16, 2020
Wendell Berry and Ellen Davis
The Art of Being Creatures
In this intimate conversation between Krista and one of her beloved teachers, we ponder the world and our place in it, through sacred text, with fresh eyes. We’re accompanied by the meditative and prophetic poetry of Wendell Berry, read for us from his home in Kentucky: “Stay away from anything / that obscures the place it is in. / There are no unsacred places; / there are only sacred places / and desecrated places. / Accept what comes of silence.”
In this unsettled moment, we’re returning to the shows we’re longing to hear again. Among them is this 2019 conversation with writer Ross Gay. The ephemeral nature of our being allows him to find delight in all sorts of places (especially his community garden). To be with Gay is to train your gaze to see the wonderful alongside the terrible; to attend to and meditate on what you love, even in the midst of difficult realities and as part of working for justice.
For as far back as Joy Ladin can remember, her body didn’t match her soul. In her mid-40s, Ladin transitioned from male to female identity and later became the first openly transgender professor at an Orthodox Jewish institution. She admits the pain this caused for people and institutions she loved. And she knows what it is to move through the world with the assumed authority of a man and the assumed vulnerability of a woman. We take in what she’s learned about gender and the very syntax of being.
October 24, 2019
America Ferrera and John Paul Lederach
The Ingredients of Social Courage
“Our discomfort and our grappling is not a sign of failure,” America Ferrera says, “it’s a sign that we’re living at the edge of our imaginations.” She is a culture-shifting actor and artist. John Paul Lederach is one of our greatest living architects of social transformation. From the inaugural On Being Gathering, a revelatory, joyous exploration of the ingredients of social courage and how change really happens in generational time.
When the wise and whimsical Sharon Olds started writing poetry over 40 years ago, she explored the subjects that interested her most — like diaphragms. “The politeness and the prudity of the world I grew up in meant that there were things that were important to me and interesting to me, [but] I had never read a poem about,” she once said. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for her collection Stag’s Leap about walking through the end of a long marriage. Her most recent book, Odes, pays homage to the human body and experience.
January 10, 2019
How Can I Say This So We Can Stay in This Car Together?
The poet, essayist, and playwright Claudia Rankine says every conversation about race doesn’t need to be about racism. But she says all of us — and especially white people — need to find a way to talk about it, even when it gets uncomfortable. Her bestselling book, Citizen: An American Lyric, catalogued the painful daily experiences of lived racism for people of color. Claudia models how it’s possible to bring that reality into the open — not to fight, but to draw closer. And she shows how we can do this with everyone, from our intimate friends to strangers on airplanes.
November 1, 2018
Tracy K. Smith
love is a language / Few practice, but all, or near all speak
Tracy K. Smith has a deep interest in “the kind of silence that yields clarity” and “the way our voices sound when we dip below the decibel level of politics.” She’s a welcome voice on the little leaps of the imagination that can restore us. She’s spent the past year traversing our country, listening for all of this and drawing it forth as the U.S. Poet Laureate. Krista spoke with her at the invitation of New York’s B’nai Jeshurun synagogue, which has been in communal exploration on creating a just and redeemed social fabric.
March 29, 2018
Maria Popova and Natalie Batalha
Cosmic Imagining, Civic Pondering
A literary thinker with a “telescopic view of time”; an astrophysicist with an eye to “cultural evolution towards good.” What unfolds between these two is joyous, dynamic, and unexpectedly vulnerable — rich with cosmic imagining, civic pondering, and even some fresh definitions of the soul. A live taping from the inaugural On Being Gathering at the 1440 Multiversity in California.
“A dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it.” Mary Karr has a captivating ability to give voice to what is funny in life’s most heartbreaking moments. She is beloved for her salty memoirs in which she traces her harrowing childhood in southeast Texas — with a mother who once tried to kill her with a butcher’s knife and her own adult struggles with alcoholism and breakdown. Mary Karr embodies this wryness and wildness in her lesser-known spiritual practice as a devout Catholic — an unexpected move she made in mid-life.
The poet Christian Wiman is giving voice to the hunger and challenge of being religious now. He had a charismatic Texas Christian upbringing, and was later agnostic. He became actively religious again as he found love in his mid 30s, and was diagnosed with cancer. He’s written, “How does one remember God, reach for God, realize God in the midst of one’s life if one is constantly being overwhelmed by that life?”
The moral life, Marie Howe says, is lived out in what we say as much as what we do. She became known for her poetry collection What the Living Do, about her brother’s death at 28 from AIDS. Now she has a new book, Magdalene. Poetry is her exuberant and open-hearted way into the words and the silences we live by. She works and plays with a Catholic upbringing, the universal drama of family, the ordinary rituals that sustain us — and how language, again and again, has a power to save us.
October 27, 2016
Natasha Trethewey + Eboo Patel
How To Live Beyond This Election
This political season has surfaced our need to reimagine and re-weave the very meaning of common life and common good. We take a long, nourishing view of the challenge and promise of this moment with former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey and interfaith visionary Eboo Patel. This is the second of two public conversations convened by the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis on the eve of the 2016 presidential debate on that campus.
The Irish poet and New Yorker poetry editor Paul Muldoon has won the Pulitzer Prize, written for other media from radio to song, and plays in a rock band. He visited us for a magical day at the On Being studios on Loring Park in Minneapolis, including a dinner salon and reading from his work.
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