On Being with Krista Tippett

Marilyn Nelson

Poetry From the On Being Gathering

Last Updated

September 24, 2018

Original Air Date

September 24, 2018

A morning of poetry with Marilyn Nelson from the third day of our On Being Gathering.

This year, we were thrilled to host our very first On Being Gathering — a four-day coming-together of the On Being community for reflection, conversation, and companionship — at the 1440 Multiversity in the redwoods of Scotts Valley, California. We greeted each day with verse from some of our most beloved poets — and now we’d like to share these delightful moments with all of you. Here is how Marilyn Nelson opened our Sunday morning.

Marilyn Nelson is professor emerita of English at the University of Connecticut and a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She is the 2012 recipient of the Poetry Society of America’s Frost Medal for “distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry.” Her books include “The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems,” “Mrs. Nelson’s Class,” and “The Meeting House.”

Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org.


Image of Marilyn Nelson

Marilyn Nelson was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the daughter of a school teacher and a U. S. serviceman, a member of the last graduating class of Tuskegee Airmen. She is the author or translator of more than 20 books and chapbooks for adults and children. A professor emerita of English at the University of Connecticut, Marilyn was Poet Laureate of Connecticut, 2001– 2006, and founding director of Soul Mountain Retreat, a writers’ colony, 2004-2010.


Krista Tippett, host: Poetry reading framed the On Being Gathering this year, and we’re so happy now to share these slices of beauty, elation, and contemplation with you. Here’s how Marilyn Nelson opened our Sunday morning.

Marilyn Nelson: Good, good, good, good morning. So [laughs] I’m gonna read you some poems.


I thought I would read a couple of longish poems and a couple of short poems. I’m gonna start with one of the longish poems. I think what I have to say about it — I write narratives, and that’s what this is. It has three voices. One is my voice, one is the voice of a taxi driver, and one is the voice of my muse. And I’ll change my voice so that you can recognize the changes. It’s called “Faster Than Light.” And I decided to read it late last night after meeting my housemate, Natalie, and talking about physics. “Faster Than Light.”

[poem: “Faster Than Light” by Marilyn Nelson]


Thank you. So I thought I’d read maybe just two little poems, and then one that’s a little bit longer, but it’s not as long as that one. This is called “Crows.”

[poem: “Crows” by Marilyn Nelson]

The other little poem I wanted to read — a couple of years ago, Terrance Hayes, a wonderfully talented — and extraordinarily handsome —


poet invented a form, a poetic form which he calls the “golden shovel.” The title is taken from a great poem by Gwendolyn Brooks — “Seven at the Golden Shovel” — it’s the “We Real Cool” poem. Terrance’s poem uses lines from Gwendolyn Brooks as the end words for his poem, and then he writes lines leading up the Gwendolyn Brooks words. There’s an anthology that came out recently, of “golden shovel” poems. It’s become a very popular form. And this is a golden shovel poem, based on a line from Gwendolyn Brooks. Gwendolyn Brooks’s line is “Live not for battles won. / Live not for the-end-of-the-song. / Live in the along.” My poem is called “Bird Feeder.”

[poem: “Bird Feeder” by Marilyn Nelson]


Thank you. I’m going to end with another narrative. I think of it as a narrative poem, but its protagonist is a young child in about second grade. It will be a text for a picture book. We haven’t yet — we’ve invited an illustrator. I hope he will take it. But it’ll take a while for the illustrations to be done. It’s about a little girl whose name is Lubaya, which means “young lioness” in Swahili. She has an older brother whose name is Jelani, which means “mighty” in Swahili. And I’m reading this because of the title of Seth’s interview today. This is called “Lubaya’s Quiet Roar.”

[reading: “Lubaya’s Quiet Roar” by Marilyn Nelson]

Thank you.


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