Pico Iyer is an esteemed journalist and essayist, and an explorer of inner life — for himself and in 21st-century society. For this episode in our Future of Hope series, he draws out writer Elizabeth Gilbert and “her sense of hope based not on a confidence in happy endings, but the conviction that something makes sense — even if not a sense that we can grasp.” Pico’s questions and Liz’s answers are all the more poignant given that both of them have recently suffered deep losses. These two friends delve into what it means to retreat into smallness, and grapple with a complex understanding of hope, as the world continues to overwhelm.
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On Being with Krista Tippett
Our flagship show — conversations about the big questions of meaning, since 2003.
Living the Questions
An occasional, shorter-form On Being podcast extra, where we pick up questions alive in the world.
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In a poem that directly addresses Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall,” Darrel Alejandro Holnes asks questions: who gets to build walls, or guard borders? Do good fences really make good neighbors? Taking a poem that’s been part of an American imagination both of poetry and of citizenship, Darrel offers a critique that places contemporary migrant experiences at the center, challenging contemporary ideas of territory, conquest, and expansion.
This sestina poem considers a scene from Elizabeth Bishop’s own childhood through the sounds of six repeating words: house, grandmother, child, stove, almanac, tears. These six words repeat — in different order — as the final words of the poem’s lines, creating a kind of contemplation on how those repeated words informed her childhood: a childhood marked by loss, displacement, and a kind grandmother. “Time to plant tears” the poem states, in one of its most famous lines, as if the scene recalled has information about the future.
When Krista interviewed the psychiatrist and trauma specialist Bessel van der Kolk for the first time, his book The Body Keeps the Score was about to be published. She described him then as “an innovator in treating the effects of overwhelming experiences on people and society.” She catches up with him in 2021 — as we are living through one vast overwhelming experience after the other. And The Body Keeps the Score is now one of the most widely read books in the pandemic world. His perspective is utterly unique and very practically helpful — on what’s been happening in our bodies and our brains, and how that relationship can become severed and restored.
Some friends gather and smoke at a doorway in a city. There’s Malik, and Johnny Cash, and Lefty, and Jësus. And the poet, Major Jackson. They’ve known each other their whole lives, and they wonder who they’ll turn out to be. In a moment of disclosure, Major tells his friends he wants to be a poet, astonishing them, and himself too it seems. In friendship and ribbing, in desire and teasing, this poem wonders who a person is, and what it means to hope.
Andrés Cerpa recollects how his father’s early dementia was an increasing influence on his early years. As he grew, his father diminished. The burden of this was heavy on him — he stayed awake listening for information, and fell asleep at school. Older now, he looks at his younger self with tenderness and sadness. This poem gives attention to the experience of the growing presence of absence, and the ways that affects memory, family, and perspective.
November 4, 2021
Finding the Courage for What's Redemptive
How to embrace what’s right and corrective, redemptive and restorative — and an insistence that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve done — these are gifts Bryan Stevenson offers with his life. He’s brought the language of mercy and redemption into American culture in recent years, growing out of his work as a lawyer with the Equal Justice Initiative based in Montgomery, Alabama. Now the groundbreaking museum they created in Montgomery has dramatically expanded — a new way of engaging the full and ongoing legacy of slavery in U.S. history. Krista draws out his spirit — and his moral imagination.
A narrative prose poem about two brothers — one on a visit home from college — who are turning to face east in their small shared room. With seven years between them, one is a young man and the other, the poet, is nearing his teens. Their prayer is interrupted by a sudden surprising noise, and the sound of this makes them fall over each other in laughing. Their bodies, their joy, their uncontrollable delight is the prayer of their own lives.
In a poem that addresses a worm directly as “you,” Gail McConnell considers how these tube-shaped beings live: ingesting the earth, aerating it, digesting it, making its nourishment accessible for all kinds of growth. The worm burrows, knows dead things, and knows underground ways. Tiny and segmented though a worm is, nonetheless it senses that “all there is // can be gone through.” The poem’s close attention to the worm’s tactics of survival seems to indicate that much could be learned from its underground ways.
October 28, 2021
Pádraig Ó Tuama and Marilyn Nelson
“So let us pick up the stones over which we stumble, friends, and build altars”
Where to turn to find my place of standing when it feels like the world is on fire? This question surfaced in a public conversation Krista had just a couple of years ago with Pádraig Ó Tuama and Marilyn Nelson, two poet-contemplatives. Pádraig weaves together social healing, poetry, and theology. Marilyn is a lyrical excavator of stories that would rather stay hidden — yet as she coaxes them into the light, they lead to new life. This conversation is a pleasure and balm, and a reminder that the ruptures and unease and reckonings of what we call “this moment” were all before us before the pandemic. Pádraig and Marilyn’s offerings are beyond wise, and distinctly tender and powerful for this now.
A club is a place for dancing, for abandon, for music, and for meeting strangers. Romeo Oriogun recalls a gay club that was for all those things, but also for escape. Living in a place where queer lives were under threat, he offers a praise song for this cathedral of safety and movement. Outside the world is silent, but inside the bar, people carry stories of their own desire, of their families, of their hopes; both for the future and the present.
In a poem of extraordinary poise, Kathleen Flenniken recounts her parents’ lively parties, their rich social life, their summer trips, and their friendships: friendships that were not always straightforward. The poem closes with an observation of a moment of sexual tension between her mother and another man. Kathleen’s right there, but feels like she’s barely noticed. Everyone goes to bed alone, and we are left with the poet and her awareness of what lay underneath the surface.
Katharine Hayhoe is one of the most esteemed atmospheric scientists in the world. She’s made her mark by connecting dots between climate systems and weather patterns and the lived experience of human beings in their neighborhoods and communities. She’s also an ambassador, if you will, between the science of climate change and the world of evangelical Christian faith and practice, which she also inhabits. To delve into that with her is to learn a great deal that refreshingly complicates the picture of what is possible and what is already happening, even across what feel like cultural fault lines. If you want to speak and walk differently on this frontier, this is a conversation for you.
October 18, 2021
Don’t Miss Out! Book Right Now for the Journey of a Lifetime!
A love poem with a playful title that sounds like an ad from a travel agent unfolds into a poem about choosing to stay at home. Imtiaz Dharker’s husband died in the years between this poem’s setting and its publishing. The poem, too, moves from long lines across the page into shorter and shorter lines. In sensuality, locality, intimacy, and simplicity, this poem is all about the man she loved, and moves from noise to focus: “You Are / Here” its final lines assert.
While preparing for this week’s episode of Poetry Unbound, host Pádraig Ó Tuama began an email correspondence with the poet, No‘u Revilla. The exchange was so rich that Pádraig asked No‘u to join him in conversation. Together they talk about poetry, queerness and how Hawaiian language, culture, and history show up in her poetry.
The life of a sugar worker is the center of this poem: a worker whose body and person bear the imprint of that industry, with its demands and smoke and exhaustion. The worker in question is the poet’s father, and No’u Revilla brings us into a consideration of how he takes pride in work that depleted him, how he needed to find ways to recover from work that exhausted him, how in his body he carries the story of Hawai’i and its indigenous people.
We’re in a time as thick with uncertainty as with possibility. Many of us are still, and again, exhausted — and yet opening, fitfully, to what we’ve learned and have been called to at this moment in the life of the world. Toward nourishing that, the second offering in our new series, The Future of Hope, with social creative Darnell Moore in conversation with filmmaker dream hampton. The influence they wield spans hip-hop to Netflix to the Oscars; from the Movement for Black Lives to Surviving R. Kelly.
It is an honor to enter this tender, intimate conversation between two dear friends. In them we experience a muscular hope in justice oriented toward redemption — and calling out in a spirit of “calling in.”
In a slight change to the normal format, host Pádraig Ó Tuama speaks with the poet Jake Skeets who reads his poem “Daybreak,” a poem combining Diné language with English, a poem rich with observation: of land, of growth, of memory, of place. Land is not just a tool to use for food, nor is it a blank space for human projection. In this poem, Jake Skeets reflects on an ethical engagement with land: an engagement that sees land as itself, not just for its uses.
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The Pause is our Saturday morning newsletter, a gathering of threads from the far-flung, ongoing conversation that is The On Being Project. Stay up to date with our latest podcasts, writings, live events, and more.
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