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Who are the friends that, despite different paths chosen, have remained steadfast in your life?

In this poem Christian Wiman recalls the changing beliefs of his friends: this one has a new diet, this one has a new relationship, this one is slipping away, this one is verdant. While doing so, he holds the love for his “beautiful, credible friends” as the thing to hold on to while the planet turns faster.

“We are indebted to one another and the debt is a kind of faith — a beautiful, difficult, strange faith. We believe each other into being.” That’s the message the philosopher, poet, and historian, Jennifer Michael Hecht, puts at the center of her unusual writing about suicide. She’s traced how Western civilization has, at times, demonized those who died by suicide, and, at times, celebrated it as a moral freedom. She has struggled with suicidal places in her life and lost friends to it. She proposes a new cultural understanding based on our essential need for each other.

How has becoming a parent — or being a caregiver — changed you?

This is a poem of two halves. In the first half, a man questions God — how could a loving Father allow suffering to happen? And in the second half, the man becomes a father himself, filled with fear and love. His questions about fatherhood change; he’s no longer wondering about the beyond, he’s wondering about the right now.

What pet names have you been called? What are the circumstances and stories behind these pet names?

In this poem, a woman considers the pet names to give her female partner; “My beloved” isn’t very convenient when you’re dropping off dry cleaning. And what word to use when speaking of how she annoys you? Written in the time before same-sex marriage was legalized in the U.S., the humor of this poem highlights how policy can steal language from the everyday.

We’re in a tender spiritual moment, widely feeling our need for re-grounding both alone and together. By way of the Almighty force of Zoom, Krista engages a forward-looking conversation with two religious thinkers and spiritual leaders from very different places on the U.S. Christian and cultural spectrum: Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry and Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention. Through their friendship as much as their words, they model what they preach. The Washington National Cathedral and the National Institute for Civil Discourse brought us all together.

Who do you trust with your body?

In this poem, a man writes about his wife’s life-drawing class. She’s been sketching a naked male model for weeks, and the poet worries, comparing himself, trying to figure out how he feels. This poem moves from anxiety to request to consent to reciprocality. His self-consciousness about sharing his body with someone is transformed into trust and vulnerability.

Have you ever projected your own awkwardness onto someone else? How did you do it? And how would you address them now?

This poem recalls how, as a young adult, Zaffar Kunial judged his immigrant father’s way of speaking English. A poem that’s filled with adolescence as with awkward parental relationships, it also speaks of his yearning to fit in, to enjoy his own life. Shame features in this poem — the younger poet had been ashamed of his father’s grammar, but now, with time, he seems ashamed to have been that son.

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 to people unfairly on death row, people who are mentally ill and incarcerated, and children tried as adults. Krista draws out his spirit and his moral imagination.

What do you find hard to forgive in yourself? What might help?

In this poem, the poet makes a list of all the things she holds against herself: opening fridge doors, fantasies, wilted seedlings, unkempt plants, lost bags, feeling awkward, treating someone poorly. Dilruba Ahmed repeats the line “I forgive you” over and over, like a litany, in a hope to deepen what it means to be in the world, and be a person of love.

When you feel like crying, do you cry? Or do you stifle it? Why?

The U.S. Congress 2009 “Joint resolution to acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes” stated “Whereas the arrival of Europeans in North America opened a new chapter in the history of Native Peoples.” Layli Long Soldier wrote poems in response to this resolution and its non-consultative process. In this poem, she speaks of the need to let griefs and laments be heard and acknowledged.

We’ve realized in 2020 that the way we’ve organized culture — from the economy to race to work — could be done radically differently. We’ve been modeling our life together on “survival of the fittest” long after science itself moved on from that. And we’re learning to see that in every sphere of life we inhabit ecosystems. Agustín Fuentes brings spacious insight into all of this as a biological and evolutionary anthropologist, exploring how humans behave, function, and change together. In this conversation, he is full of refreshingly creative and practical fodder for the necessary reinvention ahead.

Has a guest ever been a soothing influence on a complicated family gathering?

In this poem, a son writes to his parents and invites them to a meal, letting them know that his boyfriend will also be there. He gives instruction to his parents on how they should behave, parenting his parents. In all this family tension, the boyfriend’s question “What’s in that recipe again?” offers calm, and builds lines of connection that had otherwise seemed unlikely.

Are there languages that once were spoken in your family that are not anymore? What caused those changes?

This poem considers the plight of a language, how it — like the child Moses in the biblical story of the Exodus — is vulnerable, and might be in need of someone like the Pharaoh’s daughter to nurture it. In considering the precarious situation of many lesser-spoken languages, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill casts a story of language preservation through the archetype of women helping women in ancient texts.

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.

When you’re writing by hand, where is your other hand? What story is the space between your two hands — your dominant hand and non-dominant hand — telling?

This poem considers the posture of the body when writing: writing a letter, writing a note, writing a poem. The poet pays attention to hands — when dancing, when speaking from the heart, in prayer. This poem invites the listener to slow down, to listen to the stories the body is telling by how it’s held in small moments.

Who is in your chosen family?

This poem considers the lines of loyalty in families and how particular memories, like a grandmother keeping “wishbones from chicken carcasses / in an empty margarine container on top of the fridge,” can be a portal to love. The nan in this poem is a character of generosity and permission, and we imagine her through stories of trips, funerals, and visits.

Rabbi Sacks was one of the world’s deepest thinkers on religion and the challenges of modern life. He died last week after a short battle with cancer. When Krista spoke with him in 2010, he modeled a life-giving, imagination-opening faithfulness to what some might see as contradictory callings: How to be true to one’s own convictions while also honoring the sacred and civilizational calling to shared life — indeed, to love the stranger?

What have you had to explore on your own? What, or who, helped?

This poem explores the archetype of the cave — a cave that calls, a cave that contains secrets and perhaps even information. “Someone standing at the mouth had / the idea to enter. To go further / than light or language could / go.” The poem manages — at once — to convey the bravery of exploration and the solitude and possibility that can accompany such journeys.