Poetry Unbound

Your poetry ritual: An immersive reading of a single poem, guided by Pádraig Ó Tuama. Unhurried, contemplative and energizing. New episodes on Monday and Friday, about 15 minutes each. Two seasons per year, with occasional special offerings. Anchor your life with poetry.

To listen to more poems, interviews with poets, and search our ever-expanding archive, visit our new home for poetry.

Poetry Unbound Plus is a four-part series with Pádraig in conversation with poets — Mary Karr, David Kinloch, Lorna Goodison, and Diane Glancy — about how their work intersects with the literature of the bible. Explore Poetry Unbound Plus

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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.

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.

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.

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.

In a fantastical poem about the future, Tishani Doshi explores the present. She imagines a future where agriculture, forestry, and cultivation are things of the past, distant memories learned by humans existing on other planets, or on intergalactic spaceships. That distant future is reflecting on how it should have learned from the grass, abundant, generous, sustainable. This poem of dystopian magic-realism is more real than magic, offering advice on thriving, while noting the knife-edge of self-destruction so familiar to human behavior.

In a poem considering trees, Jason Allen-Paisant opens up many associations with trees: in a woodland, there’s a dead tree, from which new forms of life are finding sustenance. He, a Black man in the woods, is aware of people looking suspiciously at him. The poem reflects on how trees were used for building the ships of enslavers, who considered countries and people their property. In light of this, he shares a nature poem about all the things that nature holds.

In a short poem recalling a childhood response to grief, Jacob Shores-Argüello brings us into the fantasy world of a child: leaving an ill adult in a hospital bed, he and his cousin take to the mountains, turn magically into bears, and begin tearing holes in the earth for rest while the world continues below. Are they escaping? Or playing with rage? This extraordinary poem is a thing of wonder and survival.

In a poem of four stanzas, Margaret Atwood traces bread from its growth in bone-nurtured soil, to the warm ovens of baking, to the table, to the mouth of one person, then the hands of someone breaking bread for many. From the cow-dung in the earth to the salt of the hands of the person kneading the bread, this poem is like a meditation on the material reality of what nurtures the body and what nurtures the soul, and is a secular examination of what breaking bread might mean.

This poem stretches the word ‘expect’ into dozens of formulations. Proceeding alphabetically through the index of the book, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” Katie Manning creates an exhausting list of all the expectations created during pregnancy,about rejecting some pressures and embracing others; surviving some, being knocked over by others. The humor and pace of this poem places insight alongside insidiousness.

The opening poem to Ilya Kaminsky’s masterpiece, Deaf Republic, is written in the voice of someone who is confessing their complacency during a time of trial. There’s a war going on, but it doesn’t affect the person speaking, so they don’t get involved. Instead they stayed outside and caught the sun. They lived happily during the war, and are now saying (forgive us). This poem leaves us wondering what it would mean to make such a confession, to ask for forgiveness, and whether it’d do any good.

A special bilingual poem in Anishinaabemowin and English by Margaret Noodin, a linguist who writes primarily in Anishinaabemowin. This poem of eight lines is filled with location — the sweet sea, the curved shoreline — and gathers melancholy into its song. And it is a song — sung in both languages for us by Margaret Noodin herself.

Bereavement brings all kinds of pressures. This poem by Martín Espada starts off with a grief-to-do-list: a phone call, a flight, a blizzard, cremations, shipments of ashes, memorial services. After all of this — in a first stanza that builds in intensity — he needs to be reconnected with something tangible. He goes to feed birds at the park, and among the birds is a goose, like a god of the geese, who shrieks with all the emotion stored in him. This goose is like a priest of grief for Martín Espada, voicing the sounds of all that he’s feeling.

In many ways this poem can be analyzed by how it ends: by examining the contents of organic shops. Roshni Goyate looks at one such item — coconut oil for hair — and considers its long line of history in her British-Indian family. As a child, she was shamed by classmates for using coconut oil in her hair, but now it’s double the price in shops. In a cruel irony, her race and culture were both hypervisible to those who taunted her and rendered invisible by those same people who invalidated her presence and citizenship.

When looking at Andy Warhol’s painting of Geronimo — a leader and medicine man of the Bedonkohe band of the Apache tribe — b: william bearheart wonders who the Geronimo of the painting is looking back at, and who is looking at it. In many ways, this poem reflects on how this piece of art depicting an Indigenous American was painted by a White person for White people. However, the poet finds connections — of pain, occupation and experience — between himself and Geronimo; and the poem challenges the centrality of the White european gaze.

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