Poetry Unbound

Short and unhurried, Poetry Unbound is an immersive exploration of a single poem, hosted by Pádraig Ó Tuama.

Pádraig Ó Tuama greets you at the doorways of brilliant poems, and invites you to meet them with stories of your world. The poems are eager to meet you, too.

For season 8, we have poems about beasts (dung beetles, horses, eagles and ourselves as well); poems with tensions between parents and children; poems about kingdoms and memories of the dead. There is translation, culture, erotica, water, mortality, and morality.

Already a listener? There’s also a book (Poetry Unbound: 50 Poems to Open Your World), a Substack newsletter with a vibrant conversation in the comments and occasional gatherings.

Discover it all below.

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The word “flush” is a verb, as in an activity that we do umpteen times a day. It’s also an adjective that conveys abundance. Fittingly, Rita Wong’s poem “flush” offers a praise song to water’s expansive and unceasing presence in our lives — from our toilets to our teacups, from inside our bodies to outside our buildings, and from our soil to our skies.


We’re pleased to offer Rita Wong’s poem, and invite you to read Pádraig’s weekly Poetry Unbound Substack, read the Poetry Unbound book, or listen back to all our episodes.

Bro — this is definitely not the “Beowulf” that you read back in school. Maria Dahvana Headley’s gutsy, swaggering translation brings the Old English epic poem roaring into this century, showing you why this tale of fraught family ties, power plays and posturing, and mighty, imperfect people is as relevant as ever.


We’re pleased to offer Maria Dahvana Headley’s poem, and invite you to read Pádraig’s weekly Poetry Unbound Substack, read the Poetry Unbound book, or listen back to all our episodes.

A horse race from the 1980s may not seem like the obvious inspiration for a poem that celebrates so many of the things that make our lives worth living — good company (human and animal), good books, good food, and honest work — and that is just part of the surprise, delight, and surging joy of Michael Klein’s “Swale.”


We’re pleased to offer Michael Klein’s poem, and invite you to read Pádraig’s weekly Poetry Unbound Substack, read the Poetry Unbound book, or listen back to all our episodes.

What holds our bodies together? Yes, there are the biological components, such as the cells, fluids, fibers, but what about the bone-deep stuff, the histories, myths, aches, resolves? In “Our Bird Aegis,” poet Ray Young Bear evokes an adolescent eagle to show how this blend of the visceral, the inherited, and the self-made abides in each of us, no matter our form, wherever we go.


We’re pleased to offer Ray Young Bear’s poem, and invite you to read Pádraig’s weekly Poetry Unbound Substack, read the Poetry Unbound book, or listen back to all our episodes.

While disputes over contested lands result in damage that can be seen and documented, they also create countless unseen ruptures in the hearts, minds and souls of the humans caught in the chaos. By giving voice to yearning, Suji Kwock Kim’s poem “Search Engine: Notes from the North Korean-Chinese-Russian Border” shows how bearing witness and asking the impossible are acts of profound courage, creativity, and defiance.


We’re pleased to offer Suji Kwock Kim’s poem, and invite you to read Pádraig’s weekly Poetry Unbound Substack, read the Poetry Unbound book, or listen back to all our episodes.

In “ROLL CALL: NEW TAROT NAMES FOR BLACK GIRLS,” Amber McBride treats us to a playful litany of language that twists and leaps and never stumbles. Flavored with old-time Christianity, old-time hoodoo, and a modern alchemy all her own, it talks back to prejudice, reclaims the words meant to take people down, and forges new identities that shimmer with strength and strangeness.


We’re pleased to offer Amber McBride’s poem, and invite you to read Pádraig’s weekly Poetry Unbound Substack, read the Poetry Unbound book, or listen back to all our episodes.

A fragile and wondrous technology that we all possess, the human breath powers any number of things in our lives — speeches, feats of music, athleticism, and more. Carl Dennis’s powerful and meditative poem “Breath” calls on us to take a moment, give our breath our full attention, and celebrate it.


We’re pleased to offer Carl Dennis’s poem, and invite you to read Pádraig’s weekly Poetry Unbound Substack, read the Poetry Unbound book, or listen back to all our episodes.

Our lives are filled with distances, the physical spans that we travel but also the stranger, vaster expanses between our past and our present or between feeling anchored and connected and feeling terribly alone. A poem can capture all of those in a way that a map can’t, as Elisa Gonzalez superbly demonstrates in “To My Twenty-Four-Year-Old Self.”


We’re pleased to offer Elisa Gonzalez’s poem, and invite you to read Pádraig’s weekly Poetry Unbound Substack, read the Poetry Unbound book, or listen back to all our episodes.

Most of us do our eavesdropping shyly and secretively, but Ofelia Zepeda’s poem “Deer Dance Exhibition” welcomes us to listen in on an exchange between people as they watch a ceremonial dance. Along the way, we get the sense that what we’re witnessing is more than a conversation — it’s the sounds and sensations of life itself.


We’re pleased to offer Ofelia Zepeda’s poem, and invite you to read Pádraig’s weekly Poetry Unbound Substack, read the Poetry Unbound book, or listen back to all our episodes.

Even in the most uneventful of human lives, uncertainty and doubts will inevitably intrude. When faced with those, what can you do to steady yourself? One suggestion: Turn to the poem “When in Doubt” by Sandra Cisneros, where she generously shares some of the wisdom that she’s gleaned over the years.


We’re pleased to offer Sandra Cisneros’s poem, and invite you to read Pádraig’s weekly Poetry Unbound Substack, read the Poetry Unbound book, or listen back to all our episodes.

To be alive is to be in conversation with the dead. The ghosts of loved ones are always swirling around us, and sometimes we’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse. In the poem “Three Mangoes, £1,” Kandace Siobhan Walker describes a surprising encounter with her late grandmother at a busy market, and an encounter with a stranger.


We’re pleased to offer Kandace Siobhan Walker’s poem, and invite you to read Pádraig’s weekly Poetry Unbound Substack, read the Poetry Unbound book, or listen back to all our episodes.

It is an intimate thing, to watch a lover while they sleep. In Francisco Aragón’s translation of Francisco X. Alarcón’s homoerotic poem, “Asleep You Become a Continent,” a man views his sleeping lover’s body like it’s a landscape: legs underneath sheets become mountains and valleys. The waking lover describes this view like an explorer might an unknown country; wondering what he will find.


We’re pleased to offer Francisco Aragón’s translation, and invite you to read Pádraig’s weekly Poetry Unbound Substack, read the Poetry Unbound book, or listen back to all our episodes.

Valencia Robin’s poem portrays a tense relationship between mother and daughter; perhaps each resembling the other too much. In desperation — and shock — the daughter says the worst thing she can think of to her mother. What follows is like the fall of a dictator, a coup, an end, an opening.


We’re pleased to offer Valencia Robin’s poem, and invite you to read Pádraig’s weekly Poetry Unbound Substack, read the Poetry Unbound book, or listen back to all our episodes.

In a poem about how a small moment can help you make a wise decision, Eugenia Leigh finds the strength to go back home after storming out. No self-pity in the poem, just humor and brilliance. She had every reason to leave, and finds every reason to return.


We’re pleased to offer Eugenia Leigh’s poem, and invite you to read Pádraig’s weekly Poetry Unbound Substack, read the Poetry Unbound book, or listen back to all our episodes.

A central duality appears in the work of Henri Cole: the revelation of emotional truths in concert with a “symphony of language” — often accompanied by arresting similes. We are excited to offer this conversation between Pádraig and Henri, recorded during the 2022 Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, New Jersey. Together, they discuss the role of animals in Henri’s work, the pleasure of aesthetics in poetry, and writing as a form of revenge against forgetting.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s poems are filled with butchery and blood as she carves space for desire, motherhood, and an encyclopedic knowledge of plants to coexist in life and on the page. We are excited to offer this conversation between Pádraig and Aimee, recorded during the 2022 Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, New Jersey. Together, they explore the beauty of solitude, eroticism in poetry, and a letter writing practice for taking inventory of a life.

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