50 Poems to Open Your World
Containing fifty poems with fifty fresh essays from Pádraig; each a little door opening up to the world of the poet, and the world of a reader. It’s an offering for friends of Poetry Unbound, for lovers of poetry, and those who are new to it. And it comes with an invitation — we hope you’ll write stories of your own life into the margins, and share with us on socials by tagging @onbeing and #poetryunbound.
Chat poetry with Pádraig and other listeners every Sunday.
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November 12, 2021
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.
November 8, 2021
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.
November 5, 2021
Seasonal without Spring: Autumn
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 1, 2021
How Prayer Works
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.
October 29, 2021
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 25, 2021
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.
October 22, 2021
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.
October 15, 2021
BONUS: A Conversation with No‘u Revilla
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.
October 15, 2021
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.
October 11, 2021
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.
October 8, 2021
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.
October 4, 2021
Right now I’m Standing
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.
October 1, 2021
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.
September 27, 2021
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.
September 20, 2021
Poetry Unbound — Season 4 Trailer
Poetry Unbound with host Pádraig Ó Tuama is back on Monday, September 27. Featured poets in this season include Margaret Atwood, Kaveh Akbar, Danez Smith, Tishani Doshi, and many more. New episodes released every Monday and Friday through December 17.
Follow us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Overcast, or wherever you listen.
June 18, 2021
What to Expect
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.
June 14, 2021
We Lived Happily During the War
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.
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