About Poetry Unbound
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.
Friends, Pádraig here — we are awakening your Poetry Unbound feed to share this brilliant episode from the newest season of On Being, which is well underway. Conversations on love and loss, comedy and ecology, social creativity, poetry, and more all await you in the On Being feed — subscribe now and don’t miss out. And — Poetry Unbound Season 8 is in production and will be arriving this winter. And now... This phrase recurs throughout Clint Smith's writing: "in the marrow of our bones." It is an example of how words can hold encrypted wisdom — in this case, the reality that memory and emotion lodge in us physically. Words and phrases have carried this truth forward in time long before we had the science to understand it. Clint Smith is best known for his 2021 book, How the Word Is Passed, but he is first and foremost a poet. He and Krista discuss how his various life chapters have been real-world laboratories for him to investigate the entanglement between language and the intelligence of the body — and the related entanglement between history and place. His poetic sensibility has singularly opened readers to approach a generative reckoning with American history — on whatever side of that history our ancestors stood. Clint Smith has a way of making reckoning possible at a humanizing, softening, bodily level — in the marrow, you might say, of our bones. Clint Smith is a staff writer at The Atlantic. His narrative nonfiction book, How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and many other honors. His poetry collections are Counting Descent and Above Ground. Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org.
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. Henri Cole was born in Fukuoka, Japan and raised in Virginia. He has published many collections of poetry and received numerous awards for his work, including the Jackson Poetry Prize, the Kingsley Tufts Award, the Rome Prize, the Berlin Prize, the Ambassador Book Award, the Lenore Marshall Award, and the Medal in Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His most recent books are a memoir, Orphic Paris (New York Review Books, 2018), Blizzard (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020), and Gravity and Center: Selected Sonnets, 1994-2022 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2023). From 2010 to 2014, he was poetry editor of The New Republic. He teaches at Claremont McKenna College and lives in Boston. Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org.
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. Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of a book of nature essays, World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, & Other Astonishments (Milkweed Editions, 2020), which was named a finalist for the Kirkus Prize in non-fiction, and four award-winning poetry collections, most recently, Oceanic (Copper Canyon Press, 2018). Awards for her writing include fellowships from the Mississippi Arts Council, Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for poetry, National Endowment of the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Her writing has appeared in NYTimes Magazine, ESPN, and Best American Poetry. She is professor of English and creative writing in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program. Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org.
Through her poetry, Patricia Smith generously, skillfully puts language around what can be seen both in the present and deliberately looking back at oneself. We are excited to offer this conversation between Pádraig and Patricia, recorded during the 2022 Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, New Jersey. Together, they explore how memory, persona, and a practice of curiosity inform Patricia’s work, and the ways writing a poem is like writing a piece of music. Patricia Smith is the author of nine books of poetry, including Unshuttered (Triquarterly Books, 2023); Incendiary Art (Triquarterly Books, 2017), winner of the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, the 2017 Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the 2018 NAACP Image Award, and finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize; Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (Coffee House Press, 2012), winner of the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets; and Blood Dazzler (Coffee House Press, 2008), a National Book Award finalist. Her work has appeared in Poetry, The Paris Review, The Baffler, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Tin House, and in Best American Poetry, Best American Essays, and Best American Mystery Stories. Smith is a Distinguished Professor for the City University of New York, a visiting professor in creative writing at Princeton University, and a faculty member in the Vermont College of Fine Arts postgraduate residency program. Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org.
So much of what was once deemed impossible was found — during Covid — to be possible. Here, a poet watches a tent, a huge temporary hospital, be raised up on the green of Central Park, a place she’d previously walked her dog. Maya C. Popa is the author of Wound Is the Origin of Wonder (W. W. Norton, 2022) and American Faith (Sarabande, 2019), which was a recipient of the North American Book Prize and a runner-up in the Kathryn A. Morton Prize judged by Ocean Vuong. She is also the author of two chapbooks, both from the Diagram Chapbook series: You Always Wished the Animals Would Leave (New Michigan Press, 2018) and The Bees Have Been Canceled (New Michigan Press, 2017). She is the Poetry Reviews Editor at Publishers Weekly and teaches poetry at New York University. She is Director of Creative Writing at the Nightingale-Bamford school, where she oversees visiting writers, workshops, and readings. She holds degrees from Oxford University, NYU, and Barnard College, and is currently pursuing her PhD on the role of wonder in poetry at Goldsmiths, University of London. Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org. We’re pleased to offer Maya C. Popa’s poem, and invite you to connect with Poetry Unbound throughout this season.
How to remember a beloved who died tragically, violently? Remember the violence? Sometimes, yes. But also this: remember his love of flowers. Jenny Mitchell is the author of the poetry collections Her Lost Language (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2019) and Map of a Plantation (2021). Her latest collection, Resurrection of a Black Man (2022), is a Poetry Kit Book of the Month. Mitchell is a winner of the Poetry Book Awards and joint winner of the Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize. She is also a recipient of the inaugural Ironbridge Prize, the Bedford Prize, and the Gloucester Poetry Society Open Competition. Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org. We’re pleased to offer Jenny Mitchell’s poem, and invite you to connect with Poetry Unbound throughout this season.
What self-consciousnesses do artists carry? It can be difficult to know how to hold onto confidence in your work, especially when small jibes from others remain long after apologies have been offered. Art compels and calls, and also complicates. Vidyan Ravinthiran was born in Leeds to Sri Lankan Tamils. His first book of poems, Grun-tu-molani (Bloodaxe Books, 2014), was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, the Seamus Heaney Centre Poetry Prize, and the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize. His second, The Million-petalled Flower of Being Here (Bloodaxe Books, 2019), won a Northern Writers Award and a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. It was shortlisted for the 2019 Forward Prize for Best Collection, the 2019 T.S. Eliot Prize, and the 2021 Ledbury Munthe Poetry Prize for Second Collections. He is the author of Elizabeth Bishop's Prosaic (Bucknell, 2015); a collection of essays, Worlds Woven Together (Columbia University Press, 2022); a critical study, Spontaneity and Form in Modern Prose (OUP, 2020); and Asian/Other, a fusion of poetry criticism and memoir forthcoming from Icon in the U.K. and Norton in the U.S. Ravinthiran is an associate professor of English at Harvard University. Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org. We’re pleased to offer Vidyan Ravinthiran’s poem, and invite you to connect with Poetry Unbound throughout this season.
A poet reads to a room full of youths who seem to have some residual resentment to the poet. The poet doesn’t mind — he understands, and calls on the listeners to share in the power of focused anger, to make it a motivation for their creativity. Mark Turcotte (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe) is the author of The Feathered Heart (Michigan State University Press, 1998) and Exploding Chippewas (Triquarterly Books, 2002). He lives in Chicago, where he teaches at DePaul University. Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org. We’re pleased to offer Mark Turcotte’s poem, and invite you to connect with Poetry Unbound throughout this season.
What do sandwiches, laundry, therapy, childhood homes, and forgiveness have to do with each other? Wo Chan weaves a poem that charts the many things a single day can hold. Wo Chan is a poet and drag artist who performs as The Illustrious Pearl. They are a winner of the Nightboat Poetry Prize and the author of Togetherness (Nightboat Books, 2022). Wo has received fellowships from MacDowell, New York Foundation of the Arts, Kundiman, The Asian American Writers Workshop, Poets House, and Lambda Literary. Their poems appear in POETRY, WUSSY, Mass Review, No Tokens, The Margins, and elsewhere. As a member of the Brooklyn-based drag/burlesque collective Switch N’ Play, Wo has performed at venues including The Whitney Museum of American Art, National Sawdust, New York Live Arts, and the Architectural Digest Expo. Find them at @theillustriouspearl. Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org. We’re pleased to offer Wo Chan’s poem, and invite you to connect with Poetry Unbound throughout this season.
A note from the Poetry Unbound team: We’ve updated the audio for our episode “Amanda Gunn — Ordinary Sugar.” This updated version includes an additional stanza initially omitted from the recording and additional reflection from Pádraig. How can russet potatoes be made to taste of sugar and caramel? By dedication, love, and craft. Amanda Gunn places her poetry in conversation with the farming and culinary skills of her forebears: women who cultivated land, survival, strength, and family bonds. Amanda Gunn grew up just at the edge of the woods in southern Connecticut with two older brothers. She is the author of Things I Didn’t Do with This Body (Copper Canyon Press, 2023). Gunn is a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford, as well as a PhD candidate in English at Harvard, where she studies poetry, ephemerality, and Black pleasure. Her recent work appears in Poetry, Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly Journal, and Narrative Magazine. Photo credit: Moon Duchin Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org. We’re pleased to offer Amanda Gunn’s poem, and invite you to connect with Poetry Unbound throughout this season.
Old stories — of mythology or religion — have sometimes been depicted as having one narrative and one interpretation. Here, J. Estanislao Lopez takes on the voice of a character whose story ended in violence, inviting listeners to claim their agency as this character claims hers. J. Estanislao Lopez is the author of We Borrowed Gentleness (Alice James Books, 2022). His poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, The Rumpus, and Poetry Magazine, as well as the anthology The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNext. Lopez received his MFA from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers. Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org. We’re pleased to offer J. Estanislao Lopez’s poem, and invite you to connect with Poetry Unbound throughout this season.
In a poem that explores a story of a name, a story of a color, a story of a sound, a story of an identity, a the story of a person — we hear of ancestors, childhood innocences, exclusions, memories, sensualities, and the way that the dead are not always dead. Sasha taqwšəblu LaPointe is the author of Rose Quartz. She is from the Upper Skagit and Nooksack Indian Tribes. Native to the Pacific Northwest, she draws inspiration from her coastal heritage as well as her life in the city. She is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Red Paint, and holds a double MFA in creative nonfiction and poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Yellow Medicine Review, Hunger Mountain, and elsewhere. She lives in Tacoma, Washington. Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org. We’re pleased to offer Sasha taqwšəblu LaPointe’s poem, and invite you to connect with Poetry Unbound throughout this season. Find the companion bonus episode in your feed, with Pádraig Ó Tuama in conversation with Sasha taqwšəblu LaPointe.
On one particular day, a poem places events alongside each other, the ordinariness of each event casting the other events into light and shade. Charif Shanahan is the author of two collections of poetry: Trace Evidence: Poems (Tin House, 2023) and Into Each Room We Enter without Knowing (Crab Orchard Series in Poetry/SIU Press, 2017), which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry and the Publishing Triangle's Thom Gunn Award. His work has been supported by a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship; a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University; and a Fulbright Senior Scholar Grant to Morocco. Originally from the Bronx, he is an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Northwestern University, where he teaches poetry in the undergraduate and Litowitz MFA+MA graduate creative writing programs. Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org. We’re pleased to offer Charif Shanahan’s poem, and invite you to connect with Poetry Unbound throughout this season.
Why do we do the things we do when we’re young? Brenda Cárdenas recalls nights sneaking out of the house as a teenager, looking for highs, looking for company. “Why would you do that?” is the adult question throughout the poem. “Why wouldn’t I?” is a reply. Brenda Cárdenas is the author of the poetry collection Trace (Red Hen Press, 2023). Cárdena’s works include Boomerang (Bilingual Press, 2009), the chapbook Bread of the Earth/The Last Colors (Decentralized Publications, 2011), co-authored with her husband Roberto Harrison, and From the Tongues of Brick and Stone (Momotombo Press, 2005). She also co-edited Resist Much/Obey Little: Inaugural Poems to the Resistance (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2017) and Between the Heart and the Land: Latina Poets in the Midwest (MARCH/Abrazo Press, 2001). She has served as faculty for the CantoMundo writers’ retreat and as Milwaukee Poet Laureate. She currently teaches creative writing and Latinx literature at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org. We’re pleased to offer Brenda Cárdenas’s poem, and invite you to connect with Poetry Unbound throughout this season.
An item of clothing — the blouse of a grandmother — is praised for its artistry, is remembered for how it sits on the body. And then, having been lost, is remade, refined, and reimagined on a new body that recalls the bodies of women of previous generations. Nithy Kasa is a Dublin-based poet of Congolese origin. Published in poetry magazines such as Poetry Ireland Review and anthologies like Dedalus Press’s Writing Home: The New Irish Poets, her work can also be found in the archive of the University of Galway and University College Dublin special collections. Her debut collection of poetry, Palm Wine Tapper and The Boy at Jericho (Doire Press, 2022), was listed among the top poetry books of 2022 by The Irish Times. Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org. We’re pleased to offer Nithy Kasa’s poem, and invite you to connect with Poetry Unbound throughout this season.
What might have been? A poet recalls flirtations and electric connections that could have led to a different life. Selina Nwulu is a writer of Nigerian heritage who is based in London. Her poetry and essays have been widely featured in a variety of journals, short films, and anthologies, including the critically-acclaimed anthology New Daughters of Africa. Her first chapbook collection, The Secrets I Let Slip, was published in 2015 by Burning Eye Books and is a Poetry Book Society recommendation. She has toured her poetry extensively, both internationally and throughout the U.K. in a number of cultural institutions. She has also been featured in Vogue, ES Magazine, i-D, and Blavity, among others. Her work has been translated into Spanish, Greek, and Polish, and exhibited in Warsaw, New York, Dublin, and Glasgow. She was the Young Poet Laureate for London in 2015-16, and was shortlisted for the 2019 Brunel International African Poetry Prize. She was also a finalist for the 2021 U.K. Arts Award for Environmental Writing. A Little Resurrection is her debut full-length collection. Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org. We’re pleased to offer Selina Nwulu’s poem, and invite you to connect with Poetry Unbound throughout this season.
If you had to make a self portrait of your daily morning routine through language and sensation, what would you include? John Lee Clark offers memories of a birthday through experiences the body holds. John Lee Clark is a DeafBlind poet, essayist, historian, translator, and an actor in the Protactile movement. He is the author of the poetry collection How to Communicate (W. W. Norton & Company, 2022) and the essay collection Where I Stand (Handtype Press, 2014). Clark is a 2021-2023 Bush Leadership Fellow, a core member of Protactile Language Interpreting National Education Center, and a research consultant with the Reciprocity Lab at the University of Chicago. Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org. We’re pleased to offer John Lee Clark’s poem, and invite you to connect with Poetry Unbound throughout this season.
A memory from childhood is viewed through the lens of the Malaysian poetic form of pantoum. New things emerge when lines break and reform with new associations. Kay Ulanday Barrett is a poet, essayist, cultural strategist, and A+ napper. They are the winner of the 2022 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Cy Twombly Award for Poetry, a 2022 recipient of a Tin House Next Book residency, and a recipient of a 2020 James Baldwin Fellowship Award at MacDowell. Their second book, More Than Organs (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2020), received a 2021 Stonewall Honor Book Award and is a 2021 Lambda Literary Award Finalist. Their contributions are found in The New York Times, Academy of American Poets, Poetry Magazine, Literary Hub, them, The Advocate, Al Jazeera, NYLON, Vogue, The Rumpus, The Lily, The Maine Review, The Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. For more information, visit kaybarrett.net or find them on social media at @brownroundboi. Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org. We’re pleased to offer Kay Ulanday Barrett’s poem, and invite you to connect with Poetry Unbound throughout this season.
If you could put a lock of your hair under a microscope, what would it contain? DNA certainly, but here in dg nanouk okpik’s poem, the hair also contains memory, smell, location, disease, dreams, and medicine. dg nanouk okpik is Iñupiat-Inuit from Alaska. Her first book, Corpse Whale (University of Arizona Press, 2012), won the American Book Award and May Sarton Award. okpik was long-listed for the PEN American Award for Blood Snow (Wave Books, 2022). She is a Lannan Fellow with the Institute of American Indian Arts. okpik resides in Santa Fe, NM. Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org. We’re pleased to offer dg nanouk okpik’s poem, and invite you to connect with Poetry Unbound throughout this season.
A social worker holds a group for teenagers at a school. They only half pay attention to him. Then something happens, and they pay attention to each other. Benjamin Gucciardi was born and raised in San Francisco, California. His first book, West Portal (University of Utah Press, 2021), was selected by Gabrielle Calvocoressi for the Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry and was named a finalist for the Northern California Book Award and the Julie Suk Award. He is also the author of the chapbooks Timeless Tips for Simple Sabotage (Quarterly West, 2021), chosen by Elena Passarello as the winner of the 2020 Quarterly West Chapbook Contest, and I Ask My Sister’s Ghost (DIAGRAM/New Michigan Press, 2020). In addition to writing, he works with newcomer youth in Oakland, California through Soccer Without Borders, an organization he founded in 2006. Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org. We’re pleased to offer Benjamin Gucciardi’s poem, and invite you to connect with Poetry Unbound throughout this season.