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Welcoming Season 7 of Poetry Unbound
... and the small things that sustain
Hallo from the road. I’m in my last few days in Australia — a place that’s been a home of the heart for me for 20 years. Thank you for your delicious and delightful and meaningful responses to the question from last week’s Substack. I took thorough joy in reading through them.
This week — tomorrow, in fact — the latest season of Poetry Unbound starts off. We have 20 episodes, one each on Mondays and Fridays.
There are often questions about how I select the poems. It’s pretty unscientific. But it does require a lot of reading. I reckon I read about 200 books of poems for a 20-episode season. It’s a joy to read widely, attempting to go to corners of the publishing world that I know I’ve not gone before, in order to honour and uplift poems.
I don’t always start out with a theme for a season of Poetry Unbound. Mostly, if there is a theme, it only seems to emerge during the recording process. It isn’t a strict theme, but I think that human encounter is an underground stream that connects many of the poems for this next season: encounter with friends, with the past, with self, with possibility, with change, with risk and delight, and memory. There are delicious explorations of form — pantoums, associative poems, iambic pentameter, and other leftovers from poetry classes in schools! And a mix of emotions, too.
Poetry Unbound started a bunch of years ago when Krista texted me asking if I’d be interested in doing something with On Being about poetry. What we initially thought would be a small, short offering into the podcast world has turned into something that’s been profoundly moving. Moving because we get to read poets and make programmes that — we hope — honour the brilliance of their poems. Moving, too, because of the people who get in touch with us, telling us how they’ve wrapped a particular episode into their lives: listening during a time of transition, making the language or form or insight of the poem into part of their lives.
So, that’s my question this week:
What’s something that you thought would be a small part of your life that’s turned, unexpectedly, into something important.
Before I go, a small story, for no other reason than joy. While in Australia, I’ve often stayed in the home of the writer Julie Perrin. This time, I split my time between my old friend Neil’s place and Julie’s. Julie invited friends for a house concert: 40 people in a room where there were poems and songs and stories shared. People brought food and we celebrated poetry. Some people read stuff they’d written, others read what others had written. Neil’s son came and read a poem of his for the first time, to glorious applause. Poetry and words and sharing and appreciation bringing people together. Looking around at the room as the evening finished, I found myself thinking of the final line of Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Gate A-4”: “This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.”
To human encounter, and to small things that sustain. I’ll see you in the comments,
PS: By way of a shout out to other poetry podcasts, the wonderful Major Jackson hosts the brilliant programme, The Slowdown. Last week they featured a poem of mine that I wrote for my friend Dave, “The Lifeline.” You can listen to it here.
Poetry in the World
Live Reading at Booksmith | San Francisco, CA
The good people at Booksmith are hosting a reading while I’m in town. I’ll be sharing from both Poetry Unbound: 50 Poems to Open Your World and my latest, Feed the Beast. May 29 at 7pm – I’d love to see you. Free admission, registration required. Details here.
Returning and Becoming Conference | Asheville, NC
I’ll be sharing poetry and thoughts at a retreat at Kanuga (near Asheville, NC) on June 13 (morning and evening) and June 14 (morning). Hosted at an Episcopal Retreat Centre, this conference is open to all. My sessions will examine poetry, language, challenge, and change. Details and registration here.