In the hopes of offering something immediate to those of us who can’t always afford to buy books, here are some brilliant poetry podcasts.
What a rich resource these have been for me. I listen to them most days. They have led me in so many great directions, and introduced me to some of my favourite poets.
Some days there is so much to read out there that I feel a bit flooded, unsure how to make my way in, trying to read it all at once inattentively. So it’s a total gift to be able to instantly climb inside just one poem—for free!—while on a long bus ride or chopping a pumpkin, and not only that, but a poem that has been carefully chosen, read aloud and discussed.
Writing is never really a solitary quest at all, and I want to hear about food and family and all those supposedly peripheral things. Admittedly it’s not always what you need and can even be dull; sometimes it’s important to reach out of the realm you spend the most time in. But for the most part, I find it so useful to listen to writers talking about their worlds: mundane and extraordinary rituals, who they like to read, why and how they write, their struggles and pleasures and anger and fears. By way of listening, I feel in communion with them.
It’s been difficult to narrow down my favourites as there are many and they just keep coming, but I’ve shared a few particularly memorable episodes below.
1. Commonplace with Rachel Zucker: Conversations with Poets (and Other People) with Rachel Zucker
A series of intimate and captivating interviews by Rachel Zucker with poets and artists about quotidian objects, experiences or obsessions, Commonplace conversations explore the recipes, advice, lists, anecdotes, quotes, politics, phobias, spiritual practices, and other non-Literary forms of knowledge that are vital to an artist’s life and work.
A few of my highlights:
Rachel Zucker speaks with poet CA Conrad about their Somatic poetry rituals, their childhood in rural Western Pennsylvania, becoming an avid reader, running away from home, the AIDS epidemic, writing The Book of Frank over an 18 year period, anti-efficiency, marketing research, the 1998 murder of CA’s boyfriend, Earth, using a somatic ritual to cure a pernicious depression, and CA’s recently published book, While Standing In Line for Death. CA Conrad describes their writing process, how to get ahead of one’s internal editor, revision, combating misogyny, animal rights activism, ACT UP, ecological disaster, ecopoetics, the vibrational absence of extinct species being replaced by the din of humanity, white rhinos, Walmart, the end of empire, teaching, the myth of writer’s block, how to write inside the hardest things, roadkill memorials, being alone, and accepting the elements.
Rachel Zucker talks with poet, editor, professor Gabrielle Calvocoressi, author of three full length collections, most recently Rocket Fantastic, about her new book. They also talk about wanting things, reading in New York, God, prayer, nystagmus (a neurological eye condition), practicing Judaism (but not converting to Judaism) in Los Angeles and in the South, gender identity, gender expression, sexual fantasies, gayness and queerness, butch lesbianism, bros, the symbol she uses in Rocket Fantastic instead of a gendered pronoun and how she reads that symbol, having and recovering from a nervous breakdown and panic attacks, mental health, not seeking out trouble, getting to know the animal you are, envy, jealousy, the granting and prize system in poetry, ambition, unionizing poets, and being honest.
Award winning poet, playwright, professor, editor, essayist, and critic Claudia Rankine speaks with Rachel Zucker about collaboration, poetry’s role in social change, and the investigation of feeling. In this episode, Rankine discusses the importance of ideas put forward by writers such as James Baldwin and Adrienne Rich, the known unknown, the arena of consciousness, being a spectator, willed ignorance, and the illusion of difficulty in poetry.
Rachel Zucker talks with Sheila Heti and Sarah Manguso about literary friendship, Sarah’s two recent books, Sheila’s manuscript in progress, maternal ambivalence, uncertainty, sacrifice of self, envy, curiosity, being a daughter, attachment and unattachment, shame, the sickening state of wondering whether or not to have children, abandonment, money, the things we cannot choose, choosing intolerable feelings, whiteness, class, the poetics of motherhood, purity, polluted writing, and motherhood as a sexuality category.
- New Yorker Poetry Podcast
New Yorker Poetry is a bit more strictly poetry business than Commonplace. During the episodes, a visiting poet chooses a poem from the New Yorker’s archives to read, as well as one of their own, in between a bit of writerly chit-chat with the host. Best to listen to these in the podcast app rather than the webpage, as if you don’t have a New Yorker subscription access is limited.
A few of my highlights:
Kaveh Akbar joins Kevin Young to read and discuss Ellen Bryant Voigt’s poem “Groundhog” and his own poem “What Use Is Knowing Anything If No One Is Around.” Akbar is the author of the poetry collection “Calling a Wolf a Wolf,” as well as the recipient of a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, and the 2018 Levis Reading Prize.
Nicole Sealey joins Kevin Young to read and discuss Ellen Bass’s poem “Indigo” and her own poem “A Violence.” Sealey is the executive director at the Cave Canem Foundation and the author of the poetry collection “Ordinary Beast.”
Lucie Brock-Broido joins Paul Muldoon to discuss Franz Wright’s “Recurring Awakening” and her poem “For a Snow Leopard in October”.
(This was where I first heard Franz Wright’s poetry and it has led me deep into his work. It is a nice segue into the following…)
3. Transom: Two Years with Franz
This is such a beautifully told and deeply moving story. I treasured listening to Franz’s muttered poems, filled with grace, alongside his curmudgeonly spiels.
“What if you have a story that’s really complicated, and you have 546 tapes to listen to, and you get obsessed and don’t know where to stop? All of those things were true for “Two Years with Franz.” The “Two Years” refers to two years of tapes recorded by the Pulitzer-winning poet Franz Wright before his death, and then, the two years Bianca Giaever spent listening to them. This is a story of art and love, of madness and beauty, of youth and age and death.”
4. Between the Covers
Between the Covers is hosted by David Naimon, a writer, philosopher and Chinese herbalist with a brilliant mind. These are long-form in-depth conversations with novelists and essayists as well as poets.
A few of my highlights:
Ursula Le Guin (This is SO good – the best bit awaits you at the end, when Le Guin reads her marvellous piece ‘On Serious Literature’)
Rae Armantrout Fascinating interview in which she discusses among many things her interest in quantum physics.
Manon Revuelta (1990–) is a poet from Auckland. Her chapbook of poems and essays, girl teeth, was published by Hard Press in 2017. Her poems have been published in Minarets, Sweet Mammalian, Deluge, Brief and Turbine. She is currently enrolled in an MA in Creative Writing at IIML, Victoria University, Wellington.