The Poetry Exchange celebrates poems as friends. Through conversations, gift recordings and our podcast we capture the insights of readers and share them.
On The Departure Platform - A Friend to Gill
In this episode, Gill Gregory talks with us about the poem that has been a friend to her – 'On the Departure Platform' by Thomas Hardy.
Gill joined The Poetry Exchange at the National Centre for Writing in Norwich. We are hugely grateful to the National Centre for Writing for hosting us so warmly, and to all the readers who visited us there.
Andrea is in conversation with The Poetry Exchange hosts, Fiona Bennett and Michael Shaeffer.
'On the Departure Platform' is read by Gill Gregory and Michael Shaeffer.
On the Departure Platform
by Thomas Hardy
We kissed at the barrier; and passing through
She left me, and moment by moment got
Smaller and smaller, until to my view
She was but a spot;
A wee white spot of muslin fluff
That down the diminishing platform bore
Through hustling crowds of gentle and rough
To the carriage door.
Under the lamplight’s fitful glowers,
Behind dark groups from far and near,
Whose interests were apart from ours,
She would disappear,
Then show again, till I ceased to see
That flexible form, that nebulous white;
And she who was more than my life to me
Had vanished quite.
We have penned new plans since that fair fond day,
And in season she will appear again—
Perhaps in the same soft white array—
But never as then !
—‘And why, young man, must eternally fly
A joy you’ll repeat, if you love her well ?’
—O friend, nought happens twice thus ; why,
I cannot tell!
Song Of Myself by Walt Whitman - A Friend To Andrea
In this episode, Andrea Holland talks with us about the poem that has been a friend to her – 'Song of Myself' by Walt Whitman.
Andrea joined The Poetry Exchange at the National Centre for Writing in Norwich. We are hugely grateful to the National Centre for Writing for hosting us so warmly, and to all the readers who visited us there.
Andrea is in conversation with The Poetry Exchange hosts, Fiona Bennett and Michael Shaeffer.
Andrea Holland is a poet and lecturer in Creative Writing. As winner of the Norfolk Commission for Poetry her collection 'Broadcasting' was published in 2013 (Gatehouse Press). The collection focuses on the forced requisition of several Norfolk villages for D-Day training in 1942, and the subsequent dislocation of villagers and community. Her pamphlet, 'Borrowed' (Smith/Doorstop, 2007) was first-stage winner of the Poetry Business Competition 2006. Her writing has appeared in journals such as Mslexia, The North, Rialto, Smith's Knoll, and in Slanted: 12 Poems for Christmas (IST, 2014).
The 'gift' reading of Song of Myself is read by Michael Shaeffer.
From 'Song of Myself'
I believe in you my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to you,
And you must not be abased to the other.
Loaf with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat,
Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not even the best,
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valved voice.
I mind how once we lay such a transparent summer morning,
How you settled your head athwart my hips, and gently turned over upon me,
And parted the shirt from my bosom bone, and plunged your tongue to my bare-stripped heart,
And reached till you felt my beard, and reached till you held my feet.
Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass all the argument of the earth,
And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,
And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of the creation is love,
And limitless are leaves stiff or drooping in the fields,
And brown ants in the little wells beneath them,
And mossy scabs of the worm fence, heaped stones, elder, mullein and pokeweed.
Kubla Khan by Coleridge - A Friend To Gregory Leadbetter
In this episode, poet Gregory Leadbetter talks with us about the poem that has been a friend to him – 'Kubla Khan' by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Gregory joined The Poetry Exchange at the Birmingham & Midland Institute - one of our first in-person exchanges since the pandemic.
He is in conversation with Poetry Exchange team members, Fiona Bennett and Roy McFarlane.
Gregory Leadbetter is a poet and critic. He is the author of two poetry collections, Maskwork (2020) and The Fetch (2016), both with Nine Arches Press, as well as the pamphlet The Body in the Well (HappenStance Press, 2007), and (with photographs by Phil Thomson) Balanuve (Broken Sleep, 2021).
His book Coleridge and the Daemonic Imagination (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) won the University English Book Prize 2012.
The 'gift' reading of Kubla Khan is read by Roy McFarlane.
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment.
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
Old Mary by Gwendolyn Brooks - A Friend to Pete
In this episode, Pete Stones talks with us about the poem that has been a friend to him – 'Old Mary' by Gwendolyn Brooks.
Pete joined The Poetry Exchange at the Birmingham & Midland Institute - one of our first in-person exchanges since the pandemic.
He is in conversation with Poetry Exchange team members, Fiona Bennett and John Prebble.
'Old Mary' is read by Pete Stones and Fiona Bennett.
by Gwendolyn Brooks
My last defense
Is the present tense.
It little hurts me now to know
I shall not go
Cathedral-hunting in Spain
Nor cherrying in Michigan or Maine.
Reproduced by consent of Brooks Permissions.
Eve Remembering by Toni Morrison - A Friend to Maria
In this episode, Dr Maria Augusta Arruda talks with us about the poem that has been a friend to her – 'Eve Remembering' by Toni Morrison.
Maria joined The Poetry Exchange online for one of our Lockdown Exchanges. She is in conversation with Poetry Exchange team members, Fiona Bennett and Michael Shaeffer.
'Eve Remembering' is read by Maria Augusta Arruda and Fiona Bennett.
by Toni Morrison
I tore from a limb fruit that had lost its green.
My hands were warmed by the heat of an apple
Fire red and humming.
I bit sweet power to the core.
How can I say what it was like?
The taste! The taste undid my eyes
And led me far from the gardens planted for a child
To wildernesses deeper than any master’s call.
Now these cool hands guide what they once caressed;
Lips forget what they have kissed.
My eyes now pool their light
Better the summit to see.
I would do it all over again:
Be the harbor and set the sail,
Loose the breeze and harness the gale,
Cherish the harvest of what I have been.
Better the summit to scale.
Better the summit to be.
From Five Poems (Rainmaker Editions, 2002) by Toni Morrison with silhouettes by Kara Walker. Used with permission from The Believer Magazine.
The Republic of Motherhood by Liz Berry - A Friend to Ana
In this episode, Ana Sampson talks with us about the poem that has been a friend to her – 'The Republic of Motherhood' by Liz Berry.
Ana Sampson is a highly accomplished poetry editor. She has edited 8 poetry anthologies including 'Night Feeds and Morning Songs: Honest, fierce and beautiful poems about motherhood', as well as 'She is Fierce' and 'She Will Soar' - two bold and brilliant anthologies of women's verse throughout history. Ana's books have sold over 240,000 copies and she writes and speaks often about books and poetry in the media. She has also spoken about the hidden history of women’s writing at bookshops, festivals, libraries, schools and literary events.
We are hugely grateful to Liz Berry and Chatto & Windus for allowing us to share Liz's extraordinary poem in this way. You can buy Liz's entire pamphlet - The Republic of Motherhood - here:
Ana is in conversation with Poetry Exchange team members, Andrea Witzke Slot and John Prebble.
The Republic of Motherhood
By Liz Berry
I crossed the border into the Republic of Motherhood
and found it a queendom, a wild queendom.
I handed over my clothes and took its uniform,
its dressing gown and undergarments, a cardigan
soft as a creature, smelling of birth and milk,
and I lay down in Motherhood’s bed, the bed I had made
but could not sleep in, for I was called at once to work
in the factory of Motherhood. The owl shift,
the graveyard shift. Feedingcleaninglovingfeeding.
I walked home, heartsore, through pale streets,
the coins of Motherhood singing in my pockets.
Then I soaked my spindled bones
in the chill municipal baths of Motherhood,
watching strands of my hair float from my fingers.
Each day I pushed my pram through freeze and blossom
down the wide boulevards of Motherhood
where poplars bent their branches to stroke my brow.
I stood with my sisters in the queues of Motherhood—
the weighing clinic, the supermarket—waiting
for Motherhood’s bureaucracies to open their doors.
As required, I stood beneath the flag of Motherhood
and opened my mouth although I did not know the anthem.
When darkness fell I pushed my pram home again,
and by lamplight wrote urgent letters of complaint
to the Department of Motherhood but received no response.
I grew sick and was healed in the hospitals of Motherhood
with their long-closed isolation wards
and narrow beds watched over by a fat moon.
The doctors were slender and efficient
and when I was well they gave me my pram again
so I could stare at the daffodils in the parks of Motherhood
while winds pierced my breasts like silver arrows.
In snowfall, I haunted Motherhood’s cemeteries,
the sweet fallen beneath my feet—
Our Lady of the Birth Trauma, Our Lady of Psychosis.
I wanted to speak to them, tell them I understood,
but the words came out scrambled, so I knelt instead
and prayed in the chapel of Motherhood, prayed
for that whole wild fucking queendom,
its sorrow, its unbearable skinless beauty,
and all the souls that were in it. I prayed and prayed
until my voice was a nightcry
and sunlight pixelated my face like a kaleidoscope.
© Liz Berry. From 'The Republic of Motherhood' by Liz Berry (Chatto & Windus 2018).
Informative and very accessible. Love it!
Gorgeous and accessible
What a fantastic concept. I'm not a poetry expert at all, but this podcast provided the perfect introduction. Thank you!
Thank you Fiona, Michael and the team for consistently brilliant podcasts. The concept underpinning each episode, that a person brings a poem that has been a friend to them, means that there is a passion and a significance to the discussion between that person and the lovely hosts. There is a very natural enquiry as to what the poem means, why it has become a friend. Anyone who has an interest in literature will really enjoy and derive much from this podcast. Good for the mental health too.