49 episodes

The Poetry Exchange celebrates poems as friends. Through conversations, gift recordings and our podcast we capture the insights of readers and share them.

The Poetry Exchange The Poetry Exchange

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    • 4.7, 34 Ratings

The Poetry Exchange celebrates poems as friends. Through conversations, gift recordings and our podcast we capture the insights of readers and share them.

    Vers De Société by Philip Larkin - Poem as Friend to Stephen

    Vers De Société by Philip Larkin - Poem as Friend to Stephen

    In this episode, Stephen Beresford talks about the poem that has been a friend to him – 'Vers De Société' by Philip Larkin.

    Stephen visited The Poetry Exchange in London. He is in conversation with The Poetry Exchange team members, Michael Shaeffer and Fiona Bennett.

    Stephen is a highly acclaimed Film, TV and Theatre Writer. Find out more about Stephen and his work here:


    Michael reads the gift reading of 'Vers De Société'.


    My wife and I have asked a crowd of craps
    To come and waste their time and ours: perhaps
    You’d care to join us? In a pig’s arse, friend.
    Day comes to an end.
    The gas fire breathes, the trees are darkly swayed.
    And so Dear Warlock-Williams: I’m afraid—

    Funny how hard it is to be alone.
    I could spend half my evenings, if I wanted,
    Holding a glass of washing sherry, canted
    Over to catch the drivel of some bitch
    Who’s read nothing but Which;
    Just think of all the spare time that has flown

    Straight into nothingness by being filled
    With forks and faces, rather than repaid
    Under a lamp, hearing the noise of wind,
    And looking out to see the moon thinned
    To an air-sharpened blade.
    A life, and yet how sternly it’s instilled

    All solitude is selfish. No one now
    Believes the hermit with his gown and dish
    Talking to God (who’s gone too); the big wish
    Is to have people nice to you, which means
    Doing it back somehow.
    Virtue is social. Are, then, these routines

    Playing at goodness, like going to church?
    Something that bores us, something we don’t do well
    (Asking that ass about his fool research)
    But try to feel, because, however crudely,
    It shows us what should be?
    Too subtle, that. Too decent, too. Oh hell,

    Only the young can be alone freely.
    The time is shorter now for company,
    And sitting by a lamp more often brings
    Not peace, but other things.
    Beyond the light stand failure and remorse
    Whispering Dear Warlock-Williams: Why, of course—

    Philip Larkin, "Vers de Société" from Collected Poems. Copyright © Estate of Philip Larkin. Reprinted by permission of Faber and Faber, Ltd.

    Photo Credit: Rory Campbell Photography

    • 32 min
    Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas - Poem as Friend to Adrian

    Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas - Poem as Friend to Adrian

    In this episode, Adrian talks about the poem that has been a friend to him – 'Fern Hill' by Dylan Thomas.

    Adrian joined The Poetry Exchange online, via video call, for one of our 'Lockdown Exchanges' that took place as part of City of Literature - a week of conversations, reflections and connections presented by the National Centre for Writing and Norfolk & Norwich Festival.

    Many thanks to our partners, the National Centre for Writing and Norfolk & Norwich Festival for enabling this to go ahead in spite of the physical restrictions. Do visit them for more inspiration:


    Our thanks also to David Higham Associates and Dylan Thomas Trust for permission to share the poem. For more information about the poet and his work, please visit:


    Adrian is in conversation with The Poetry Exchange team members, Fiona Bennett and Michal Shaeffer.

    Michael reads the gift reading of 'Fern Hill'.


    Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
    About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
    The night above the dingle starry,
    Time let me hail and climb
    Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
    And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
    And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
    Trail with daisies and barley
    Down the rivers of the windfall light.

    And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
    About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
    In the sun that is young once only,
    Time let me play and be
    Golden in the mercy of his means,
    And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
    Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
    And the sabbath rang slowly
    In the pebbles of the holy streams.

    All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
    Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
    And playing, lovely and watery
    And fire green as grass.
    And nightly under the simple stars
    As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
    All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
    Flying with the ricks, and the horses
    Flashing into the dark.

    And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
    With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
    Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
    The sky gathered again
    And the sun grew round that very day.
    So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
    In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
    Out of the whinnying green stable
    On to the fields of praise.

    And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
    Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
    In the sun born over and over,
    I ran my heedless ways,
    My wishes raced through the house high hay
    And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
    In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
    Before the children green and golden
    Follow him out of grace,

    Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
    Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
    In the moon that is always rising,
    Nor that riding to sleep
    I should hear him fly with the high fields
    And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
    Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
    Time held me green and dying
    Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

    • 31 min
    Remember By Joy Harjo - Poem As Friend To Rachel Eliza Griffiths

    Remember By Joy Harjo - Poem As Friend To Rachel Eliza Griffiths

    In this episode, Rachel Eliza Griffiths talks about the poem that has been a friend to her – Remember by Joy Harjo.

    Rachel Eliza visited The Poetry Exchange 'long distance' in an online conversation between London and New York. She is in conversation with The Poetry Exchange team members, Michael Shaeffer and Fiona Bennett.

    We are very grateful to Rachel Eliza for allowing us to share the conversation with you, and to Joy Harjo and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. for their permission to feature 'Remember.'

    'Remember' can be found in She Had Some Horses: Poems by Joy Harjo, 2008, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. www.wwnorton.co.uk/books/9780393334210-she-had-some-horses

    Rachel Eliza Griffiths is a multi-media artist, poet, and writer.

    Her literary and visual work has been widely published in journals, magazines, anthologies, and periodicals including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The New York Times, Poets & Writers, Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Best American Poetry 2020, and many others. 

    Griffiths is widely known for her literary portraits, fine art photography, and lyric videos. Her extensive video project, P.O.P (Poets on Poetry), an intimate series of micro-interviews, gathers nearly 100 contemporary poets in conversation, and is featured online by the Academy of American Poets.

    Griffiths is the author of Miracle Arrhythmia (Willow Books 2010) and The Requited Distance (The Sheep Meadow Press 2011). Griffiths’ third collection of poetry, Mule & Pear (New Issues Poetry & Prose 2011), was selected for the 2012 Inaugural Poetry Award by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Her most recent full-length poetry collection is Lighting the Shadow (Four Way Books 2015), which was a finalist for the 2015 Balcones Poetry Prize and the 2016 Phillis Wheatley Book Award in Poetry.

    Her forthcoming collection of poetry and photography, Seeing the Body, will be published by W. W. Norton in June 2020.


    Remember is read by Fiona Bennett.


    by Joy Harjo

    Remember the sky that you were born under,
    know each of the star's stories.
    Remember the moon, know who she is.
    Remember the sun's birth at dawn, that is the
    strongest point of time. Remember sundown
    and the giving away to night.
    Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
    to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
    her life, and her mother's, and hers.
    Remember your father. He is your life, also.
    Remember the earth whose skin you are:
    red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
    brown earth, we are earth.
    Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
    tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
    listen to them. They are alive poems.
    Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
    origin of this universe.
    Remember you are all people and all people
    are you.
    Remember you are this universe and this
    universe is you.
    Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
    Remember language comes from this.
    Remember the dance language is, that life is.

    'Remember' reproduced from She Had Some Horses: Poems by Joy Harjo (c) 2008 by Joy Harjo. Used with permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

    • 28 min
    'Then or Now' - Adrienne Rich - a poem-score for Ballet Black

    'Then or Now' - Adrienne Rich - a poem-score for Ballet Black

    We are delighted to share a special edition of The Poetry Exchange podcast featuring the score from Ballet Black’s new piece, Then or Now, choreographed by William Tuckett, which would have had its world premiere at The Barbican, London, on March 26th.

    The score features poems by Adrienne Rich and the music of Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704), played by solo violinist Daniel Pioro. Poetry Direction is by The Poetry Exchange’s Founder and Director, Fiona Bennett and poems are voiced by Natasha Gordon, Michael Shaeffer and Hafsah Annela Bashir.

    It is with great thanks to the Adrienne Rich Estate and all the artists involved that we are able to share this unique collaboration between Ballet Black and The Poetry Exchange with you as a prelude to the full experience, once the ballet can be performed.

    Adrienne Rich is one of the greatest modern poets of our time. She was a tireless activist and ambassador for human rights and social justice. She was an active force in the Civil Rights Movement, a leading voice in the Feminist Movement and spoke out against all forms of oppression and injustice. Her exemplary approach to political activism, her scholarly and artistic integrity make her a highly relevant and vital source of inspiration for our time. She died in 2012 and her legacy is a defining force in the ongoing development of poetry.

    You can find out more about the life and work of Adrienne Rich through the Adrienne Rich Literary Trust here: www.adriennerich.net

    We are grateful to The Adrienne Rich Literary Trust and W.W. Norton and Company, Inc. for granting us permission to feature poems from Dark Fields of the Republic. Dark Fields of the Republic is published by W.W. Norton and available here: www.wwnorton.co.uk/books/9780393313987-dark-fields-of-the-republic.

    Many thanks to the wonderful Ballet Black and The Barbican. Find out more about their work below, and to stay updated with rescheduled ‘Then or Now’ performance dates:


    The extraordinary work of violinist, Daniel Pioro can also be found here: www.danielpioro.com/

    Below is ‘What Kind of Times Are These’ by Adrienne Rich - the opening poem from 'Dark Fields' of the Republic, and this episode.

    Photo credit: Camilla Greenwell and Ballet Black


    What Kind of Times Are These
    By Adrienne Rich

    There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
    and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
    near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
    who disappeared into those shadows.

    I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled
    this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
    our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
    its own ways of making people disappear.

    I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
    meeting the unmarked strip of light—
    ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
    I already know who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

    And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
    anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
    to have you listen at all, it's necessary
    to talk about trees.

    • 41 min
    Ashes Of Life By Edna St. Vincent Millay - Poem As Friend To Laura

    Ashes Of Life By Edna St. Vincent Millay - Poem As Friend To Laura

    In this episode, Laura Wade talks about the poem that has been a friend to her – 'Ashes of Life' by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

    We are very grateful to Laura for allowing us to share this conversation with you.

    Laura visited The Poetry Exchange in London. She is in conversation with The Poetry Exchange team members, Michael Shaeffer and Fiona Bennett.

    Laura Wade is an Olivier award winning playwright and screenwriter. Her National Theatre play HOME, I’M DARLING premiered at Theatr Clwyd in 2018 before playing at the National, where it received rave reviews. HOME, I’M DARLING won the award for Best New Comedy at the 2019 Oliviers.

    Laura’s screenplay THE RIOT CLUB, an adaptation of her acclaimed 2010 stage play POSH, opened in cinemas on September 2014. The film is directed by Lone Scherfig and stars Max Irons, Sam Claflin and Douglas Booth.

    Laura has also adapted Sarah Waters’ TIPPING THE VELVET for the stage and in 2018, Laura adapted Jane Austen’s unfinished novel THE WATSONS for the stage for Chichester Festival Theatre.

    You can find out more about Edna St. Vincent Millay and read more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/edna-st-vincent-millay

    Ashes of Life is read by Laura at the beginning of the conversation, with the gift reading of the poem by Fiona Bennett.


    Ashes of Life

    By Edna St. Vincent Millay

    Love has gone and left me and the days are all alike;
    Eat I must, and sleep I will, — and would that night were here!
    But ah! — to lie awake and hear the slow hours strike!
    Would that it were day again! — with twilight near!

    Love has gone and left me and I don't know what to do;
    This or that or what you will is all the same to me;
    But all the things that I begin I leave before I'm through, —
    There's little use in anything as far as I can see.

    Love has gone and left me, — and the neighbors knock and borrow,
    And life goes on forever like the gnawing of a mouse, —
    And to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow
    There's this little street and this little house.

    • 26 min
    The Hug by Thom Gunn - Poem as Friend to Sam

    The Hug by Thom Gunn - Poem as Friend to Sam

    In this episode, Sam talks about the poem that has been a friend to him – 'The Hug' by Thom Gunn.

    Sam visited The Poetry Exchange in Manchester Central Library, as part of the celebrations of International Mother Language Day in the city.

    Many thanks to our partners Manchester Poetry Library, Manchester Libraries and Manchester UNESCO City of Literature.


    Sam is in conversation with The Poetry Exchange team members, Sarah Butler and Alistair Snell.

    Sarah reads the gift reading of 'The Hug'.


    The Hug 

    It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
        Half of the night with our old friend
            Who'd showed us in the end
        To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
            Already I lay snug,
    And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

    I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
            Suddenly, from behind,
    In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
             Your instep to my heel,
         My shoulder-blades against your chest.
         It was not sex, but I could feel
         The whole strength of your body set,
                 Or braced, to mine,
             And locking me to you
         As if we were still twenty-two
         When our grand passion had not yet
             Become familial.
         My quick sleep had deleted all
         Of intervening time and place.
             I only knew
    The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.

    Thom Gunn, "The Hug" from The Man with Night Sweats. Copyright © 1992 by Thom Gunn. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, http://us.macmillan.com/fsg. All rights reserved

    • 26 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
34 Ratings

34 Ratings

cjstairmand ,

A wonder!

I was introduced to The Poetry Exchange by a dear friend when I suddenly found a muse inside. It is opening so many doors for me, with new works and wonderful analyses, driving more reading for me. Thank you!

Janethom ,

Don’t know who Walt Whitman is?

Who are these people ?

sagginabit ,

Excellent, generous, inspiring podcast!

Entertaining, varied, relevant, I’m delighted I found this podcast. I’ve recently joined a sustainable self-build co-housing project. Exciting, but also a bit scary. Since I found Ben’s House Planning Help podcast, I’ve learnt so much and feel infinitely better informed about the implications of all those decisions I’ll be making.

Thanks Ben, for sharing self-build experience and knowledge so generously. One day the mainstream building companies will cotton on to sustainable house building. In the meantime, keep up the great work Ben!

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