The Poetry Exchange celebrates poems as friends. Through conversations, gift recordings and our podcast we capture the insights of readers and share them.
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 f*****g 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).
From Blossoms by Li-Young Lee - Poem as Friend to Jessica
In this episode, Jessica talks with us about the poem that has been a friend to her – 'From Blossoms' by Li-Young Lee.
Jessica joined The Poetry Exchange online, via video call, for one of our Lockdown Exchanges.
Jessica works as an Audio Producer with Listening Books, an audiobook lending charity for those that find their illness, mental health, physical or learning disability affects their ability to read the printed word or hold a book. You can find out more about this wonderful charity here:
And tune into their podcast here:
You can also listen to our podcast episode: 'Spring and Fall by Gerard Manley Hopkins - Poem as Friend to Vahni' here:
Jessica is in conversation with Poetry Exchange team members, Fiona Bennett and Michael Shaeffer.
Michael reads 'From Blossoms'.
by Li-Young Lee
From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
Li-Young Lee, “From Blossoms” from Rose. Copyright © 1986 by Li-Young Lee. Reprinted with the permission of BOA Editions Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.
Good Lord The Light by Christian Wiman - A Friend to Krista Tippett
In this special, feature-length episode, pioneering broadcaster, writer and host of On Being, Krista Tippett talks about the poem that has been a friend to her: ‘Good Lord The Light’ by Christian Wiman.
Krista Tippett has created a singular space for reflection and conversation in American and global public life. She founded and leads the On Being Project (www.onbeing.org)— a groundbreaking media and public life initiative pursuing “deep thinking and moral imagination, social courage and joy to renew inner life, outer life, and life together.” As the creator and host of the Peabody Award-winning On Being radio show, heard on over 400 public radio stations across the US, Tippett takes up the great animating questions of human life: What does it mean to be human, how we do want to live, and who will we be to each other?
In 2014, President Obama awarded Krista the National Humanities Medal at the White House for “thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence. On the air and in print, Ms. Tippett avoids easy answers, embracing complexity and inviting people of every background to join her conversation about faith, ethics, and moral wisdom.”
Krista is also the author of three books at the intersection of spiritual inquiry, social healing, science, and the arts: Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living; Einstein’s God: Conversations about Science and the Human Spirit and Speaking of Faith, a memoir of religion in our time.
Krista is in conversation with The Poetry Exchange hosts Fiona Bennett and Michael Shaeffer.
‘Good Lord The Light’ can be found in poet Christian Wiman’s latest collection – ‘Survival is a Style’, from Farrar, Straus and Geroux: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374272050
You can listen to Krista’s extraordinary range of life-expanding conversations through the On Being podcast – which can be found wherever you get your podcasts and at www.onbeing.com.
The gift reading of 'Good Lord The Light' is by Michael Shaeffer.
GOOD LORD THE LIGHT
by Christian Wiman
Good morning misery,
good Lord the light
cutting across the lake
so long gone
to ice —
There is an under, always,
through which things still move, breathe,
and have their being,
quick coals and crimsons
no one need see
Good night knowledge,
good God the winter
one must wander
one’s own soul
From 'Survival is a Style' - Farrar, Straus and Giroux (February 2020)
The Horses by Ted Hughes - A Friend to Lewi
In this episode, Lewi talks with us about the poem that has been a friend to him – 'The Horses' by Ted Hughes.
Lewi joined The Poetry Exchange online, via video call, for one of our Lockdown Exchanges. It was in celebration of Manchester Literature Festival, which you can find out more about here:
Lewi is in conversation with Poetry Exchange team members, Fiona Bennett and Michael Shaeffer.
Fiona reads 'The Horses'
By Ted Hughes
I climbed through woods in the hour-before-dawn dark.
Evil air, a frost-making stillness,
Not a leaf, not a bird-
A world cast in frost. I came out above the wood
Where my breath left tortuous statues in the iron light.
But the valleys were draining the darkness
Till the moorline blackening dregs of the brightening grey
Halved the sky ahead. And I saw the horses:
Huge in the dense grey ten together
Megalith-still. They breathed, making no move,
With draped manes and tilted hind-hooves,
Making no sound.
I passed: not one snorted or jerked its head.
Grey silent fragments
Of a grey still world.
I listened in emptiness on the moor-ridge.
The curlews tear turned its edge on the silence.
Slowly detail leafed from the darkness. Then the sun
Orange, red, red erupted
Silently, and splitting to its core tore and flung cloud,
Shook the gulf open, showed blue,
And the big planets hanging
Stumbling in a fever of a dream, down towards
The dark woods, from the kindling tops,
And came the horses.
There, still they stood,
But now steaming, and glistening under the flow of light,
Their draped stone manes, their tilted hind-hooves
Stirring under a thaw while all around them
The frost showed its fires. But still they made no sound.
Not one snorted or stamped,
Their hung heads patient as the horizons,
High over valleys, in the red levelling rays
In din of the crowded streets, going among the years, the faces,
May I still meet my memory in so lonely a place
Between the streams and the red clouds, hearing curlews,
Hearing the horizons endure.
New Selected Poems by Ted Hughes. Faber & Faber; Main edition (6 Mar. 1995)
Still I Rise by Maya Angelou - A Friend to Fehmida
In this episode, Fehmida talks with us about the poem that has been a friend to her – 'Still I Rise' by Maya Angelou.
Fehmida joined The Poetry Exchange online, via video call, for one of our Lockdown Exchanges. It was in celebration of Manchester Literature Festival, which you can find out more about here:
You can also find out more about our wonderful guest, Fehmida, and the work she pioneers for women and those who are under-represented in publishing here:
Fehmida is in conversation with Poetry Exchange team members, Fiona Bennett and Michael Shaeffer.
Fehmida reads 'Still I Rise'.
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Maya Angelou, "Still I Rise" from And Still I Rise: A Book of Poems. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Used by permission of Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
Aubade by Philip Larkin - A Friend to Tom
In this episode, Tom talks with us about the poem that has been a friend to him – 'Aubade' by Philip Larkin.
Tom visited The Poetry Exchange in February 2020 for what turned out to be our last live event of the year before lockdown. He joined us at beautiful Manchester Central Library and is in conversation with Poetry Exchange team members, Fiona Bennett and Al Snell.
Al reads the gift reading of 'Aubade'.
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.
And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.
Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.
Philip Larkin, "Aubade" from Collected Poems. Copyright © Estate of Philip Larkin. Reprinted by permission of Faber and Faber, Ltd.
Simply the Best
I can’t believe I didn’t already review this podcast! I’ve been listening since the earliest episode. This is my favorite podcast for so many reasons. I love the poetry and have learned to appreciate poems I didn’t pay attention to before. I’ve also heard others speak about some of my favorite, most loved poems. Each conversation gets to the heart of the poem but also to the foundations of human experience. These conversations reveal how words and ideas build connections and enrich our lives. These conversations reveal the depths of a human life - not just the poet’s life but real, everyday people. I am always uplifted, left in deep thought, or stunned by the power of the episode. I save my listening for those times when I need something to give me hope or solace, or a laugh. This podcast is incredible. It’s like magic. I love it!