The Poetry Magazine Podcast features poets and artists in their natural form—reading poems and speaking freely.
Esther Belin in Conversation with Patricia Jabbeh Wesley
This week, guest editor Esther Belin speaks with poet and scholar Patricia Jabbeh Wesley. Although Belin’s and Wesley’s homelands are far from each other—Wesley’s in Liberia and Belin’s in Diné bikéyah of the Navajo people—they share a deep commitment to their roles as storytellers, and their writing bears witness to the effects of war and invasion in their homelands. Wesley, who now lives in Altoona, Pennsylvania, is a survivor of the civil war in Liberia. She explains how poetry allows her to tell the truth of that experience while leaving some details unwritten. We’ll hear Wesley’s poem, “Black Woman Selling Her Home in America,” from the June 2022 issue of Poetry, and we’ll also hear her wonderful recipe for self-care (which includes teaching everyone to do their own laundry and sleeping in).
Content note: Wesley explicitly describes the effects of war including graphic violence against pregnant people.
Mini Episode: Esther Belin Shares Two Writing Prompts
In our very first mini episode, Esther Belin shares two writing prompts to help propel you to a place that comforts and aligns you back to center.
Esther Belin in Conversation with Orlando White
This week, Esther Belin and Orlando White talk about Diné thought and poetics, sound and breath in Diné bizaad, the Navajo language, and what it means, as Indigenous writers, to use the English language as a vessel to integrate tribal concepts. They also discuss one of White’s one-word poems, “Water.” Although the poem is only six letters long, there was barely enough time to unpack its complexity.
Orlando White is a citizen of the Navajo Nation and faculty member of Diné College, a tribal college on the Navajo reservation in Tsaile, Arizona. He is the author of LETTERRS (Nightboat Books, 2015) and Bone Light (Red Hen Press, 2009). You can read two poems by White in the June 2022 issue of Poetry.
Srikanth Reddy with Liesl Olson and Ed Roberson on Margaret Danner’s “The Elevator Man Adheres to Form”
This week, we return to the little-known world of Margaret Danner with guest editor Srikanth Reddy, historian Liesl Olson, and poet Ed Roberson. Olson and Roberson were the people who first introduced Reddy to Margaret Danner’s poetry. Olson is the Director of Chicago Studies at the Newberry Library, the building where Margaret Danner worked as an editor of Poetry magazine from 1951 to 1956. Roberson is a celebrated poet living in the South Side of Chicago—probably not far from where Danner grew up and wrote much of her poetry.
Born in 1915, Danner was a contemporary of Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes—and knew them personally—but she never achieved the recognition she deserved in her lifetime. It’s hard to find her poetry in print; in fact, Reddy might have borrowed one of the last copies of her collected poems left in Chicago in preparation for this podcast.
Danner wrote about many things—the civil rights movement, African art, gender, class, and faith (there’s a previous episode of the Poetry Magazine Podcast that focuses on Danner’s Baha’i faith). Today, we do a deep dive into one of Danner’s poems that explores race, class, and social mobility in 1950s America. It’s called, “The Elevator Man Adheres to Form,” and it may (or may not) be about an elevator operator who worked at the Newberry Library in Chicago.
Srikanth Reddy in Conversation with Josué Coy Dick, Juan Coy Tení, and Jesse Nathan
Today we explore the Popol Vuh, the foundational sacred narrative of the K’iche people. This Mayan epic tells the story of creation, the role of the gods in human affairs, and the history of migration and settlement in Central America up to the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century. The story of the Popol Vuh is pretty amazing itself. It was passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years, first orally and then written in Mayan glyphs in the mid sixteenth century. The original Mayan text was hidden from Spanish invaders—until the K’iche people allowed a Dominican friar, Francisco Ximenez, to make a Spanish translation in the early 1700s. Today there are many translations of the Popol Vuh—but it’s not nearly as well known as other texts, like the Bible or the Epic of Gilgamesh, even though it’s considered by many to be the oldest book in the Americas.
One incredible thing about the translation we’ll be talking about today is that it’s a family affair. Juan Coy Tení was born into an Indigenous community in Coban, Guatemala; he studied law and is now a social worker living in Kansas. When he married the poet Jesse Nathan’s sister, Juan and Jesse began translating poetry together over email and at gatherings—and now Juan’s son, Josué, an undergraduate student who was raised in the US, has joined in their work as a family of translators. To guest editor Srikanth Reddy, Jesse, Juan, and Josue’s translation—made across borders, languages, and generations—marks an important new chapter in this epic poem’s story.
Srikanth Reddy in Conversation with James Shea
This week, Srikanth Reddy talks shit, quite literally, with the poet and translator James Shea. Shea recently co-translated, with Ikuho Amano, a little-known essay by the Japanese poet Masaoka Shiki titled “Haiku on Shit.” It’s a surprisingly serious, if not a little deadpan, essay about art and reality, beauty and ugliness, and poop and poetry. One favorite that’s shared in the episode is this one by Issa: “When you show it some sympathy, the baby sparrow takes a crap on you.” Here’s another favorite, this time by Buson: “Fallen red plum blossoms appear to be ablaze on clumps of horse shit.” To begin, Shea and Reddy take us through the history of haiku, starting with the four great poets of the form: Issa, Buson, Basho, and—200 years later—Shiki, who published the essay “Haiku on Shit” over a century ago.
What We Need Now
We need words. Language shines a light on humanity. This podcast brings clarity to the world of the poet. In the uncertainty of our days, what we need now is having a place to reflect on words. Thanks.
Listen to Episode 300!!!
Episode 300 with Sonia Sanchez and Tongo Eisen-Martin blew me away. I was planning to listen for 20 minutes and then go get myself another cup of coffee, but I found myself unable to get up until I had experienced the whole conversation. It is a beautiful poetic expression of Black American life. Thank you!
Anything is poetry these days
I usually listen to modern poetry as a discipline, a learning experience, not for enjoyment. However, with this podcast, I find myself skipping too many episodes.