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17 minutes | Jul 30, 2021
Caitlin Seida, "Hope Is Not A Bird, Emily, It's A Sewer Rat"
It takes a brave writer to lead the charge against Emily Dickinson. Especially in my books! You know how much I love Dickinson. But I may love Caitlin Seida's riff off a famous Dickinson poem just as much.This poem became something of my mantra when I was recently in Texas for a month, helping my dad die. I had no idea I'd do what I did. I didn't even know he was that sick. He went over a cliff and took me with him. I used lines from this poem over and over again to help me get up off the couch and go give him his next round of pain or nausea meds.I hope you'll find the audacity in this poem as compelling as I do. And I hope you'll understand that hope lasts, like a sewer rat. It survives in the worst places. Because that's the very nature of hope.
18 minutes | Jun 18, 2021
Donna Hilbert, "Rosemary"
Here's a poem that's deceptively small. It's actually a sonnet, broken into an octet and a sestet. And it does what sonnets do best: it turns the world strange.Join me, Mark Scarbrough, as I explore Donna Hilbert's short poem "Rosemary" on this episode of the podcast Lyric Life. We'll look at the ways Hilbert encodes loss into imagery--and talk about the ways we can write more effectively about loss and love, following Hilbert's example.If you want to learn more about Donna Hilbert, check out her website, donnahilbert.com.
18 minutes | Jun 4, 2021
Ted Kooser, "The Old People"
Ted Kooser has been called part of the "Midwestern poetry revival" in the U.S., his poems plainsong truth-telling that somehow avoid the pitfalls (and pratfalls?) of academic poetry.But this poem, "The Old People," is definitely full of classical and poetic allusions. It also has a complicated structure. In other words, all that "plainsong" stuff is sitting over some very heady material.Join me, Mark Scarbrough, as I take a look at this poem from Kooser's Pulitzer Prize-winning collection, DELIGHTS & SHADOWS.
24 minutes | May 28, 2021
Emily Dickinson, Poem #256 ("The Robin's my Criterion for Tune")
I've just come off teaching Emily Dickinson's poetry in two-hour seminar segments over eight weeks--and her art has done to me what it always does to me: It's broken my brain.Join me, Mark Scarbrough, as I explore the poem on which I ended those eight weeks. It's a wildly understated statement, wry and winking, that truth might be derived ecologically, geographically, even horticulturally. What if the self is not what it is but mostly where it is? What if you're made up of where you're from, more than what you think? And not where you're front in terms of economics or education. Where you're from in terms of the flowers and birds you've lived with as a child (and maybe as an adult, too).
18 minutes | May 21, 2021
Tamara Madison, "What Now Is Like"
Join me, Mark Scarbrough, as I explore this poem from a working poet, Tamara Madison: "What Now Is Like."It's a gentle exploration of the experience of the "now," the only way it can be experienced, in metaphor--and together. It's a poem that becomes quantum, becomes its own "now," and offers us a way to stop time, the one thing "now" can never offer us.This is a great poem for the coming end of the pandemic. It's full of hope. Full of linguistic pyrotechnics. And full of now.If you want to know more about Madison's poetry, check out her website: tamaramadisonpoetry.com.
28 minutes | Apr 23, 2021
Camille T. Dungy, "Let Me"
Dungy's magnificent poem, "Let me," published just this month in The New Yorker (April, 2021) is a terrifying glimpse into the problem of living in the United States: everything's real and everything's a metaphor. And when you're in that spot, the house can only catch on fire.Join me, Mark Scarbrough, as I slow-walk through this terrific poem that seems so suited for this moment in U. S. history--and seems to explore the very thing so much of us can't comprehend: how can the dream and the reality, the metaphor and the story, exist at the same moment?The poem is based on a technique as old as Homer: ring structure. It's playing with time to ring the moments and deepen them. But it does more than I could ever do. I'm a writer of narrative. I can make sediments. It takes poets to turn them into granite.
18 minutes | Apr 16, 2021
Emily Dickinson, Poem #320 ("There's a certain Slant of Light")
If you know this podcast, you know how much I love the poetry of Emily Dickinson. No, more than love. How much in awe of it I am. I'm in the middle of teaching eight two-hour sessions on her poems--and they're doing to me what they always do: they break my brain.How did anyone write like this in the nineteenth century?This poem is one I just finished teaching in a larger set of poems about her relationship with Romanticism and nature. It's an oft-anthologized poem but one that gets at the core of some of what her art does."There's a certain slant of light" takes all our expectations of nature poetry, Christian imagery, and personal insight and turns them all on their head. Or worse, on our head, forcing us to realize that revelation is not all it's cracked up to be.
12 minutes | Apr 2, 2021
Galway Kinnell, "Prayer"
Here's a very short poem by one of my favorite poets, Galway Kinnell: "Prayer." Just three lines, no invocation, no "amen"--instead, an elliptical, lyrical strangeness that gets to the heart of being human, summed up in a form that's usually addressed to the deity.Join me, Mark Scarbrough, as I work out the ways this poem has hit me in recent weeks, the ways it's become a mantra in my mind as I go about my days. I'm not a religious person. It's all the prayer I could ever recite. But it's enough.
21 minutes | Mar 12, 2021
B. H. Fairchild, "The Men"
If you know this podcast, LYRIC LIFE, you know I love grit in all its poetic forms. This poem, by the well-known B. H. Fairchild, is a plainsong statement about grit--or more like, about the ambivalence of grit.How do you escape the world you're in? Is it important to shine a light on it? And what sort of light? Sunlight? Or manufactured light? Because for a poet, it's all manufactured light. And what if that's not enough.Join me, Mark Scarbrough, as I explore this gorgeously evocative, carefully constructed poem about shifting time, the pull of false hopes, and the truth about light. It can only get you so far.
19 minutes | Mar 5, 2021
Esteban Rodríguez, "9 El Barril"
Esteban Rodríguez' poem "9 El Barril" stopped me cold when I found it on Twitter a while back. It's an elegantly crafted poem that explores the divide between a young boy and his drunk father, out in the yard, burning everything in sight.The poem is caught on divides in every direction, exploring those gaps and silences through deceptively simple language that keeps moving in and out of poetic forms and rhythms.Join me, Mark Scarbrough, as I explore this lyric poem by a young poet in Austin, Texas. The poem catches me up short, decenters me as a white reader, and offers the truth about what happens when you see your father for who he really is.If you'd like to see more of Rodríguez' work, check out his latest collection of poetry here: https://sundress-publications.square.site/product/the-valley-by-esteban-rodriguez-pre-order-/145?cs=true&cst=customAnd for more gritty poetry (the stuff I love), check out pidgeonholes, where this poem was first published.
19 minutes | Feb 26, 2021
Grace Paley, "When I Was Asked How I Could Leave Vermont In The Middle Of October"
Grace Paley's evocative and elegiac lyric poem, "When I Was Asked how I Could Leave Vermont In The Middle Of October," is a haunting statement of the truth we in New England live: that we yearn for that gorgeous moment when the leaves are turning orange and red, when in reality death is pressing in, when we're reminded that the world will come back again next year for another go at this gawdy show while we will just be another year older.Join me, Mark Scarbrough, as I explore this spare, sly, witty poem that dares to answer the fundamental question: How come I have to endure so much beauty when my body is aging away from me?
22 minutes | Feb 19, 2021
Dayna Patterson, "Our Lady Of Snow Forts"
Winter is too often seen as a curse. It's certainly a curse in Texas while I'm recording this episode. But it's also thought a curse too often where I live in rural New England. But it doesn't have to be.How do you practice gratitude when you don't know what your grateful for? Or to whom?Join me, Mark Scarbrough, as I explore this gorgeous, evocative poem by Dayna Patterson about winter, a mother-to-mother poem, in which "thank you" is a repeated refrain to "our lady of snow forts," the one who makes winter possible.I found this poem in the magazine Literary Mama. Please check out the magazine here.
16 minutes | Feb 12, 2021
James Miller, "Song in Flood Time"
Imagistic poetry is tough. It doesn't have that storytelling structure which gives us easy access to its emotional space. But this poem, James Miller's "Song in Flood Time," is just not to be missed. It's modern, current, evocative.Join me, Mark Scarbrough, as I try to do it justice. I found this poem by accident--or almost. I found it in a tweet from SCOUNDREL TIME, an online journal, part of their "land and weather" series. I read it--and couldn't stop rereading it. So it's here in the podcast Lyric Life. I hope you find its emotional space as glorious as I do.
23 minutes | Feb 5, 2021
Mark Doty, "The Embrace"
In this time of Covid, and maybe in all times of human existence, we experience these great emotions of love and grief. And we have only one way to explain them: in storytelling. But there's a deep problem here: we can't experience them in the same way we try to explain them. We can't tell our way out of the fundamental emotions of the human experience.Join me, Mark Scarbrough, as I take an in-depth look at Mark Doty's gorgeous poem about grief and loss, "The Embrace." It's one of the most honest, heart-felt revelations about loss I've ever read on this podcast.
24 minutes | Jan 29, 2021
Emily Dickinson, Poem #428 ("We grow accustomed to the Dark")
This Emily Dickinson poem has been on my mind a lot lately--maybe because of the current political climate, maybe because of some personal things, maybe because things come to the mind when they do!This poem is about light and dark, of course. But it's more about living in the dark. What happens when there's no light? How do you go about your life?Dickinson has a few answers. Or maybe not answers. Maybe metaphors. She's the bravest I know. She gropes toward an answer, even in the dark. Join me, Mark Scarbrough, on this episode of LYRIC LIFE as I explore this gorgeous, troubling, and, well, true poem.
21 minutes | Jan 15, 2021
Nancy Cross Dunham, "What I'm Learning About Grief"
Nancy Cross Dunham's poem "What I'm Learning About Grief" was part of an NPR challenge to find poems that dealt with grief during the lockdowns of Covid. It's a quiet, devastating exploration of the ways out of grief: from cliché to something quite different, something that is redemptive, never forgetting that the "next night" is always just ahead.
14 minutes | Jan 1, 2021
John Haines, "The Snowbound City"
John Haines wrote some of the most gorgeous, "natural landscape" poetry in U. S. literary history. The heir of Frost and maybe even Whitman, he took on his Alaskan world and transformed it into something mythic.This small lyric poem is not about the "outback" where he made his life. Rather, it's about an urban world turned upside down by a giant snowfall--about the ways the natural world can still interrupt the civilized myth we all believe, about the ways that our precarious perch in our urban lives can give way under the weight of something as light as snow.Join me, Mark Scarbrough, for a reading and exploration of this provocative and evocative poem.
24 minutes | Dec 18, 2020
Pádraig Ó Tuama, "How To Be Alone"
Pádraig Ó Tuama's gorgeous meditation on being is a fit lyric poem for this year of Covid--or really, for any year, for any moment, when the human question is not what you do, nor even who you are, but simply how you go about being. Not the business of being. The rest of it. The silence of it. The peace of it. The best lyric poetry opens up a space for being. Join me, Mark Scarbrough, as I explore this quiet and comforting meditation by a contemporary Irish poet and truth-teller.
24 minutes | Dec 4, 2020
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, "Constantly Risking Absurdity"
Lawrence Ferlinghetti's strange, broken poem, "Constantly Risking Absurdity" risks all the absurdity imaginable: a poem published in 1958, that uses Old English poetics (think "Beowulf") to explain the way the creative act risks the death of "Beauty" in the "empty air of existence." It's a haunting tribute to what it takes to make something, to create something, to find yourself risking it all for beauty, whether at your computer, in the studio, in the gardens, or in the kitchen.
26 minutes | Nov 13, 2020
Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Hurrahing in Harvest"
Gerard Manley Hopkins' gorgeous sonnet "Hurrahing in Harvest" is a testament to the way language itself remakes the world--in Hopkins' case, infusing it with the stuff of divinity. Join me, Mark Scarbrough, on this episode of LYRIC LIFE in which I look over this beautiful piece of nineteenth-century poetry--and grant you permission to hoard as many books as you like.
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