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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

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Poem: “Homespun Love” by Alicia Partnoy
» download the poem in English (mp3, 0:49)

Poet Alicia Partnoy

» download the poem in Spanish (mp3, 0:40)
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

For next week’s program — tentatively titled “Laying the Dead to Rest: Meeting Forensic Anthropologist Mercedes Doretti” — we are weaving in the poetry of one of the people who disappeared during Argentina’s Dirty War, Alicia Partnoy. What’s even better, she graciously accepted our invitation to read four of her poems, in English and in Spanish.

Here is the first set of poems I could bounce and encode for you to hear before we air the program. I’ll be putting up the other ones in the coming days. Please note that what you’ll hear above will be markedly different from the versions included in the program. These are the poems as she recorded them — a straightforward, passionate reading.

But, when we produce them for the program, we take a different approach. We want to immerse you in the moment, give you space to reflect and breathe in the words of the poem as well as the import of Doretti’s experiences. Mitch might give an extra second at the end of a line of verse, volume graph certain words or lines, or bed the poems with music.

If you’d like, I’d be glad to post those more highly produced versions in addition to the ones I’m posting today and through the weekend. Let me know what you think. Personally, I still marvel at the difference — for the better or the worse sometimes. I can’t wait to hear them in the context of the final show.

In the meantime, I hope you’re as moved as I am by these lovely points of light and darkness.

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A Poem for Hard Times

Larissa Anderson, Poetry Producer

Poet James WrightIn a recent post including my conversation with poet Katie Ford for our Repossessing Virtue series, Ford talked about how in these hard economic times she finds comfort in literature, and more specifically, in the poetry of James Wright. During our talk, she mentioned a poem he had written, and the title was so compelling, I just had to dig around to find it.

"In Terror of Hospital Bills"

I still have some money
To eat with, alone
And frightened, knowing how soon
I will waken a poor man.
It snows freely and freely hardens
On the lawns of my hope, my secret
Hounded and flayed. I wonder
What words to beg money with.
Pardon me, sir, could you?
Which way is St. Paul?
I thirst.
I am a full-blooded Sioux Indian.
Soon I am sure to become so hungry
I will have to leap barefoot through gas-fire veils of shame,
I will have to stalk timid strangers
On the whorsehouse corners.
Oh moon, sow leaves on my hands,
On my seared face, oh I love you.
My throat is open, insane,
Tempting pneumonia.
But my life was never so precious
To me as now.
I will have to beg coins
After dark.
I will learn to scent the police,
And sit or go blind, stay mute, be taken for dead
For your sake, oh my secret,
My life.

Copyright 1971 by James Wright. Reprinted from “Collected Poems” with permission from Wesleyan University Press.

I’m struck by the lines, “It snows freely and freely hardens / On the lawns of my hope,” and how the speaker wonders “what words to beg money with” when hospital bills finally bring him to poverty. Yet later, the speaker says “But my life was never so precious / To me as now.”

It’s a sentiment I feel I’m hearing often in these Repossessing Virtue conversations and in listener comments — that despite the fear and anxiety of this time, this economic collapse has offered us an opportunity to reexamine and refocus our energy on what we really value.

We’d love to hear what you think of this poem, or what other poems and/or poets are you turning to lately. One listener said he’s been reading a lot of Mary Oliver and John O’Donohue this past year. What other poets are offering you comfort or insight during these economic times?

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Elizabeth Alexander and Stephen Colbert
Kate Moos, Managing Producer

I loved the inaugural poem Elizabeth Alexander read earlier this week — with its quiet, understated beginning, and how it wound up to this:

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need
. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Still, I was a tad surprised to find her on The Colbert Report last night, where she showed she can hold her own with the master satirist, who’s inquiry into the nature of metaphor, by the way, becomes just slightly infected by double entendre that might offend some sensibilities.

The inaugural poem itself is going to be issued as a chapbook by her publisher Graywolf Press — a marvelous literary publisher located in, of all places, St. Paul, Minnesota where we work.

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A Toddler’s Capacity to Forgive

Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer

This past weekend, I kept mulling over the content of our recent show, "Getting Revenge and Forgiveness" — especially what Michael McCullough said about how easily parents forgive their children.

I forgive my seven-year-old son every day. … Because he’s an active, inquisitive seven-year-old who sometimes accidentally elbows me in the mouth when we’re cuddling and sometimes puts Crayons on the walls. And yet it seems demeaning to call it forgiveness. … It’s just what you do with your children. You know, you accept their limitations and you move on.

As a father of two toddlers, the thing that amazes me is not how easily parents forgive their children, but how easily children forgive their parents. Every parent I know has had moments of utter exasperation and impatience with their kids that they later regretted. But when our children are little, they have an extraordinary capacity to forgive our mistakes. Krista once wrote about a Hebrew proverb that says “just before a child is born, the angel Gabriel tells her everything — all the secrets of God and the universe. Then he kisses her on the forehead, and she begins to forget it all.” So it seems that, though our children will forget it by adolescence, they are apparently born knowing the secret of forgiveness.

The poet Robyn Sarah sums it up perfectly for me in her poem Nursery, 11:00 p.m. The speaker of the poem describes coming to the end of a day when she’s been a terrible parent, wishing she could apologize for how she behaved, standing over her children as they sleep in their cribs.  She likens the forgiving sound of their breathing to a shawl being knitted in the darkness.

How warm it is, I think,
how much softer
than my deserving.

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A Poet of Love & Hate & Forgiveness & Revenge
by Kate Moos, managing producer
Marie Howe’s new book, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, is an amazing addition to our vocabulary of love and hate, forgiveness and revenge. As the poet Tom Sleigh says, “Her language is always deeply rooted in the social world, and it never turns away from the most difficult moral problems.” In this book, her poems about the war within us between light and shadow, vision and violence, are sometimes terrifying, often funny, and always illuminating.

After the Movie
My friend Michael and I are walking home arguing about the movie. He says that he believes a person can love someone and still be able to murder that person.
I say, No, that’s not love. That’s attachment. Michael says, No, that’s love. You can love someone, then come to a day
when you’re forced to think “it’s him or me” think “me” and kill him.
I say, Then it’s not love anymore. Michael says, It was love up to then though.
I say, Maybe we mean different things by the same word. Michael says, Humans are complicated: love can exist even in the murderous heart.
I say that what he might mean by love is desire. Love is not a feeling, I say. And Michael says, Then what is it?
We’re walking along West 16th Street—a clear unclouded night—and I hear  my voice repeating what I used to say to my husband: Love is action, I used to say to  him.
Simone Weil says that when you really love you are able to look at someone  you want to eat and not eat them.
Janis Joplin says, take another little piece of my heart now baby.
Meister Eckhart says that as long as we love any image we are doomed to live  in purgatory.
Michael and I stand on the corner of 6th Avenue saying goodnight. I can’t drink enough of the tangerine spritzer I’ve just bought—
again and again I bring the cold can to my mouth and suck the stuff from the hole the flip top made.
What are you doing tomorrow? Michael says. But what I think he’s saying is “You are too strict. You are a nun.”
Then I think, Do I love Michael enough to allow him to think these things of  me even if he’s not thinking them?
Above Manhattan, the moon wanes, and the sky turns clearer and colder. Although the days, after the solstice, have started to lengthen,
we both know the winter has only begun.

Our program "Getting Revenge and Forgiveness" is available here at speakingoffaith.org beginning Thursday, November 6th. Share your stories.
(Poem reprinted with permission of the author.)

A Poet of Love & Hate & Forgiveness & Revenge

by Kate Moos, managing producer

Marie Howe’s new book, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, is an amazing addition to our vocabulary of love and hate, forgiveness and revenge. As the poet Tom Sleigh says, “Her language is always deeply rooted in the social world, and it never turns away from the most difficult moral problems.” In this book, her poems about the war within us between light and shadow, vision and violence, are sometimes terrifying, often funny, and always illuminating.

After the Movie

My friend Michael and I are walking home arguing about the movie.
He says that he believes a person can love someone
and still be able to murder that person.

I say, No, that’s not love. That’s attachment.
Michael says, No, that’s love. You can love someone, then come to a day

when you’re forced to think “it’s him or me”
think “me” and kill him.

I say, Then it’s not love anymore.
Michael says, It was love up to then though.

I say, Maybe we mean different things by the same word.
Michael says, Humans are complicated: love can exist even in the murderous
heart.

I say that what he might mean by love is desire.
Love is not a feeling, I say. And Michael says, Then what is it?

We’re walking along West 16th Street—a clear unclouded night—and I hear
my voice
repeating what I used to say to my husband: Love is action, I used to say to
him.

Simone Weil says that when you really love you are able to look at someone
you want to eat and not eat them.

Janis Joplin says, take another little piece of my heart now baby.

Meister Eckhart says that as long as we love any image we are doomed to live
in purgatory.

Michael and I stand on the corner of 6th Avenue saying goodnight.
I can’t drink enough of the tangerine spritzer I’ve just bought—

again and again I bring the cold can to my mouth and suck the stuff from
the hole the flip top made.

What are you doing tomorrow? Michael says.
But what I think he’s saying is “You are too strict. You are a nun.”

Then I think, Do I love Michael enough to allow him to think these things of
me even if he’s not thinking them?

Above Manhattan, the moon wanes, and the sky turns clearer and colder.
Although the days, after the solstice, have started to lengthen,

we both know the winter has only begun.

Our program "Getting Revenge and Forgiveness" is available here at speakingoffaith.org beginning Thursday, November 6thShare your stories.

(Poem reprinted with permission of the author.)

Comments

John O’Donohue’s Landscape

John O'Donohue in Ireland
Colleen Scheck, Producer

One of the exciting aspects of my job as a producer is the opportunities our web site opens up for multimedia content. As soon as we started producing this week’s program, I wanted our audience to be able to see the Irish landscape John O’Donohue described in his conversation with Krista. I desperately wanted to see it. I’m of Irish ancestry (75%!, I’d proudly tell people on St. Patrick’s Day as a kid, dressed in my Kelly green shirt with a “Kiss me, I’m Irish” button), and someday I hope to make it to that emerald isle.

When I asked John O’Donohue’s business manager, Linda, if she had any photos of John in Ireland, she graciously offered to put out a request to friends and family. Within days I’d received over a dozen photos of both the Connemara region where John most recently lived, and some of Fanore, a town in County Clare where John attended elementary school, and where he is now buried. Will O’Leary, a veteran Washington Post staff photographer and close friend of John’s, shared some of his photos. His wife, NPR reporter Jacki Lyden, was also a close friend of John’s (she recently offered a remembrance of him on NPR’s All Things Considered). Another longtime friend and professional photographer, Nutan, shared photos he took of John in 2005.

In producing the audio slideshow, I was struck with how well the photos illustrated O’Donohue’s language in his poem “Beannacht” — a word I’ve heard translated as both “blessing” and “passage.” It’s about finding comfort in loss, and I consciously tried to match the photos to the poem’s tone, mood, and pace. I learned that John wrote this poem for his mother, Josie, at the time of his father’s death. According to Linda, his father “…was a farmer and a gifted builder of dry stone walls — a dying art still much revered — from whom, John’s brother Pat said at his funeral, John learned the art of fitting words delicately and fittingly together.”

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Poems of a Late Wandering Irishman

Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

One thing we know about our fan base — they (you?) love words, especially poesy. The response to Tess Gallagher’s poem about her time with Thich Nhat Hanh made that clear.

So, in one of Krista’s limited face-to-face interviews (see Shiraz’s post about what a more typical interview looks like), she was regaled by the lilting tongue and picturesque poetry of the late Irish poet John O’Donohue in September. Mr. O’Donohue passed away earlier this year, but his verse lives on.

John O'Donohue
Colleen crafted a lovely audio slideshow (keep your eye out for her post) of O’Donohue’s recitation of “Beannacht” threaded with phototgraphs of scenic Celtic landscapes taken by several of his dear friends. And, since many of O’Donohue’s recitations won’t make it into the final, produced program, I wanted to offer them up here for download — or, if you prefer a more expedient and organized approach, through our podcast.

All of them are mp3s you can download. Just right-click your mouse and select save as:

A Blessing for a Friend on the Arrival of Illness
A Blessing for One Who Holds Power
Beannacht
For the Pilgrim a Kiss: The Caha River
For the Pilgrim a Kiss: Between Things
For the Pilgrim a Kiss: Body Language
Since You Came
The Nativity

And, my apologies for all the parenthetical comments. Yowza!

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Thoughts on Retreat

Krista Tippett, Host/Producer

St. John's bell tower designed by Marcel BreuerI traveled this past weekend to the Guest House of St. John’s Abbey in central Minnesota. I’m about to head off on some travel for my book tour — part of me looks forward to this, part of me does not. It will be exciting and exhausting, and I have a speech to write. But really all that was an excuse to get back up to St. John’s, a place I visit periodically to get quiet inside. I did get a bit done on the speech, but more important than that I slept and read, prayed with the monks, and collected my thoughts.

Before I left Kate handed me a tiny book of poems by Freya Manfred. I’m nourished and kept alive by reading, and always have been. I came upon a couple of lines from Manfred that I’ll keep. The first is just half a line that puts fresh words to an underlying energy and tension of life that fascinates me — the concomitant separation and twining of what is personal and what is communal. Manfred refers to this as “our braided paths and solitary ways.”

Light wall at St. John's Abbey Guesthouse designed by VJAAI like this language. She also has a poem about fear, which I think about alot as a factor in our common life, religious and otherwise. Fear is the very human very powerful emotion that lashes out as anger, hatred, bigotry, violence. I try to hang on to this knowledge — difficult as it is in the face of real anger, hatred, bigotry, and violence — as a way to cultivate compassion as a primary virtue for moving through the world. Freya Manfred adds some poetic images to my cumulative store of intelligence:

Fear is a thirst for solid ground,
a cave and a fire,
with a way in, and a way out.

Fear is not always old,
but it’s always new.
When old, it can be ignored,

like the midnight keening in the houses of the sane.
When new, it’s nameless
something about to happen —

not death,
but all I can imagine.
Fear leaves and returns.

There are no words to keep it away.
If only there were words.

And yet, and yet — I persist in my faith that if we can at least name something — even the powerlessness of words in the face of the fearfulness in our world, we can begin to discern other ways together to approach and calm it.

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