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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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Sarah Kay Performs “Hiroshima” on Nantucket

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Sarah Kay at The Nantucket ProjectSarah Kay’s poem “Hiroshima” ends this week’s show. How we even knew that this audio existed came about as a result of a serendipitous invitation to The Nantucket Project.

Last fall, our host Krista Tippett attended the inaugural gathering of entrepreneurs, journalists, scientists, and artists who came together “to consider big ideas and the varying arc of those ideas as they shift from inception to action.” One of the other attendees was Ms. Kay.

As we were producing this show, Krista remembered her inspiring performance of the poem. Alas, it was nowhere to be found online, so she reached out to the project’s founder, Tom Scott, and received this fine recording. We did a bit of EQ’ing and compression and, voila!, we had our ending.

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Enhancing YouTube Audio of Sarah Kay’s “Tshotsholoza” for Public Radio

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Making quality public radio and illustrating a guest’s point can be a tricky. Take, for instance, the poem going into the midpoint break of our interview with Sarah Kay. The clip is excerpted from Ms. Kay’s June 2010 performance of “Tshotsholoza” at the Acumen Fund’s *spark! event in New York City.

What we hoped for was a broadcast-quality recording. Unfortunately, the Acumen Fund only had a YouTube video of it. The audio is good but not great, but the strength of the content took precedent over the quality of the audio. So, our technical director stripped the audio from the video, imported it into ProTools, added some broadband noise reduction to minimize the buzz and hum, and then used audio compression to aid in some of the dynamic range.

First take a listen to the audio above. Then listen to the video below (with your eyes closed) and see if you can notice the difference.

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Sarah Kay Performs “B” at the Bowery

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

We hijacked the audio from this performance of “B” for this week’s podcast featuring our interview with spoken word poet Sarah Kay. Note: the very first words of the poem, “If I should have a daughter” are missing (and it contains an expletive).

Krista preferred the intimacy and relaxed style of this presentation at the Bowery Poetry Club in 2008 over her performance at TED2011:

What’s your take?

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Nurture Wherever It Is Cold, Nurture Wherever It Is Dark

by Preeti Kaur, guest contributor

Preeti Kaur, Her Mother, and Brothers and SistersPreeti Kaur, her mother, her brothers (one wearing a patka) and sister.

In the Sikh faith, the role of the nurturer is one, among many, of the celebrated roles of all Sikhs, regardless of gender. My own father often reminisces to me of how his mother would nurture his growth and curiosity by imparting Sikh teachings to him while he was growing up in Dharamsala, India as a post-Partition refugee family. Everyday when he returned from school, his mother recited the Janam Saakhis, a collection of “birth stories” based on the life and lessons of the first Sikh guru, Nanak Dev Ji. He remembers this nurturing time as his favorite time of the day.

I recently saw a video of Harneel Singh, an extraordinarily eloquent young American man, describing his painful experience growing up as a Sikh boy wearing a patka (a Sikh mini-turban) in school, where he was often taunted and bullied. He speaks very freely that his experience is something familiar to many young people.

The patka is worn by children in preparation for wearing a full turban as a grown Sikh. Many young Sikh boys wear patkas throughout the world, including in America, where Sikhs have lived for over one hundred years. As adults, many Sikh men (and some Sikh women) wear a full turban, or dastaar, as a display of their commitment to accepting their body as it has grown and to distinguish themselves as physically committed to a path of justice. The global political climate of recent years, where turbans are inaccurately portrayed as the garb of global terror, has increased suspicion and violence against turban-wearing Sikhs especially in the form of hate crimes, down to the youngest members of our society in the form of school bullying.

Harneel Singh shares the tender points of his story because he has been nurtured to a point of strength — perhaps through his mother or father, or perhaps through his friends, or the adults in his life, or perhaps even by nurturing his own self, giving birth to a reflective young man.

The following poem, written for the young men who wear turbans in my life, is to honor all steps in the process of nurturing. This includes the process of negative experiences entering our lives — where it is cold, where it is dark — which provide us an opportunity to nurture others and ourselves.

where ever it is dark

after school i tell my mummy
i don’t want to go back tomorrow
she asks me why

i tell her today in the playground
kids push me punch me kick me
shout POTATO HEAD! RAG HEAD! ALLADIN! OSAMA BIN LADIN!
everything i am not

i throw fists back call them ugly
things too i imagine the bullies
as yellow toothed neon green eyed gorillas
like the ones in my closet at night

my cheeks burn my heart thumps
i am MAD i didn’t start this! i am just one
no one listens when i yell STOP IT! LEAVE ME ALONE!
i want to hide in a tent made of my sky blue bed sheets
i wish for a galactic force field
but no hands shield my head
when the bullies rip my
patka off my head

there is no superman
on this playground not even pretend
not sammy who i swing with
everyday on the monkey-bars
or alberto who swaps strawberry jelly sandwiches
with me in the cafeteria
not jenny who i tell knock-knock jokes with on the bus
not even the adults who patrol the playground
with whistles and detention slips to the principal’s office
so everyone might follow the rules

after bloody noses bruises scratches
after we are trees pulled out of the ground
a pile of mud surrounding us
our teacher mrs. jones sits us down
why did you punch back she asks
the teacher pulls me out of the ground some more

inside i am not a tree
inside i am a match
like the ones my daddy warns me not to play with
an orange blue fire on a stick of arms and legs
which grows short in two seconds
burning my insides too fast

i go home and cry and cry
i tell my mummy everything
mummy wraps her arms around my shoulders tells
me she loves me with her eyes
she unwraps my joora lets loose
my long hair runs her fingers through

mummy whispers your hair
is the night sky your hair
is the universe she combs
my kes with a kanga
twists my hair firm on top of my head
a galaxy you carry high mummy says
she takes the square patka
angles the cloth like a diamond
sets the patka on my scalp
ties it tight

mummy tells me this patka crowns you
one day you will wear a turban
cloth as long as the seven oceans
the full span of the earth
will rest on your head

be brave young prince
like Sahibzaadas Zorawar Singh Fateh Singh

when bullies big as kings
threaten them for carrying the universe on their heads
when bullies locked them
three nights in the cold in the dark
they raised their chins high no tears
they turned their fists to hearts
practiced the ways of the lion prince
with questions and conversation

mummy kisses
my cheeks i kiss her back

i tell her i will go back
to school tomorrow i will be
a shooting star prince
bright and brave
where ever it is cold
where ever it is dark

This Mother’s Day, I celebrate my own mother and I celebrate the nurturing spirit which we can each inculcate by sharing the stories of our lives, our own janam sakhis, our own birth stories.


Preeti KaurPreeti Kaur is an American of the Sikh faith living in San Joaquin Valley, California. You can read more of her poetry at The World I Stitch.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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What Unity and Fracture Looks Like, In a Poem

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

"Who we are and how much we split ourselves apart," says Jon Kabat-Zinn, often cannot be explained in a cognitive way. Rather than offer ”some definitive prose statement which is bound to be inadequate and incomplete,” the scientist and mindfulness guru offers (in the audio above and text below) the Nobel laureate Derek Walcott’s poem as a way of communicating his point about unity and fracture:

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

"Love after Love" from COLLECTED POEMS 1948-1984 by Derek Walcott. Copyright © 1986 by Derek Walcott. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

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Out of Silence, A Poem: Christian Wiman Reads “Every Riven Thing”

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Project 365 #141: 210510 ¡Hay Niebla!Photo by Pete/Flickr, cc by 2.0

Christian Wiman went almost three years, he says, without writing a poem. For most of us, this may seem inconsequential. For the editor of Poetry magazine and a man who has lived a poet’s life, this is a dramatic act — a shift in perspective brought on by an incurable cancer, hospitalization and surgeries and a bone marrow transplant.

Then, as a series of “dramatic things” happened to him, he broke his years of silence on the page with this poem revolving around “a kind of an Old Testament word meaning broken, sundered, torn apart.” The word? Riven.

In the audio at the top of this article, Christian Wiman explains a bit more about the poem and its shape. And, more importantly, he recites this powerful poem for all of us to hear and to share with others:

God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made 
sing his being simply by being 
the thing it is: 
stone and tree and sky, 
man who sees and sings and wonders why

God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he’s made, 
means a storm of peace. 
Think of the atoms inside the stone. 
Think of the man who sits alone 
trying to will himself into a stillness where

God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made 
there is given one shade 
shaped exactly to the thing itself: 
under the tree a darker tree; 
under the man the only man to see

God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made 
the things that bring him near, 
made the mind that makes him go. 
A part of what man knows, 
apart from what man knows,

God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.

To hear more of Christian Wiman and his perspectives on poetry, writing, love, and death, listen to the On Being show “Remembering God.” It’s a powerful hour of radio.

"Every Riven Thing is from the book "Every Riven Thing" by Christian Wiman. Copyright © 2010 by Christian Wiman. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

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A Better Title for Our Show with Poet Christian Wiman?

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

It took several months, but I was finally able to make the case that Christian Wiman was a voice we needed to put on the air after seeing the strong response to his conversation with Bill Moyers on PBS. He was good; he also seemed nervous, and I wondered if that didn’t have to do with being on television being asked questions by one of America’s best interviewers.

And that’s where the beauty of radio comes in. Rather than setting up a face-to-face interview, we set up an ISDN line — an extremely high-quality telephone line that captures the intimate aspects of a person’s voice — with Krista in a studio in St. Paul, Minnesota and Wiman in a studio in Chicago, Illinois. Methinks you’ll hear a somewhat different Christian Wiman that will add to the sum of your life.

That said, I’m not too wild about the title of this show though: "Remembering God." It doesn’t do the interview justice or capture what’s relatable for many listeners out there: being raised in a faith rooted in family and culture, losing that devotion and belief in a greater Being, and returning to some type of belief that perhaps is more mature but less intense.

If you get a chance, take a listen and tell me what you might have titled it. There’s no doubt we will rebroadcast this show, and I’d be more than glad to shepherd your suggestions so we can make way for a better title!

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From Outside Faith and Within, Being Religious Is Being Transformed

by Krista Tippett, host

Recently I spoke to a class of college students — by way of Skype — in southern Minnesota. We talked about how religion is portrayed through news media. As often in my experience, this was a critical discussion about the narrow and often inflammatory way religion comes up, and usually in the context of politics.

Krista Tippett, host of Being

I asked them if they felt at all represented in media portrayals, or how they might. One young man in the back of the classroom said, “I don’t think there is any real expression of what it means to be religious now. It’s different.”

He’s right. I think about this all the time. There has been a dramatic break with ways of being spiritual and religious that held, in the West, for many generations.

Before I created this radio show, I spent two years interviewing people across the Christian Church — from Armenian Orthodox to Nazarene Holiness — who had in some way been involved in the ecumenical movement that surged after World War II and through the 1960s. Sitting with them, probing their memories, I relived the absolute shock and thrill of first encounters between Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. This felt unprecedented, impossible, and utterly liberating. It’s not just that faith looked new; the whole world looked full of possibility and kinship that had not been there before.

Rigid, rule-bound ways of being religious — of being identified not merely by the same denomination but perhaps the very same church or synagogue your parents and grandparents attended before you — have transformed in a handful of generations.

Strong religious identities survive and thrive. But more than ever before, even in their most conservative iterations, they are chosen. And alongside them is a world of flux and questioning — a new phenomenon of people who have been raised with more questions than answers, more choices than givens. They are not abandoning religion, though, or revealing it as something primitive that modernity has outgrown (as intellectuals since the Enlightenment have predicted they would). They are rediscovering and reinventing it.

Christian Wiman Reading from His Book on Bill Moyers Show

I did not realize, before I spoke with Christian Wiman, how provocatively and profoundly he has become a poetic witness and voice for this change. He grew up in a West Texas world soaked in a particular charismatic Christianity. When he left that world behind, its religious core ceased to make sense.

For many people who were never religious or who leave the religion of their childhoods behind, it’s the experience of having children of their own that brings an urgency to the question of what they believe. For Christian Wiman, it was the experience of love — of falling deeply in love with the woman who would become his wife. Because he is a poet, perhaps, he became wonderfully articulate about the power of love to make life more vivid, to make us reach for the best in ourselves, to feel we have touched transcendence and to want to rise to that experience. And then, hard on the heels of that, he was diagnosed with a mysterious blood cancer that could kill him in 30 days or 30 years.

Christian Wiman believes that a whole new religious language is being created. It will include traditional religious insights and language, but will also reach beyond them — or better approximate the animating essence of them. He even imagines “that God calls some people to unbelief in order that faith can take new forms.”

From outside faith and within it, Christian Wiman has pondered this question: “How does one remember God, reach for God, realize God in the midst of one’s life if one is constantly being overwhelmed by that life?” You don’t need to be diagnosed with cancer these days to share in that question.

This conversation, "Remembering God," about what he has learned about faith, and how he is living his questions, is rich with humility, challenge, and an infectious courage.

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Bill Moyers Interview with Christian Wiman on Poetry, Love, Faith, and Cancer

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

For several months, we’d been batting around the idea of interviewing Christian Wiman. We knew of his poetry and had read Every Riven Thing, his latest book of poems. And I was incredibly interested in his successful approach to reviving Poetry magazine as its editor.

But, it wasn’t until I was watching Bill Moyers’ interview with Wiman one Friday night though — and the ensuing response online — that I pushed him to the top of our list. Gratefully, he accepted our invitation and our host Krista Tippett took him even deeper into his ideas about religion and God, death and the ineptitude of poetic language romanticizing it, and how poetry can become a “false idol.”

We’ll release our show with Christian Wiman, "Remembering God," on this Thursday, April 12th — first on podcast and then on public radio stations throughout the week. Until then, watch this marvelous interview.

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"Entering the forest without moving the grass; Entering the water without raising a ripple.” —Alan Watts, from Tao: The Watercourse Way
Photo by Frank Wuestefeld
(h/t to Elsan Zimmerly)
"Entering the forest without moving the grass; Entering the water without raising a ripple.” —Alan Watts, from Tao: The Watercourse Way
Photo by Frank Wuestefeld
(h/t to Elsan Zimmerly)

"Entering the forest without moving the grass;
Entering the water without raising a ripple.”
Alan Watts, from Tao: The Watercourse Way

Photo by Frank Wuestefeld

(h/t to Elsan Zimmerly)

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Sylvia Boorstein Reads Neruda’s “Keeping Quiet”

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps the huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of frightening ourselves with death.

During our show this week, Krista Tippett asked Sylvia Boorstein to read the Pablo Neruda poem she always carries with her. Quite a few listeners have asked where they can hear "Keeping Quiet" again, so here she is reciting the poem in front of a live audience in suburban Detroit.

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"The thing I came for:the wreck and not the story of the wreckthe thing itself and not the myth.”
—Adrienne Rich (May 16, 1929–March 27, 2012), poet and feminist icon, from her poem "Diving into the Wreck.".
Photo by ChrisDag (distributed with instagram)
"The thing I came for:the wreck and not the story of the wreckthe thing itself and not the myth.”
—Adrienne Rich (May 16, 1929–March 27, 2012), poet and feminist icon, from her poem "Diving into the Wreck.".
Photo by ChrisDag (distributed with instagram)

"The thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth.”

Adrienne Rich (May 16, 1929–March 27, 2012), poet and feminist icon, from her poem "Diving into the Wreck.".

Photo by ChrisDag (distributed with instagram)

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Adrienne Rich Walks Through Life’s Door
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Adrienne Rich died yesterday at the age of 82. The pioneering feminist and poet has surfaced in many of our radio conversations over the years. Elizabeth Alexander cited Rich’s poem telling us that a poet needs to follow her intuition fully by "diving into the wreck."
But, it is this simple, poignant poem in which she reflects upon the Exodus story that has always stuck with me. Somehow, with the upcoming Passover season and her passing through life’s door, I find it most appropriate on this solemn occasion to share with you here and remember one of our greatest:

Prospective Immigrants Please Note
Either you will go through this door or you will not go through. If you go through there is always the risk of remembering your name. Things look at you doubly and you must look back and let them happen. If you do not go through it is possible to live worthily to maintain your attitudes to hold your position to die bravely but much will blind you, much will evade you, at what cost who knows? The door itself makes no promises. It is only a door.
Adrienne Rich Walks Through Life’s Door
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Adrienne Rich died yesterday at the age of 82. The pioneering feminist and poet has surfaced in many of our radio conversations over the years. Elizabeth Alexander cited Rich’s poem telling us that a poet needs to follow her intuition fully by "diving into the wreck."
But, it is this simple, poignant poem in which she reflects upon the Exodus story that has always stuck with me. Somehow, with the upcoming Passover season and her passing through life’s door, I find it most appropriate on this solemn occasion to share with you here and remember one of our greatest:

Prospective Immigrants Please Note
Either you will go through this door or you will not go through. If you go through there is always the risk of remembering your name. Things look at you doubly and you must look back and let them happen. If you do not go through it is possible to live worthily to maintain your attitudes to hold your position to die bravely but much will blind you, much will evade you, at what cost who knows? The door itself makes no promises. It is only a door.

Adrienne Rich Walks Through Life’s Door

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Adrienne Rich died yesterday at the age of 82. The pioneering feminist and poet has surfaced in many of our radio conversations over the years. Elizabeth Alexander cited Rich’s poem telling us that a poet needs to follow her intuition fully by "diving into the wreck."

But, it is this simple, poignant poem in which she reflects upon the Exodus story that has always stuck with me. Somehow, with the upcoming Passover season and her passing through life’s door, I find it most appropriate on this solemn occasion to share with you here and remember one of our greatest:

Prospective Immigrants Please Note

Either you will 
go through this door 
or you will not go through. 

If you go through 
there is always the risk 
of remembering your name. 

Things look at you doubly 
and you must look back 
and let them happen. 

If you do not go through 
it is possible 
to live worthily 

to maintain your attitudes 
to hold your position 
to die bravely 

but much will blind you, 
much will evade you, 
at what cost who knows? 

The door itself makes no promises. 
It is only a door.

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Christian Wiman: A Twitterscript

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Rumi: A Perfect Voice for the Spiritual Longing and Energy of Our Time

by Krista Tippett, host

Whirling DervishPhoto by Meir Jacob/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0

There is no formula for our shows, no template. Each begins with the raw material of a conversation, and we shape its pace and sound and elements around that. I think great radio emerges when the whole feel of the experience seems at one with the words being spoken, taking the listener more deeply into the passion and intent of the voice being heard. Creating our show around the life and words of Rumi has felt a little like having magic to work with.

I take away many gems of idea and image from my conversation with one of Rumi’s delightful 21st-century interpreters and successors, Fatemeh Keshavarz. Rumi saw human life and love as the closest we come to tasting and touching transcendence, and he approached all experience with his whole mind, heart, and body.

Fatemeh Keshavarz describes Rumi’s “whirling” around a column as he recited poetry — a habit that inspired the Whirling Dervishes of the Mevlevi Sufi Order — as a way to “stay centered while moving.” He believed that, as searching and restlessness propel us to keep learning, plowing the ground beneath our feet, they are themselves a form of arrival. In Rumi’s way of seeing life, perplexity is a blessed state, sometimes a necessary state. This idea has special resonance, perhaps, in the 21st century when so many basic definitions and institutions of previous generations seem to be up for grabs.

But Rumi’s recent “discovery” in the West also holds no little irony. I found this best expressed in my research by a British journalist, William Dalrymple:

"It seems almost unbelievable in the world of 9/11, Bin Laden and the Clash of Civilizations, but the best-selling poet in the U.S. in the 1990s was not Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, nor Shakespeare or Dante. … Instead, remarkably it was a classically trained Muslim cleric who taught Sharia law in a madrasa in what is now Turkey."

Yet as Rumi has been translated and popularized in the modern West, the religious sensibility behind his beautiful, best-selling words has often been lost.

Fatemeh Keshavarz is adamant on this point: Rumi was steeped in Islam. He represents and speaks to “an adventurous and cosmopolitan Islam.” The generous, cross-cultural appeal of his words reflects ideas at the core of Islam that are muted by the extremists and headlines of our time. To the extent that Rumi would deny or subvert those, he does so through his grounding in Islamic tradition, and his profound love for it.

Fatemeh Keshavarz, who was born in Iran — the center of the vast civilization that spawned Rumi and where he remains to this day a household name — takes special solace in Rumi’s insistence that we can create worlds and possibilities by way of language itself.

Where that part of the world is now concerned, Fatemeh Keshavarz says, U.S. political culture has adopted a language of fear. Rumi champions and models a language of hope. This is not tepid and naive but full-blooded view of human reality, fully aware of the double-edged sword of the passions and pulls of real human experience. In this, Rumi speaks to those of us on both sides of a real or imagined “clash of civilizations.”

As we conclude this show, I hear Rumi as a perfect voice for the spiritual longing and energy of our time. With his vigorous and challenging language of the heart, he reminds us that we need poetry as much as we need science, alongside our politics and within our diplomacy. We need passionate searching words, not just logical decisive words, to tell the whole truth about what it means to be human, and about the past, present, and future of our world.

Here is one passage of many I’ve seen quoted of Rumi, which I’ll now hear with new layers of relevance:

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

~

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.
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