10 Conversations with Poets

Highlights from 10 of Krista Tippett's interviews with poets

By Garrison Institute


In honor of National Poetry Month, we would like to share some of Krista Tippett’s On Being interviews with a few of our favorite poets. In her new book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Tippett writes, “The kind of conversation I spend my life in is, like poetry, a tribute to the human capacity to articulate truth at the edges of what words can touch.”

Here are highlights from 10 of Tippett’s conversations with poets:

Elizabeth Alexander
“What I try to explain is, even if I am drawing on personal experience, the truth of a poem is actually much deeper than whether or not something really happened. What matters is an undergirding truth that I think is the power of poetry.”

Nikki Giovanni
“Poets don’t have bestsellers. I’ve had a couple, but it’s been an accident, nobody knows why, but poetry is not on that level. So we’re always trying to just tell the truth as we understand it.”

Marie Howe
“Poetry holds what can’t be said. It can’t be paraphrased. It can’t be translated. The great poetry I love holds the mystery of being alive. It holds a kind of basket of words that feels inevitable.”

Sarah Kay
“I spend a lot of time talking about how young poets especially, but all poets really, sometimes get nervous about poetry. And they think that poetry has to be about love or a poem has to be about time or has to be about life or basically anything that was a name of a magazine at one point, or politics or something really big and abstract because poetry is supposed to be lofty and universal. The problem with that is that those are all topics that human beings have been trying to figure out since we first crawled out of the bogs. You shouldn’t have to tackle all of it in one poem.”

Fatemeh Keshavarz
“I grew up in a family in which people played chess, read poetry, or argued about poetry.”

Paul Muldoon
“I think one of the problems with the general perception of poetry is that we think it’s special. And if anything, I think we’d be better served if we thought it was much more like prose fiction. Much more like theater criticism or film criticism than occupying this kind of special realm, Poetryland, you know?”

John O’Donoghue
“And that’s the mystery of poetry — it tries to draw alongside the mystery as it’s emerging and somehow bring it into presence and into birth.”

Mary Oliver
“But I did find the entire world in looking for something. But I got saved by poetry. And I got saved by the beauty of the world.”

David Whyte
“I’ve often felt the deeper discipline of poetry is overhearing yourself say things you didn’t want to know about the world.”

Christian Wiman
“I think we often talk about poetry getting us beyond the world and taking us to the very edge of experience and then getting us into the ineffable. I have to say, when I was, you know, faced with the actual ineffable, I didn’t want poetry that gave me more of the ineffable. What I wanted was some way of apprehending the world that was right in front of me that was slipping away.”

2 comments on “10 Conversations with Poets”

  1. Xavier says:

    I usually listen your program on Sunday night (from 22h to 23h). I listen it through internet, from Catalonia, in the east Mediterranean coast. I found On Being many months ago by pure chance. I was looking for something interesting to try to improve my English and I was caught immediately by the spell of your program. From then on I’m a regular listener. I love every second of it. Specially when you talk with poets. I would never have imagined a non literary view on poetry could be so interesting. But it is. And far more appealing than the usual mumbo-jumbo of historians, critics and literati people. Your conversations with poets are true poetry themselves, Krista. My favourites are the ones with Mary Oliver (those two readings there!), John O’donhue (how many times I’ve listened to this program?) , Nicky Giovanni ( ‘We are VirginiaTech’) and the absolute MUST with David Whyte. So great all of them! Really deep and authentic. And they help so much! So thanks for your program, Krista. Keep broadcasting, don’t ever stop. Wish you the best to you and your team. :))

  2. Hi! Thanks a lot! Really enjoyed reading this page.

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