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Join me, Mark Scarbrough, on this bookmarked journey through some of the best lyric poetry in English . I've got a passion for small, evocative poems. I'd like to share that with out--as well as those poems, of course! Together, we'll encounter the core things that make us human: love, the inner life, the emotions, our notion of purpose, and our relationship with the natural world around us. Join me. We humans are made for each other!
 
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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 ab…
 
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 …
 
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 ecologic…
 
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 of…
 
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…
 
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 fini…
 
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? Be…
 
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 …
 
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…
 
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, evoca…
 
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 …
 
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…
 
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.…
 
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 s…
 
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…
 
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 cre…
 
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…
 
Edna St. Vincent Millay's haunting and daunting (and blessedly short) lyric poem "Spring" may be the poem we need right now: an expression of post-World War I PTSD, told by a speaker out of sync with the seasons, out of step with the world. It feels like this moment. It reads like this moment. Join me, Mark Scarbough, as I explore the wild truth th…
 
Here's the oft-anthologized, oft-assigned Wallace Stevens poem, "The Emperor of Ice-Cream." I recorded an episode on this poem--and then trashed it because the poem kept me up at night. I soon realized that the way I've always seen it doesn't make sense of it, leaves me wanting more. So here's the poem and what it means and how what it means change…
 
Zoe Leonard's 1992 prose poem has been making the internet rounds again--and it has hit me between the eyes. I'm glad I found it now. I couldn't have heard it when it was written. But it lands in my gut and makes me realize how much a great writer can imagine a better world--and how much I want to live in that world. Join me, Mark Scarbrough, for a…
 
Sylvia Plath's early poem "Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea" shows her already working at an extremely advanced level in poetry. This poem is always read as some sort of debate between reality and the imagination. And I hesitated on it for months because I was trapped in that academic expertise. But the poem is actually an imaginative a…
 
I've started a new podcast, WALKING WITH DANTE. I want to take a slow walk through Dante's masterwork, the greatest work in Western literature (hey, let me have it!), a long poem that most people call THE DIVINE COMEDY, but that he just called COMEDY. Join me, Mark Scarbrough, on this brand-new show. I promise to be a good guide. I promise you won'…
 
Wallace Stevens' late poetry is charged with quantum reality: fragmented, expansive, and always drawn toward the hope of a unified field. In this poem, "The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm," Stevens details the ultimate reading experience--in which the reader becomes the book, the book becomes the world, and the reader is still left wanting …
 
Here's an early poem by Wallace Stevens, part of his HARMONIUM collection, "Disillusionment at Ten O'Clock." It's an imagistic poem about both the failure of the imagination and its success--and about why poetry matters (particularly after that last episode about Marianne Moore's "Poetry"). Join me, Mark Scarbrough, as I dance with and around this …
 
What more could anyone say about Moore's poetry? Especially about this poem, the bane of Literature 101--and a poem that's too often presented as far simpler than it is. Even the famous "definition" of poetry--"imaginary gardens with real toads in them"--isn't as obvious as it first seems. Join me, Mark Scarbrough, as I work my way through this sed…
 
Literature: so innocuous, right? Except it's not. On this episode of Lyric Life, I take on Blake's "The Lamb," a companion piece to his poem "The Tyger"--and a companion episode to the one on this podcast about that other poem. There, I told you a conversion narrative. Here, in a poem about innocence, I tell you some of the rest of my story: a desc…
 
Stephen Dunn's poem about a guardian angel who walks off the job--and then comes back--is a lyric poem for this moment, for a time when chaos rules, when the bad seems to overwhelm the good, when the question of why you do right when it doesn't seem to matter is a question that none of us can avoid. Join me, Mark Scarbrough, in this episode of Lyri…
 
Molly Fisk's gritty, honest poem, "Dark Rum & Tonic," is about what you get when you finally grow up, when you get older, when you've been through the wreck and come out the other side. You get invisibility. And much more. You get the chance to talk to yourself. To see yourself. And to write yourself. Join me for a gorgeously crafted poem about the…
 
I've danced around Sylvia Plath--or around her absence on this podcast--for a long time, mostly because I can't stand the way people approach her poetry. This early poem shows exactly the sort of poet she was: a master at her craft, not just the object of pity or ire. This poem about coming home is brilliant: evocative, shattering, and finally, yes…
 
Denise Levertov's evocative, small, oblique prayer is an amazing piece of craft: an honest statement of the gray that is adulthood but also a wily little game in which she works us readers around and around and finally into the gray, almost without our knowing it. She gets us to the place of "I don't know" before we even know it and so accomplishes…
 
Poem #374 is in some ways a companion poem to the last poem on this podcast, #373, "This world is not Conclusion." They appear on facing pages of one of her hand-written booklets--but this poem is fuller, more visualized, a crazy world of fashion and flowers, the essence of summer. Which inevitably ends. And ends right where it should: in the poet'…
 
Dickinson's meditation on the safety of the grave is a theological bombshell. The members of the resurrection sleep safe in their tombs. But when you make your life about safety, don't you miss out of the mad chaos of time and the world itself? And what if the resurrection doesn't come? You're still safe. And cold. Listen in for my take on this inc…
 
Emily Dickinson's short poem, the third of the four she sent to Thomas Wentworth Higginson to begin their relationship, is a salvo right across his bow. She either takes apart his misogyny, or his elite editorial status, or both, and more--because, after all, this is Dickinson's writing. It never says just one thing--except her rage at and acceptan…
 
Keats takes the wonder and awe of a translation of Homer gives to introduce himself to the world--and to prove that great poetry undoes itself at every turn. This early sonnet, as ambitious as anything he ever wrote, tests the very limits of his medium, poetry, by encoding gaps in its own thoughts, sentences that require the reader to fill them in-…
 
With this second in a mini series on the poems Emily Dickinson sent to Thomas Wentworth Higginson (see episode 30 for the first one in this series), let's try to understand why she claims dreams recede. Or is it heaven that recedes? Or maybe poetry? Or Dickinson herself? This poem is a confusing interpretive knot--like the poet herself. Perhaps tha…
 
I've always interpreted this old chestnut, a sonnet by Keats, as the poet's response to gorgeous things: they make me think I'm going to die. But what if the poet was more clever than that? What if he encoded his politics into these short, fourteen lines. What if the answer to the Grecian statuary is to find in it both an aesthetic experience and a…
 
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