Anyone who follows me on Instagram knows I read a lot of poetry on the subway. But that’s usually in the morning on the way to work when my eyes are fresh and I’m feeling energetic. On the way home at the end of the day, I prefer to listen and that’s where podcasts come in. There are some great ones exclusively dedicated to poetry, and many more with a broader scope that also devote substantial time and attention to poetry. There are interviews of and conversations between poets, in-depth discussions of individual poems and entire books of poems, radio-style documentary programs on poetry-related topics, and straight up readings of poems. Here are fifteen podcasts I enjoy enormously that do some combination of these things. And, of course, this list doesn’t exhaust the field—there are still more poetry podcasts out there to be discovered.
The VS Podcast is billed as “a bi-weekly series where poets confront the ideas that move them.” It’s hosted by two of my favourite poets, Franny Choi and Danez Smith, and the banter between the two of them is part of the pleasure of listening. Now in their second season, they’ve already hosted a wonderful range of guests including a number of poets whose work I already loved (Natalie Diaz, Tarfia Faizullah, Jamaal May) but also many whose work I was not yet acquainted with. It was here that I first encountered poems by Fatimah Asghar and José Olivarez, two poets whose debut collections, both due out later this year, I am very eagerly anticipating.
Commonplace, hosted by Rachel Zucker, has already – in just under two years – posted its 50th episode. Zucker goes deep in her interviews, framing each episode beautifully with an introduction that sets the context of the particular conversation and her own relationship to the interviewee and their work. The conversations appear to flow organically sometimes continuing as long as two hours. And the list of poets interviewed is breathtaking including absolute legends, well-established poets at the top of their game and more recently published up and coming poets. For example, you can hear Zucker in conversation with Alice Notley, Bernadette Mayer, Rita Dove, Alicia Ostriker, Cathy Park Hong, Claudia Rankine, Terrance Hayes, CA Conrad, Ross Gay, Jericho Brown, Sarah Vap, Morgan Parker, Airea D. Matthews, and Kaveh Akbar.
The Lunar Poetry Podcast, based in the UK, is billed as “a series of discussions, interviews and live recordings with poets in the UK and further afield.” David Turner is its founder and primary host, but he also shares the mic with a number of guest hosts and, indeed, has recently taken this impulse further with the creation of a formal mentorship program through which he is encouraging and helping others to create their own podcasts. A facet of this podcast that I particularly appreciate is the emphasis placed on discussion of issues related to class and disability that are too often ignored in the literary world. Among my favourites so far (I’m still working my way back through the archives) are one episode devoted to discussion of “Access to Publishing” featuring the editors of the recent anthology Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back, and another episode given over to the members of Octavia, a London-based poetry collective of women of colour.
I’ve been listening to the Scottish Poetry Library Podcast for a number of years now and, early on, it was one of the primary vehicles for extending my poetry knowledge beyond North America. It features Scottish poets of course, but also poets from elsewhere in the UK, elsewhere in Europe, and beyond. A welcome facet is that quite a bit of space is devoted to poetry in translation and multilingual poetry. I’ve found it a particular pleasure to hear some Scots poetry there.
Between the Covers promises “Today’s Best Writers in Conversation with Host David Naimon,” and it delivers. It ranges across genres—there’s a wonderful trio of episodes, all focused on Ursula K. Le Guin but each devoted to her work in a different genre: non-fiction, fiction, and poetry. But Naimon devotes significant time to poets and books of poems, and often these are poets and books that I feel deserve more attention and the broader audience that such attention may bring, for example an episode in which Eunsong Kim is interviewed about her recent collection Gospel of Regicide, and another in which Vi Khi Nao is interviewed about both her poetry collection Umbilical Hospital and her short story collection A Brief Alphabet of Torture. And Naimon is an excellent interviewer, seeming always to have a deep knowledge of the particular book under discussion and also to be steeped in the entire oeuvre of each of his guests.
Bookworm, hosted by Michael Silverblatt is another wide-ranging literary program that promises “intellectual, accessible, and provocative conversations.” Silverblatt is a keen and opinionated reader of poetry, and it’s enormous fun to hear him bouncing his interpretations of poems off their authors. Make sure to scroll right back through the archives; Silverblatt has featured so many marvelous poets on the show over the years and his enthusiasm for their work is infectious.
7. On Being
On Being with Krista Tippett is not explicitly a literary podcast. Rather, it offers “conversation about the big questions of meaning in 21st century lives and endeavors—spiritual inquiry, social healing, and the arts.” But poets regularly feature among Tippett’s interviewees and she asks them most interesting questions that engage with their poems but can extend well beyond them. One of my favourite episodes is an interview with Layli Long Soldier on apologies.
This is a brand new podcast with only one episode so far released, but it has me looking forward to more. In the first episode, co-hosts Rachael Allen and Jack Underwood interview guests Emily Berry and Momtaza Mehri on “talismans, teenage crushes and gateways to poetry.” The dual interview format seems to me to have all kinds of potential. And another pleasurable feature of the podcast is the playing of “audio postcards,” recordings of poems read by their authors, in this episode poems by Ocean Vuong, Natalie Shapero and Vahni Capildeo (I could listen to Vahni Capildeo read forever). And future episodes promise interviews with poets Ishion Hutchinson, Richard Scott and Jane Yeh.
DISCUSSION OF INDIVIDUAL POEMS AND BOOKS OF POEMS
In each episode of the New Yorker Poetry Podcast, hosted by the magazine’s poetry editor Kevin Young, a contributor is invited to read and discuss a poem from the archives alongside one of their own poems. This format produces fascinating conversations that begin with a deep dive into an individual poem and spiral out from there, perhaps encompassing the reader’s relationship with the writer whose poem they’ve chosen to read, and the connections between that poet’s work and their own. Recent standout episodes have included Marie Howe reading and discussing a poem by Lucie Brock-Broido, and Terrance Hayes reading and discussing a poem by Matthew Dickman.
Each short episode of the Poetry Magazine Podcast involves the reading of a poem by the author that appears in the current issue of the magazine, then a discussion of that poem by editors Don Share, Lindsay Garbutt, and Christina Pugh. It’s a pleasure to hear the authors read their own work, and very illuminating to hear the editors discuss what they found captivating about it (perhaps offering a bit of insight into the process by which poems included in the magazine are selected).
11. Poem Talk
Each episode of Poem Talk involves what host Al Filreis describes as “a close but not too close reading of a poem.” First a recording of the selected poem read by its author is played (from the PennSound Archive), then a roundtable discussion between Filreis and three guests (many of them regulars) ensues. A recent favourite episode is a nearly hour-long discussion of six short sections from M. NourbeSe Philip’s book-length poem Zong!.
12. On the Line
On the Line, the poetry podcast that I host and produce, is similarly devoted to discussion of contemporary poetry by three guests, but in each episode the focus is not a single poem but a full book of them. In the eight episodes posted so far, eight brilliant slates of guests have joined me to discuss Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Kim Hyesoon’s Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream, Solmaz Sharif’s Look, Armand Garnet Ruffo’s The Thunderbird Poems, Safiya Sinclair’s Cannibal, Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women, Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas, and Tarfia Faizullah’s Seam. We’ve been on a bit of a hiatus in recent months, but will shortly be back in operation with the posting this Spring of new episodes devoted to discussion of Morgan Parker’s There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé and Brenda Shaughnessy’s So Much Synth, and many more episodes thereafter that are currently in the works.
Poetry Off the Shelf is another Poetry Foundation production, this one more along the lines of a radio-style documentary program. The topics are many and varied. Recently, I very much enjoyed a six-part series titled A Change of World that took a broad historical look at women poets in the United States.
The Poetry Translation Centre “is dedicated to translating contemporary poetry from Africa, Asia and Latin America.” Its weekly podcast presents a poem “from one of the world’s greatest living poets,” read first in the language in which it was originally written then in English translation. It’s a real treat to hear the readings in the original language and in English side by side. And I relish the opportunity this podcast offers me to expand my far-too-narrow knowledge of poetry written in languages other than English.
Transatlantic Poetry is much more than a podcast. On its website, the project is described as “a global poetry movement bringing some of the most exciting poets from the US, UK, Europe and beyond together for live online readings and conversations.” These are readings broadcast live online that pair poets from opposite sides of the Atlantic. For example, a couple of my favourites are one featuring Chen Chen and Mary Jean Chan (hosted by R.A. Villanueva) and another featuring Vahni Capildeo and Tyehimba Jess (hosted by Malika Booker). Some but not all are later made available as podcasts, so do check the website to catch the next broadcast live or to view video of any of the past readings.
Kate Sutherland is the author of two books of short stories (Summer Reading and All In Together Girls) and a collection of poems (How to Draw a Rhinoceros). Summer Reading won a Saskatchewan Book Award for Best First Book, and How to Draw a Rhinoceros was shortlisted for a Creative Writing Book Award by the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment. Sutherland’s work has appeared in Best Canadian Poetry 2016. She is host and producer of the podcast On the Line: Conversations About Poetry. She lives in Toronto, where she teaches at Osgoode Hall Law School.