Dear friends,

When I was 13, a teacher announced to us that our Irish class would be visited by a poet. Full of poetry as our curriculum was, I hadn’t ever really imagined that a poet could be alive. Anyway, I was 13, and happy to have a distraction. That Thursday, into the class swept Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. I remember her clearly. She was dressed in greens and blues and silvers with scarves and layers. Her hair was long and deep red. She only spoke in Irish — she committed never to publish in English — and told us about how her poems started, and a little bit about editing. This was a living poet. I was transfixed.

It was the late 1980s, and the education authorities had decided there needed to be more gender representation in literature. Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s face was on the front cover of our poetry textbook. I loved that book. As a poet, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill is committed to reminding people about the memories they carry in themselves: of ancestors, languages, homes, exiles, and places. 

Krista’s interview with Richard Blanco this week is, in many ways, a consideration of the homes we carry in us. Homes: plural, not singular. Blanco is a Cuban American poet who was born in Spain while his family was in exile. By the time he was 45 days old, he had stories of Cuba, Spain, and America in him. As a civil engineer and a poet, he is also fluent in the work of art and the work of industry. Elections can force populations to consider their belonging as a singular, but this beautiful interview with Richard Blanco reminds us of how many stories form us and hold us. 

Our stories of belonging are not just about our own personal experience, they are also about place. Richard Blanco’s poem “Complaint of El Río Grande” is a meditation — spoken in the voice of that great river that forms the border between the U.S. and Mexico — on how a river knows its own belonging, and how it should be a place of nurture and life, not division and death. The poem featured in this week’s Poetry Unbound episode “Ceist na Teangan (The Language Issue)" from Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill echoes this too. In this poem — a reflection on how Moses’ mother placed him in a basket in a river, hoping that someone would save him — it is the daughter of the oppressor Pharaoh who saves the baby. Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill considers the Irish language like that baby — in need of saving, perhaps by strangers and strange ways. 

Our home is also in our body, as Aracelis Girmay reminds us. In her poem “Consider the Hands that Write this Letter,” she thinks of her two hands — one hand pushing a pen, the other hand still. Or one hand leading a dance, another hand resting on a shoulder. One hand opening a door, the other hand keeping it closed. Our bodies are a home with many functions: opening, closing, accepting, resisting, dancing, working. Our bodies' languages are plural; our belongings too.

Beir bua

Pádraig Ó Tuama
host of Poetry Unbound


This Week at The On Being Project

Our Latest Episode

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On Being with Krista Tippett

Richard Blanco
How to Love a Country

Declaration of Interdependence: “We’re the promise of one people, one breath declaring to one another: I see you. I need you. I am you.”

Listen on:
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Poetry Unbound

Aracelis Girmay
Consider the Hands that Write this Letter

A poem that asks us to slow down and pay attention to the way that we hold our body as we move.

Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill
Ceist na Teangan (The Language Issue)

A poem considering the Irish language and how its continuity and survival depends on help and kindness from unexpected allies. 

Listen on:
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Lucas Johnson Named Civil Society Fellow

We’re thrilled that Lucas Johnson, executive director of The On Being Project’s Civil Conversations & Social Healing team, was named as a 2021 Civil Society Fellow. The fellowship, part of the Aspen Global Leadership Network, aims to prepare and engage the next generation of community and civic leaders, activists and problem-solvers from across the political spectrum. Congrats, Lucas!

Poetry Film: Ars Poetica #100: I Believe

Watch this short film by Jocie Juritz featuring Elizabeth Alexander’s poem "Ars Poetica #100: I Believe."

Staff Recommendations

Listen | Home Cooking Podcast
Samin Nosrat and Hrishikesh Hirway started this podcast at the beginning of the pandemic and it has been a wonderful companion throughout. Each episode is a mix of recipe ideas, cooking lessons, and a lot (I mean, a lot) of puns. It’s the perfect thing to listen to if you need to smile for an hour. — Serri Graslie, Executive Director C&D

Watch | The Queen's Gambit
In this Netflix mini series, a genius woman chess player struggles with addiction while trying to become the greatest chess player in the world. I can’t stop watching! — Suzette Burley, Hospitality Coordinator

Read | When the Light of the World was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through
WW Norton has just released this book, an anthology of Native Nations poetry, gathering over 160 poets, representing almost 100 indigenous nations. Edited by Joy Harjo, LeAnne Howe and Jennifer Elise Foerster, this remarkable anthology features poems from traditional oral literatures and emerging poets. — Pádraig Ó Tuama, host of Poetry Unbound 

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