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Dear friends,

The first murder depicted in the Hebrew Bible is that of Abel. He is murdered by his brother Cain. They are the sons of Eve and Adam. The world is young in this story, but not naïve. One of the brothers wishes to be superior, and because he feels the other has outdone him, he kills him. It was evening and it was morning. The awful day. 

In the few weeks after the murder of George Floyd, his pastor, Patrick “P.T.” Ngwolo of Resurrection Houston in Texas, used the narrative of Cain and Abel to speak about his murder. After Cain murdered Abel, Pastor Ngwolo said, “Everyone thinks that that’s the end of Abel, not only did he die, but he died silently. But God says I hear the blood of your brother.”

There is so much in this short reference to religious literature: the story of a murder, the story of the rage and superiority that consumed the murderer, the desire for the murder to be kept silent, and the assertion — in literature thousands of years old — that the writers did not wish to let the dead be silenced. 

This week for On Being, Krista is in conversation with poets Tracy K. Smith and Michael Kleber-Diggs. Tracy K. Smith, U.S. Poet Laureate from 2017-2019, has been a guest on the show before. Michael Kleber-Diggs is a poet, essayist and literary critic who recently won the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize. Their contributions to a new book — There’s a Revolution Outside, My Love: Letters from a Crisis moves from topics of burden to joy; pleasure to pluralities; the past and the present, which is present in this episode. 

Michael speaks about listening to Big-Boi’s song, “Chocolate,” while walking his dog and breaking out into dance, a particular form of its own revolution. For Michael, a Black man, to dance — in public — to the music is to assert a claim of home, of safety. Tracy follows up Michael’s story by highlighting that “the burden is not Blackness. It’s the gaze that’s directed towards Blackness.”

In many ways, this is a conversation between Tracy and Michael, a conversation into which Krista listens; and in light of that, their conversation is an intimate insight into multiplicities of Black experiences of the past year. Critiquing the idea of singularities in the Black community, Michael speaks about the pronoun we: “we are a complex and dynamic people; there is no monolithic Black experience.” And Tracy builds on this to demonstrate how anyone who is not White in America knows what it feels like to be the unintended audience of something. “If we is all of us,” Tracy says, “it’s not what you’ve thought it was all this time.” The conversation between both of these writers is one that starts in the artistry of their work and includes questions about the imagination, and power, and about what constitutes liberative transformation. And the scope of history they focus on is wide: “These threats we live subject to… are the grotesque and perverse ends to which a nation founded in shame has gone in order to avoid atoning for its crimes.” 

Our first episode of Poetry Unbound this week comes, coincidentally, from another contributor to Tracy K. Smith and Michael Kleber-Diggs’ There’s a Revolution Outside, My Love. Reginald Dwayne Betts’ poem, “Essay on Reentry,” from his poetry collection, Felon, is a poem set at night. A father is awake, watching the TV down low, when his youngest son joins him. This moment, this late, seems the best time for him to tell his son about the prison sentence he served, a sentence long ended, but still stretching into his present. Esteban Rodríguez’s poem, “22 La Bota, has an image of a man — Esteban’s father — sleepwalking, standing outside his house, clashing his boots together, in a powerful declaration to the living and the dead that this, this is his homestead, protecting himself and his family from voices that would seek to haunt such a claim. 

Our offerings to you this week are wise voices; voices that look to what is threatening, and respond by directing back to root-causes, systemic presences, and what it means to claim the freedom of place, dance, joy, and life in systems that have denied such assertions. We are moved to bring these voices to you, friends. Let there be a new day. 

 

Beir bua, 

Pádraig Ó Tuama
host of Poetry Unbound

 

 


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This Week at The On Being Project


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On Being with Krista Tippett
Tracy K. Smith and Michael Kleber-Diggs 
"‘History is upon us... its hand against our back.’"

“It’s a heavy responsibility, and it’s also this amazing invitation to participate in something beautiful, transformative.”

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Poetry Unbound

Monday
Reginald Dwayne Betts
Essay on Reentry

It’s late at night: a father and son are awake, and he’s sharing stories with his son that he wishes he didn’t have to tell. 

Friday
Esteban Rodríguez
22 La Bota

A son remembers how his father used to bang his boots together while sleepwalking and wonders what spirits his father was protecting them from.

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Recommended


Poetry Unbound Plus: Pádraig in conversation with Diane Glancy 
Online Event 
Sunday, June 6, 2021
4:00 - 5:15 pm CST / 5:00 - 6:15 pm EST / 9:00 - 10:15 pm GMT 

“Poetry Unbound Plus'' is a series of virtual gatherings in partnership with the Washington National Cathedral’s Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage. In our final live gathering Pádraig will be talking with poet Diane Glancy about her collection Island of the Innocent: A Consideration of the Book of Job (Turtle Point Press, 2020). This book — in poems, prose-poems and craft essays — considers a telling of the biblical Book of Job through the lens of Indigenous American narratives. At once an engagement with infrequently considered characters (the wife of Job, for instance) this book considers the moral question at the heart of the book of Job: how to speak to God when we consider all that we have lost? 

Space is limited to create an intimate virtual gathering. To register, visit tix.cathedral.org and enter “OnBeing”(all one word) in the Special Access Code box below the general search bar, then click the “Add Code” button to access the event registration pages for each gathering. 

If you are unable to attend or register, recordings of all events - including our past “Poetry Unbound Plus” conversations with Mary Karr, David Kinloch, and Lorna Goodison - will be accessible on The On Being Project’s YouTube channel in the days following each live conversation. 

 

 

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