Current Event January 28, 2021
Poet Amanda Gorman never expected to become a public speaker. Although she composed poetry from a young age, her speech impediment made it difficult for her to pronounce certain words. Recently, though, she stood at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. and delivered an original poem at the inauguration ceremony for President Joe Biden. At age 22, she is the youngest poet ever to receive that honor. Listen to Gorman describe why the event held special meaning for her, how she prepared for it, and why she sometimes revises her poems at the last minute.
Poet Joshua Bennett has published a poetry collection of odes titled Owed that celebrates people, places, and objects that he feels have not received the positive recognition they deserve. In this interview, he reflects on his experience as a Black teenager attending an elite private school. He explains how it influenced the subjects of his poetry. Bennett also shares how his perspective has changed about his writing process and his family. Listen to learn more about Owed and to hear Bennett read excerpts of his work.
Current Event April 23, 2020
In celebration of National Poetry Month, NPR invites poets to reflect upon selected poems submitted by listeners. In this story, award-winning poet and teacher Nikky Finney discusses poems that surprise her and explains why she finds them beautiful, meaningful, and thought-provoking. Listen to hear how Finney began her poetry career and how she advises her students to engage in expressing themselves through poetry.
Current Event April 7, 2020
High school students recited poems with dramatic flair in the semi-finals of the national Poetry Out Loud contest. Competitors recited works by Toi Derricotte, Vijay Shishadri, and other poets, and their performances were judged on a variety of criteria. Listen to hear clips of high school competitors reciting poems and learn how the rules have changed for non-citizens hoping to enter the competition.
Update: Since this story originally aired, Minnesota high school senior Isabella Callery was selected as the 2019 Poetry Out Loud National Champion.
Current Event February 11, 2020
Poetry allows writers to express deep thoughts and feelings. In the classroom, it can strengthen bonds between teachers and students by helping them get to know each other better. For Valentine’s Day, poet Kwame Alexander asked teachers around the country to challenge their students to write poems about love. Listen to hear the whimsical, poetic, and practical responses of students of all ages to the prompt, “Love is…”
Current Event August 22, 2019
Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry. These short poems traditionally describe impressions of nature. Haiku are quite popular among poets with a wide range of experience. Listen to hear some examples of modern haiku-inspired poetry and find out why one author says, “if you want to write something perfect, write a haiku.”
Each year for National Poetry Month, NPR invites listeners to submit original poems. The only constraint is that the poems must follow a format suitable for Twitter–280 characters or fewer. These bite-sized verses often prove interesting, complex, and thought-provoking. Listen to this story to hear poet Jessica Care Moore select and read some of her favorite tweet-length poems and share her reactions to them.
Current Event April 25, 2019
U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith has a new podcast called “The Slowdown,” in which she reads and reflects on a poem by a different poet each weekday. In the podcast, she shares personal thoughts and experiences related to themes that the poems address. Listen to this interview with Smith to learn how she thinks poetry can help people listen to and connect with each other, even across cultural and political divides.
Current Event April 11, 2019
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were notorious gangsters during the Great Depression. The Barrow gang robbed banks and stores, led prison breaks, engaged in gunfights, and were constantly on the run from the law until they died in a shootout in their 20s. Surprisingly, Bonnie and Clyde also wrote poetry, and their original poems were recently put up for auction, along with some photographs. Listen to hear excerpts of their poetry and reflections on what it reveals about the legendary criminals.
The New York Botanical Garden created an exhibit to honor Emily Dickinson. She was a nineteenth-century American poet who wrote unique verses, often about the nature of life and death. The new exhibit celebrates her hobbies, family, and experiences from a surprising perspective. Listen to learn what Dickinson was actually known for in her lifetime (hint: it’s not poetry!).
Current Event February 12, 2019
Love is a universal human emotion that brings us joy, focuses our priorities, and helps us face the challenges in our lives. The experience of love has inspired many poets to write about what drives it and how it affects us. Poet Kwame Alexander reflects on his love for his children and invites students to write about what love means to them. Listen to this interview with Alexander, who reads poetry about love and discusses why this powerful feeling keeps people connected, engaged, and motivated.
Current Event October 25, 2018
Ravens have long had a reputation for being spooky in literature and popular culture. Featured in Greek myths, Native American tales, and a famous poem by Edgar Allan Poe, the raven is frequently associated with darkness. However, many people are not aware how intelligent these feathered creatures are. Ravens communicate with and learn from each other, and they behave in ways that often bear little resemblance to how they are represented in literature. Listen to learn the real story behind what makes ravens special.
Current Event April 12, 2018
April is National Poetry Month. To kick off the month, professor and U.S. Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith, discusses writing poetry and what inspires her. She believes poetry helps us be more introspective, especially in this era of information overload with technology. Listen to hear more about poetry and writing from this Poet Laureate.
Current Event March 20, 2018
Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1950. Her poetry and writing was well known by many African-Americans who read a paper called the Chicago Defender. After winning the Pulitzer Prize, her writing became known by white people as well. She influenced and inspired other writers such as Toni Morrison, and funded programs and prizes to encourage people to write poetry. Listen to this story about the life of Gwendolyn Brooks.
Phillis Wheatley was the first black poet in the United States. Born in Senegal, Wheatley was taken to Boston, Massachusetts, as a slave. Since she was too weak for manual labor, Wheatley was taught to read and write instead. She published her first poem in 1767. A two-page letter by Wheatley, previously unpublished, was recently auctioned. Listen to learn more about Phillis Wheatley, the contents of this letter, and why it is so significant to scholars, historians, and collectors.
Author Edgar Allan Poe was a master of the creepy and macabre, with a focus on death and grim topics. His famous poem, “The Raven,” concerns a heartbroken man who is visited by a talking raven who begins to drive him mad. Despite the poem’s fame, including its catch phrase “Nevermore,” fans and historians are not sure what inspired Poe or how he wrote the poem.
Edgar Allan Poe, poet and American master of the macabre, was recently celebrated in Baltimore, Maryland where he sometimes lived. It was the 200th anniversary of his birth, and it was celebrated with readings of his works. Hear from actor John Astin, who played Gomez Addams in a television series, about his lifetime appreciation for Poe. Listen to find out why Baltimore played such an integral part in Poe’s life, and what types of items are left at his grave each year.
Langston Hughes, an African American writer who lived and wrote during the first half of the 20th century, remains one of the most celebrated writers in American history. He was a social activist, novelist, playwright, columnist and leader of the Harlem Renaissance. In this story, a woman is pleasantly surprised to find one of his poems among her granddaughter’s school papers. She shares with her granddaughter the many things she admired about Hughes, and the many reasons he was such an influential poet and person during his time. She speaks about Hughes’s early life, his travels, and his lyrical poetry. Listen to learn more about this famous poet, who continues to inspire younger generations today.
"Beowulf" is the oldest surviving long poem in Old English. It tells the story of a 5th century Nordic warrior who defeats monsters and becomes a king. In 2000, the Irish poet Seamus Heaney released a celebrated new translation of the epic poem. In this interview, Heaney discusses “Beowulf” and his approach to translating this famous text. Listen to learn more about “Beowulf’s” lasting appeal, and what the old poem tells us about Nordic pagan and early Christian values.