Sometimes the algorithms bring me joy.
That was the case in November, when the Browse function on my podcast app suggested a new podcast, then one week into its existence: The Slowdown. I caught up and have not missed a single one. Since January, the program has also been available on many public radio stations. The 5-minute podcast is hosted and written by current U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith. It’s now part of my afternoon tea and poetry ritual.
The podcast follows a simple format — an introduction, followed by a poem. Each afternoon I turn on my electric kettle to heat water for a large mug of green tea. When the dinger dings, I pour the water over the tea bag, cover the mug, and hit Play while also reading along on the website. Five minutes for poetry, five minutes for tea. When the podcast ends, I take my tea outside and spend another five minutes memorizing whatever poem I am learning By Heart.
Smith’s introductions are deeply personal. She usually shares something from her life, like in episode 9, in which Smith she described her almost accidental descent into alcoholism before reading Portrait of the Alcoholic with Withdrawal, by Kaveh Akbar. Other introductions recall life’s small moments.
Sometimes the poems are old works by a poet I know, but I don’t know the poem, as when she introduced me to “Bat” by D.H. Lawrence. Recently she read a poem I already knew and loved, “Crowning” by Kevin Young.
Sometimes it’s a new-to-me modern poem, as on March 8, when Smith read “The Unwritten” by W.S. Merwin. The poem begins, “Inside this pencil / crouch words that have never been written”. I wrote about the poem in my poetry journal, then looked up Merwin. One week later he passed away.
Merwin moved to Maui in the 1980s to restore eighteen acres, one palm tree at a time. His days were filled with tea, poetry, and planting trees. Now The Merwin Conservancy lives on, with this vision: “The Merwin Conservancy serves as a model for the power of the imagination and the possibilities of renewal.”
Poetic Earth Month, which we’ve been celebrating this April, can mean planting trees, as Merwin did. It can also mean slowing down, midafternoon, for poetry and tea. It can also mean taking time slow down and watch my redbud tree put forth, first, purple blooms, and then, shy green leaves.
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“Megan Willome’s The Joy of Poetry is not a long book, but it took me longer to read than I expected, because I kept stopping to savor poems and passages, to make note of books mentioned, and to compare Willome’s journey into poetry to my own. The book is many things. An unpretentious, funny, and poignant memoir. A defense of poetry, a response to literature that has touched her life, and a manual on how to write poetry. It’s also the story of a daughter who loses her mother to cancer. The author links these things into a narrative much like that of a novel. I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro