When 33.8 million people tuned into watch Joe Biden’s and Kamala Harris’ swearing in on Inauguration Day earlier this year, few of that colossal number could have imagined that it would be a poet who stole the day. Nor, indeed, would many have anticipated that such a poet should be just twenty-two years old. And yet Amanda Gorman, America’s first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate, took the crowd’s breath away with an impassioned and fluent delivery of her poem, The Hill We Climb, and thus set the tone for the historic day and our hopes for a new political dawn.

Poetry as an art form can sometimes seem impossibly distant from the stuff of our daily lives. And yet, at its best, it can help us to navigate our days, expressing in a few beautiful and succinct lines or stanzas that which is universal. Amanda Gorman’s performance took poetry out of the seminar room and instead placed it centre stage, making it urgent. For too long, it has been easy to imagine that poetry occupies a rarefied corner of the literary world reserved for academics and the intelligentsia. And yet poetry – particularly in the form of the spoken word – has never been more accessible, thanks to a new wealth of poetry podcasts, all free to download.

Whether you were weaned on a diet of Homer and Shakespeare; the Metaphysical poets and the Romantics; Wordsworth and Chaucer; or Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes, poetry new and old is ripe for the discovery and it can help us to connect to our own lives more thoughtfully, as well as to think in new ways. These are the poetry podcasts in the UK and US – as well as the spoken word poetry podcasts – that we have on our playlists right now. More poetry please!

Poetry Unbound

On Being - Poetry Unbound

Poetry Unbound’s podcast and radio show was created by Krista Tippett in 2003. Its central premise was a ground-breaking one: to see what it would be like to place equal importance on discussions of spirituality as we routinely do on issues economic and political. In that earliest incarnation, it was known as Speaking Of Faith. These days, listeners know it as On Being, a podcast which busies itself with asking the big questions about life in the 21st-century. They ponder, ‘What does it mean to be human, how do we want to live, and who will we be to each other?’ To augment these big questions, On Being also has a sister podcast: Poetry Unbound. With the same ethos powering it, the idea is to view poetry as ritual. As they suggest: ‘Immerse yourself in a single poem, guided by Pádraig Ó Tuama. Short and unhurried; contemplative and energizing. Anchor your week by listening to the everyday poetry of your life, with new episodes on Monday and Friday during the season.’ Oh, and Ó Tuama’s voice is totally dreamy too. Can you resist?

The Poetry Exchange

The Poetry Exchange Podcast

‘Conversations with poems as friends.’ That is the award-winning Poetry Exchange’s tagline and, indeed, its repository of conversations does feel akin to having deep and meaningful chats with new friends, since it offers up glimpses both of intimacy and of our shared, universal yet particular humanity. Each twenty-minute episode sees someone – often someone well-known – first read and then chat about life through the prism of their favourite poem; one that has, perhaps, helped them or simply been with them all their lives. You can find out why, for Andrew Scott, Love by George Herbert is that poem; or why actor Brian Cox can’t do without Robert Burns’ Ae Fond Kiss or I Am by John Clare. An absolute must-listen for poetry lovers and interested neophytes alike.

Poem Talk

Poem Talk

Do you sometimes yearn for the back-and-forth of the seminar room, although your university years are, alas, ancient history? Or perhaps you already love getting lost in poems but simply lack for someone to talk to about them. This, then, is the poetry podcast for you. Each episode takes the form of a discussion centred around one poem, with each member of the panel a poet themselves. Thoughtful, ruminative and thought-provoking – and just like the old student days.

Faber Poetry Podcast

Faber Poetry Podcast

T.S Eliot, W.H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Simon Armitage: for 90-odd years, Faber has published some of the greatest names in poetry. Its twice-monthly podcasts, then, should go straight to the top of any must-listen list for budding poets. Presented by Rachael Allen and Jack Underwood, the duo invites poets on for discussion of their work and the recurring themes within, such as Mary Jean Chan and Rebecca Tamás on everything from fencing to the ecological world, the mother to the non-human. Expect some heavyweight talent here; guests have included the Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Rae Armantrout and the Scottish poet Don Paterson, twice winner of the T. S Eliot Prize and recipient of all three Forward Poetry Prizes, the Costa Poetry Prize and the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry. There is also a section in which acclaimed poets from around the world send in ‘audio postcards’ as well as, of course, recitals of poems old and new. Essential listening for devotees of verse and newcomers alike.

The New Yorker Poetry

New Yorker Poetry

The New Yorker’s poetry podcast contains pure joy for the verse and the spoken word enthusiast. It is billed, simply, as ‘readings and conversations with The New Yorker’s Poetry editor, Kevin Young’ and, in profound and beautiful ways, it does exactly what it says on the tin (we also rejoice that the paper even has a poetry editor in the days when literary sections are dwindling): well-known writers choose a poem from The New Yorker’s archives, as well as one of their own that has been published in the magazine. So, what do you get if you tune in? How about Margaret Atwood reading and discussing A Stranger by Saeed Jones (as well as her own poem, Flatline)? Or Joy Harjo reading Sandra Cisneros’s wonderfully titled Still-Life with Potatoes, Pearls, Raw Meat, Rhinestones, Lard, and Horse Hooves, (plus her own poem, Running)? This demonstrates perfectly how listening to a podcast can, at its best, feel like being given a privileged pass into the intimate world of someone else’s mind.

George The Poet

Have You Heard George

For those who don’t know him, George The Poet is a London-born spoken word poet with Ugandan heritage, and his work can be described as ‘musical poetry’. It has won him plaudits as both a recording artist and as a social commentator, and now you can tune in to his podcasts to discover more. At the time of writing, there were eight episodes, with more in the offing. The first opens with George in the role of ‘Uncle George’, the sound of his young nephews playing with their friends in the background as he imagines what the next twenty years will be like for them. Some, he says startlingly and sadly, will ‘obviously be dead, some will be in jail, and some will be sitting here watching their own kids, asking the same questions.’ He notes the discomfort in words such as these, especially when they pertain to children, as if there is a cause and effect inherent in saying them aloud and reflecting the truth of the current situation; or maybe, as he says, ‘words really are that powerful.’ Everything you know is a story, he tells us, ‘an idea that you’ve accepted, until you cross it out and replace it with a better answer.’ He asks why his community, then, has so little power over its own narrative, relying on rappers to be the story tellers, all while those rappers still face the same struggles that they did when George The Poet was born. Let’s revisit our story and rewrite it, he tells us. This is powerful and important stuff.

Scottish Poetry Library

Scottish Poetry

The Scottish Poetry Library is a glorious resource, aimed at bringing ‘the pleasures and benefits of poetry to as wide an audience as possible.’ With both a physical and a comprehensive online presence, there is, as they say, ‘poetry here for everyone, and we can help you find the poem you’ll want to keep.’ One way to access verse is through its podcast, in which poets discuss the art form in ways that stress its importance to our daily lives – whether via big societal issues or the stuff more niche culture. In a recent episode, Rob A. Mackenzie discusses ‘why prophets usually come to bad ends, the genius of Mark E Smith, why twitter might not be good for poets and contemporary religious poetry’; in another Louise Peterkin talks about ‘her love of classic horror films inspired poems, and her recurring character, a nun called Sister Agnieszka’; in another Juana Adcock and Tessa Berring talk about ‘violence against women in Mexico, writing long poems, and why language is like froth’; and Volha Hapeyeva and Annie Rutherford discuss the joys of translation, Britain's lamentable record on learning foreign languages, and whether now is the right time to be writing poems about the pandemic. There is great stuff to be mined here.

Interesting People reading Poetry

Interesting People Reading Poetry

The unambiguously named Interesting People Reading Poetry does one job and does it very well: it gets well-known people to come on and talk to hosts Andy and Brendan Stermer about their favourite poem and what it means to them. It is an American show, so some names may be unfamiliar; they are no less interesting for it. Guests have included U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar, On Being host Krista Tippett, painter Enrique Martínez Celaya, and biblical translator Robert Alter, while themes explored range from what is the meaning of home to a refugee?; What is God and what does God feel like?;How can poetry save science from itself?; Why should we not steal the brown pills from granny’s medicine cabinet? Excellent, excellent stuff, plus do listen out for the short listener poem at the end of every episode.

AF Harrold Kids Poetry

AF Harrold Kids Poetry

This free, spoken word poetry podcast is a great place for anyone whose children already love verse, or for those parents who wish to foster a lifelong devotion to poetry in their kids. A.F. Harrold was Glastonbury Festival Website’s poet in 2008 and, these days, performs his work for adults and children alike in any setting he can. In this podcast, he reads a short poem, usually around two minutes long, which makes a wonderful bite-size way to spark imaginations and ensure that poetry and the spoken word become part of life’s daily routines. A perfect poetry foundation podcast.

Alone Together

Alone Together

Alone Together is a podcast on the wider Verse First platform, which is ‘dedicated to exploring questions of Poetics, the socio-politics of poetry and how poems end up in the forms and places they do.’ Each episode is delivered fortnightly, and makes the perfect lockdown listen. If you want more podcast poetry, this is the place to get it; shows involve poets recording work via their voice app or laptop and then discussing their thoughts and feelings around it. Low tech but high on the power of poetry to connect us.

Boundless & Bare

Boundless And Bare Podcast

An Irish poetry podcast, Boundless & Bare is dedicated to showcasing the best spoken word artists in the country. Released monthly, each episode is enthralling, whether it features the internationally renowned Beau Williams on ‘getting to know his journey to Ireland, his time representing Ireland and the themes that inspire his art’; Quinton O’Reilly on how to crack the Irish improv scene; or Phil Lynch on bringing life to poetry. What could be a dreamier accompaniment to a locked down walk or, indeed, what better way to deliver a shot of profundity while doing to the household chores?

By Nancy Alsop
March 2021

12 Great Audiobooks To Listen To In Lockdown
7 Truly Uplifting Podcasts
10 Of The Most Beautiful Libraries In The World To Follow