A cover posted on The New Yorker Instagram for World Book DayInstagram/newyorkermag

You can spot them easily; their tote bags have those distinctive black letters on them, and they adorn the logo in the middle: The New Yorker. Some faithful tote-wearers might actually be American, some might love the beautiful design covers, some read it for its work, and some might just love the bag. But it’s no secret that the name of The New Yorker holds some kind of power, and its elusive New York-ness is tangible even from across the pond. The poetry they publish serves up to its readers a special type of enclosed ephemerality; they exist intramurally contained in their long pieces, breaking up they page and drawing your eye to their contained world, which exists solely on that flimsy, glossy page. But The New Yorker has expanded their brand, throughout the past decade, to digitise this experience and to give readers the possibility to enter even more fully into these intra-textual spaces. They’ve done that through the podcast.

Imagine this for a moment: Lent term, you’re alone in your accommodation save for your friend, and the two of you are trying to stay entertained when even the college library is closed. My friend introduces me to podcasts, says they’re fun to listen to and they’d break up the monotony of those ‘low-fi beats’ playlists I’d had on constant repeat in my room. I was sceptical, because I wasn’t that interested in podcasts about true crime (some of us are just too squeamish) or those TED-like podcasts that are determined to teach you a lesson in five minutes. But eventually, I stumbled upon a haven: The New Yorker podcasts. They felt like they could be familiar and comforting – I knew what they’d entail, and what kind of content they’d contain. But I was wrong. They’re more than poetry readings.

“They were no longer contained in white margins [...] they are now fluid and lively in my mind.”

The concept is pretty simple: The New Yorker poetry editor – previously Paul Muldoon, now Kevin Young – interviews a poet who has been published in the magazine, they read out a poem they pick from the archives, then they read out their own poem; intermingled throughout this process are insightful nuggets of poetic knowledge, discussion and genuine engagement between the editors and writers. It shone a light on my term – or perhaps it might be better expressed as a synesthetic light, one that you feel rather than see. There’s no order to the episodes which are released, and so at first I approached those with poets I knew, or poets I at least recognized. Hearing their voices, listening to their thoughts and the discourse the two poetry editors are able to draw out, opened up these poems. They were no longer contained in white margins, surrounded by longer texts on the page; they are now fluid and lively in my mind.

The poets that are invited on the podcast are nothing short of extraordinary. From Margaret Atwood to Joyce Carol-Oats, some of the most influential poets of this and the previous century grace the podcast with their gentle, wisdom-filled insights about how poetry is not controllable, but free both in their minds and that of the reader. It made me realise I don’t need to know where my writing is going, as long as it’s making me think. They de-mystify the poetic process: they talk about their failures, their successes, and how poetry writing need not be hard or elusive, but challenging and rewarding. Poets like Kwame Dawes and Andrew Motion talk about their teaching of poetry, and how reading like a student – to uncover meaning – might hinder the purpose of poetry itself: to create meaning.

“For these poets, their words hold immense power.”

But the most enjoyable episodes, for me, were those from poets I’d never heard of, such as Nick Laird, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Ariel Francisco, Deborah Landau, and so many more. They are the poets moulding poetry to our times, creating a space for all voices, and breaking those intramural boundaries to extend their reach beyond the four walls of the page. It seems to me integral to get to know these poets, discover how and why they write, to see where poetry will take us and them. For these poets, their words hold immense power. The New Yorker podcast knows that too, and Kevin Young has created incredible conversations about the activism that is poetry; the most recent episode is entitled: ‘“To Claim What Has Tried to Claim Me”: A Roundtable of Asian-American Poetics’ and responds to racism against Asian Americans related to the pandemic and the Atlanta spa shooting. These poets, alongside Amanda Gorman whose ‘The Hill We Climb’ outshone Joe Biden, are using their poetry for its choral purpose: to voice the concerns, tribulations and realities of 21st century life and struggles. The New Yorker podcast is thankfully providing a space for them to do so, and allowing anyone to access their voices.


READ MORE

Mountain View

Living and Loving in the Age of Aids

So, poetry need not be inaccessible; for me, it no longer exists contained in books in my college library, but instead in my mind and on my phone. And that is the best part. Poetry is everywhere, and you can listen to it and then respond on your notes app. It is constantly evolving and, if Rupi Kaur’s new Home Body is anything to go by, it will continue to surprise us with its relevancy and insight. As Joy Harjo, the now three-year U.S. poet laureate, said: ‘what often follows periods of decay and destruction and chaos is rebuilding and renaissance – periods of fresh invention in thought, in art.’ Poetry just might be that vehicle for change.

You can listen to The New Yorker Poetry Podcast on Apple podcasts and Spotify, or at newyorker.com