The year 2016 brought us Brexit and the results of the US presidential election. As an American living in the United Kingdom, I was hearing from both sides of the pond that we were living in a time of crisis. But this crisis took different forms on each side, and found different forms of expression in popular culture and art. As someone who teaches and translates poetry, I was particularly attuned to how poets were responding to these events and their aftermath. As someone who loves poetry, I also find that I often turn to poetry in times of stress, conflict, and anxiety. I don’t expect poetry to bring relief or consolation, but I find there the words that I cannot say.
Each episode of Staying Alive: Poetry and Crisis will feature a conversation with a contemporary poet and explore the relation between poetry and crisis in their work. In order, I will be talking to Mike Smith (Pocket Guide to Another Earth), Sasha Dugdale (The Red House and Joy), Shimon Adaf (Aviva-No), Laura Sims (Staying Alive and Looker), Diana Khoi Nguyen (Ghost Of), Tahel Frosh (Avarice), Vahni Capildeo (Venus as a Bear), and Yousif M. Qasmiyeh (Refugee Hosts). From Denver, Colorado to Tel Aviv, Israel, our conversations will address modern crises—from the political to the environmental—as well as personal crises, like the death of a sibling or the loss of a home. I am interested in probing how poets respond to crisis and the forms and language that they use to address it. In these episodes, we also consider the question of poetry’s relevance in times of crisis, and what poetry can offer—be it wisdom, critique or consolation—to our understanding of crisis.
Bringing together works from the United Kingdom, United States, and Israel/Palestine, I am interested in how poetry engages crisis not only to alarm and warn, but also to deliver messages of resilience and sometimes even hope in the face of crisis. Post-apocalyptic, disaster, and zombie narratives hold a broad popular appeal, but underlying these stories are real, personal fears and anxieties about the present and future of humanity. In this series, I explore poetry’s engagement with contemporary events and history and how, in doing so, it wrestles with the question of its value to humanity and its very future in uncertain times.
Episodes will drop once a week, starting tomorrow, and will be available for streaming and download via the University of Oxford Podcasts page and iTunes (US listeners, click here.). I will be using this website to introduce new episodes and share information that did not make it into the final cuts. I also hope to be in dialogue with you, dear listeners, so please share your thoughts on these episodes. I’m also very interested in hearing about poets you would like me to consider for a possible season 2 of Staying Live: Poetry and Crisis.