Poetry Unbound: 50 Poem to Open Your World by Pádraig Ó’Tuama. W.W. Norton & Company. 384 pages. $22.99, hardcover.
On Being Studio’s podcast Poetry Unbound, hosted by Pádraig Ó’Tuama and first broadcast early in 2020, sets a high bar for all poetry media. It is gently-voiced, ceaselessly generous in its readings, and effortlessly vulnerable. Ó’Tuama’s essays on the poems he chose are a gift, and one which leads listeners to find themselves in poetry. In each episode, Ó’Tuama presents a poem then speaks both personally and critically to its merits and its stake in the world. Poetry Unbound: 50 Poems to Open Your World follows the podcast’s same formula. Whether written or spoken, Ó’Tuama’s essays on this anthology’s 50 poems—from poets like Kaveh Akbar, Ada Limón, and Tracy K. Smith—comes across with a prayer-like sense of devotion to the medium. This is a gracious anthology, a true labor of love, and a testament to poetry’s reach that celebrates each word of every poem.
I first came to Poetry Unbound during the COVID lockdown of early 2020. By that point in my life, I had lost interest in opening myself up to what poetry could teach me. Poetry Unbound became an invitation to remember how poetry can be at once meaningful, devastating, and beautiful. I feel that my creative writing life since coming to Poetry Unbound is indebted to this series, and I still often turn to this book, and the podcast to which it owes its title, any time I feel a need for inspiration or grace. There is a wonderfully intimate feel to this anthology, as Ó’Tuama’s essays in both book and podcast form are, first and foremost, points of personal connection. At the same time, they invite readers and listeners into a world of utmost faith in what poets have to offer us. Some of my favorite poems and essays from this anthology are on James Wright’s “A Blessing,” Margaret Atwood’s “All Bread,” and Dilruba Ahmed’s “Phase One.” Any time your passion for writing or faith in poetry wanes, turn to this book. Poetry Unbound: 50 Poems to Open Your World offers a terrific balm to any hurt, and undoubtedly keeps its title’s promise.
—Samuel Burt, MAR