For years I’ve been a listener to the podcast “On Being” with Krista Tippett. I’ve listened to the podcasts while sitting in the front yard pulling weeds from my garden, as well as in overflowing classrooms with others who have been mesmerized by her interviews and her thoughts “on being” — those questions about the meaning of our existence on this earth, how we make sense of it, how we find community, how we make sense of the physical and spiritual essences in our lives. So I was intrigued to discover the first spin-off from the On Being Project, a podcast called “Poetry Unbound” hosted by Pádraig Ó Tuama.
I love poetry, but this podcast has taken me deeper and opened my eyes to phrases and words that I would have missed completely — in fact, it has opened the bounds of poems and poetry for me. All of this is because of the way Ó Tuama introduces a poem, reads it beautifully for us, then, after a few seconds of a simple music interlude, begins opening up the poem. He will read a phrase, add a bit of background, nuance, thought, then pause for another musical interlude. After the thoughts are shared, he ends by reading the poem one more time. The podcast is brief, just enough time to sweep the garage or wash the dishes, but oh, the sense of peace it brings, the new thoughts that come to life, the feeling of being alive to the world, to being itself, rather than just going through the chores of a day.
Six months ago, Ó Tuama released a new book titled “Poetry Unbound: 50 Poems to Open Your World.” It’s available in the library, hardback and audio, and I’m on the waiting list… so in the meantime, I checked out Ó Tuama’s earlier autobiography as an ebook from the library’s Hoopla service. It’s called “In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World.” It was released in the US in 2021, having already become a bestseller in Ireland (his home) and Britain. But rather than a story of his life, it is a story of those moments when he opened himself to new ways of thinking, seeing the world, and making meaning of his life.
Each chapter is a “hello” moment, when he finds himself welcoming in, rather than turning away from, or dismissing, key moments in his life formation. The first chapter is Hello to the world, how he welcomed in what was really happening in the world about him, how it affected him, and what it called him to be and do. It proceeds with Hello to here, to the beginning, to the imagination, to trouble, to what we cannot know, to the body, and to the shadow. Each opening is told with such beauty by this Irish poet and masterful storyteller. It is his own memory of coming to peace in the tumultuous “Troubles” of Northern Ireland, of discovering Celtic spirituality, of choosing to travel in the world, of understanding his sexual identity apart from the demands of his Catholic childhood. What he does is “open up gentle ways of living well in a troubled world.” I had to read the book while sitting at my computer, in order to write down immediately amazing lines that I want to hold within me forever.
Three words that describe this book: mind-opening, visionary, life-bringing
You might want to pick this book up if: you have shut down in the pandemic with the lingering isolation it has caused, and are ready to say hello to the reality of life around you right now, and discover how to “find shelter and make a home for yourself” in this new world in which we live.