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Community Member Recommendation of the Month: Poetry Unbound with Pádraig Ó Tuama

This month, community member Emma Kilburn-Smith introduces us to her favourite podcast, On Being, created and hosted by American award-winning journalist, broadcaster and author Krista Tippett. Emma says this is her favourite go-to podcast for enlightening discussions, spiritual teachings and life wisdom. Tippett has been having conversations with esteemed guests about “the big questions of meaning and the immensity of our lives” for almost 20 years.


In this blog post, Emma presents an episode from the Poetry Unbound segment of On Being, which provides immersive readings of poetry guided by Pádraig Ó Tuama that are designed to be unhurried, contemplative and energizing. Ó Tuama is an Irish poet, theologian and conflict mediator who is scheduled to present at Calgary’s Wisdom Centre in November 2022.


In this episode of Poetry Unbound from the OnBeing Podcast, Pádraig Ó Tuama reads a poem by African-American poet Danez Smith called "i’m going back to Minnesota where the sadness makes sense"


o California, don’t you know the sun is only a god

if you learn to starve for her? i’m over the ocean

i stood at its lip, dressed in down, praying for snow.

i know, i’m strange, too much light makes me nervous

at least in this land where the trees always bear green.

i know something that doesn’t die can’t be beautiful.

have you ever stood on a frozen lake, California?

the sun above you, the snow & stalled sea—a field of mirror

all demanding to be the sun, everything around you

is light & it’s gorgeous & if you stay too long it will kill you.

it’s so sad, you know? you’re the only warm thing for miles

the only thing that can’t shine.


At first glance, this poem appears to be a meditation on the exterior world. As someone who has had a deep fondness for the snow, I was drawn to the imagery of wintertime but what resonated with me the most was Smith’s appreciation for the wintering moments of our inner lives.


This poem is holding a certain kind of tension to say it’s worthwhile examining the idea that everything should be great all the time; that a circular nature to a year and a circular nature to the seasons and a circular nature to our experience of the world is really worthwhile for understanding our place in the world. -- Padraig O’Tuama

Although we have just transitioned into the Spring season, there are many events in the world that might make it feel like we are still stuck in Winter. The line from the poem that sticks out to me the most is “i know something that doesn’t die can’t be beautiful.” I take this to mean that even in winter there is beauty to be found, but also that there is rebirth.


These days, my mind (like many others’) is often contemplating the war in Ukraine or tensions here at home in Canada but I think this poem is a good reminder that darkness is also a part of life and might even have something to offer us. In the depths of Winter, I have found a greater sense of connection with people around me, knowing that we are all sheltering from the cold together, waiting for Spring to fully arrive.


-- Emma

Danez Smith is a Black, queer, HIV-positive writer and performer from St. Paul, Minnesota. They are the author of Homie and Don’t Call Us Dead, which was a finalist for the National Book Award.

To listen to the full episode, click here: https://onbeing.org/programs/danez-smith-im-going-back-to-minnesota-where-sadness-makes-sense/


Pádraig Ó Tuama and Krista Tippett

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