Making Sense of the World through Prose and Poetry

By Paula Anne Delve Phillips 

In the days of the pandemic, many of us are drawn to artistic expression to help make sense of things and find value in experiences in which promise and pain go hand in hand. Some take paint to canvas, but how many of us have taken pen to paper? 

As the autumn of a difficult year approaches, many souls may find their feelings have yet to be fully realized or expressed. It’s an opportune time to delve into poetry as a path to better understanding and means of self-expression. For those ready to test the water, one could hardly find a better guide than Maryland Poet Laureate Grace Cavalieri. 

For over four decades, Cavalieri has helped listeners “understand the world through language” by hosting the public radio series, The Poet and the Poem. Those expecting stodgy ivory tower material are in for a surprise. Lively and stimulating, her half hour shows include background interviews of the poets, interwoven with poems read by the authors themselves. 

Cavalieri, No. 10 in a lineage of Maryland Poet Laureates going back to 1959, is preparing to launch a new series of podcasts titled The Poet and the Poem: Voices of Maryland Poets and recently received a mini-grant of $ 1,000 from Maryland Humanities to help with post production costs. As with her other projects, the new half hour series will be made available to public radio stations through the Pacifica Foundation. Interviews can also be acquired directly for use by educational institutions and interested individuals. 

In January 2021, 15 new programs will be featured on the Maryland State Arts Council website. They can be also be purchased on iTunes or downloaded as MP3 files from her website. Meanwhile, readers can catch up on her existing podcasts. 

Her shows provide listeners the opportunity to delve into prose and poetry, history and culture. Cavalieri has interviewed a broad swath of distinguished and talented writers from across the country, all are available on her website:  

Cavalieri’s interviewing acumen and the inherent cultural diversity of content are stunning, and lessons of history abound. Listen to Cavalieri’s interview with Monifa A. Love, from Bowie State University who has two collections of poetry to her credit. Love graduated with honors from Princeton University, studied poetry with Galway Kinnell, earned a doctorate in English from The Florida State University and matriculated as a McKnight Doctoral Fellow. While her academic achievements may seem overwhelming, her poetry tackles down to earth experience with directness and power, shedding light on tough subjects. Hear her words about the mother and grandmother of Malcolm X, and share her grief over the deaths which sparked the Black Lives Matter Movement. 

Lovers of Shakespeare will particularly enjoy the program featuring English professor Andrew McConnell Stott at the University of Southern California. Stott imbues some very old subjects with fresh humor and fascinating historical detail. His most recent book, What Blest Genius?: The Jubilee that Made Shakespeare, tells the story of a three-day festival in 1769 that established William Shakespeare’s reputation as the greatest writer of the Western Hemisphere. 

For a change of pace, enjoy the words of Jose Padua, who counts legendary poet Billy Collins among his fans. Padua’s career gives hope to the unpublished. The manuscript for his current book circulated for 20 years before going anywhere. Enjoy his reflections on a decade spent in the Shenandoah Valley before his return to Washington, D.C. 

The complete works of Maryland Poet Laureate Grace Cavalieri can be found in the George Washington University Gelman Library Special Collections.