Thich Nhat Hanh, poet and activist

line from Thich Nhat Hanh's "Condemnation"

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk, peace activist, and poet.  By 1971, when he joined Studs in the studio, he had spent years campaigning for peace in Vietnam; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. Thich Nhat Hanh and Studs discuss the Vietnam War and two books of his poetry that had been translated into English at that time: Cry of Vietnam, and Vietnam: Lotus in A Sea of Fire.

In this clip, Studs tells Thich Nhat Hanh that he has heard about American soldiers finding poems in the pockets of the dead Vietnamese.  Thich Nhat Hanh uses this story to demonstrate how important poetry is in the Vietnamese culture.

They continue the conversation about poetry in Vietnam, and its importance even among non-literate populations.  Thich Nhat Hanh recites an example of one of the spontaneous poems of the farmers.  This leads to a conversation of the ongoing destruction of this culture: “The kinds of things imported, together with this war, has been destroying much of our way of thinking and creating.”  To show how hopeless things have become, Thich Nhat Hanh tells a story of Vietnamese people trying to raise earthworms in order to save the land that was destroyed through defoliation.

Thich Nhat Hanh talks with Studs about his experience of speaking and reading his poems to a group of anti-war veterans in Washington, D.C.  He tells Studs they are “very, very brave in recognizing the truth.” One of the poems he reads to the veterans is “Condemnation,” which you can read here.

Studs asks Thich Nhat Hanh about his feelings on the war.  Thich Nhat Hanh discusses the policy of “Vietnamization” as opposed to a cease-fire.  He also says that “most of the Vietnamese people feel the same way — they want the war to end at this very moment.”

Thich Nhat Hanh tells Studs about a family he knows whose home was burned six times in five years; they continually moved to escape the violence but were unable to.  “Sometime[s] we don’t know [if] what we have in our heart is hope or just illusions, because life would be impossible without some hope in the future.  That is why sometime[s] we are very ready to accept illusions as hope.”

Photo by James K. F. Dung, SFC, Photographer – This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 530610. Public Domain,

The Studs Terkel Radio Archive is a partnership between the WFMT Radio Network and the Chicago History Museum.

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Paul Durcan, Irish poet

In 1991, Paul Durcan joined Studs in the studio. His collection Daddy, Daddy (winner of the Whitbread Poetry Award) had recently come out and his next collection, Crazy About Women, was due out shortly in Ireland.

Studs starts off by asking Durcan about his father, the inspiration for Daddy, Daddy.  Durcan talks about his father’s love of history and remembers hearing his father’s stories as they drove through Ireland together:

Every townland, every hundred yards, it was another world, as remote and romantic as say China.  That’s how it was, and you can’t romanticize that.

Later, they talk about the spelling and meaning of the name Durcan.  Studs brings up the fact that neither he nor Paul Durcan have ever driven a car, referring to Ducan’s poem “Self Portrait, Nude with Steering Wheel.”  Hear them talk about the poem below, and then read it here.

Studs asks Durcan about poetry in Ireland saying, “I suppose the word ‘Irish poet’ almost sounds redundant since the language itself is so lyrical generally.”  Durcan responds by saying

All over the world poetry is born of speech; we’re still all talking to each other, making sounds.  I feel it’s a form of music.  Some people say that modern media therefore is likely to spell the end, but I see that as a misunderstanding, a contradiction.  It seems to me to fundamentally involve the opening out of the oral tradition – radio, television – it gives the possibility of expanding it.

They continue talking about the relationship between music and poetry, and then Durcan remembers a teacher who helped him learn about lyrical writing.  The clip ends with an introduction to his poem “The Virgin and Child” (click on the preview to open the entire poem).

Paul Durcan is still writing.  His latest collection was published in 2012, Praise in Which I Live and Move and Have My Being.


Photo credit: Grace Radkins, “County Kerry, 2005”

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Material Feminists, & Daniel Berrigan, SJ

Last Sunday was May 1, International Workers Day.  Studs was a great supporter of the labor movement in all its iterations, and he demonstrated that on April 30, 1981 when he spoke to Dolores Hayden, author of The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities.  The book describes the work of women who “campaigned against women’s isolation in the home and confinement to domestic life as the basic cause of the unequal position in society” (from the MIT Press page).

It’s an economic struggle which is about women’s work, all kinds of women’s work.  In the household, taking care of children, cooking and cleaning… A struggle to find… places which spatially support new forms of women’s work.

Hayden focuses specifically on what she calls material feminists: “alert women who understood that in addition to changing work, they had to change the design of the workplace.”  Since for most women, the workplace was the home, this entailed “the feminist struggle to transform homes, neighborhoods, and cities.”

Feminist, social reformer, and author Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Material feminist, social reformer, and author, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1900

At a time when a presidential candidate can reference the “Woman card,” where a pink tax is common and a tampon tax must be voted against, and women still are paid less than men, this is the right moment to remember the American feminists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who believed that “women must be economically independent if they were going to be truly equal citizens in society.”

Over the weekend we also lost one of the last century’s great civil disobedients, Father Daniel Berrigan.  In 1972, after he’d been released from prison for burning draft records in Catonsville, Maryland, he joined Studs in the studio to talk about his family, the time he spent in France, his civil rights work with his brother Philip, and why he continues to make radical choices.

And finally, if you enjoyed our month of poetry programs, you can find them all here.

Photo credit: By Frances Benjamin Johnston – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3a49162.  Public Domain,

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