The power of words to wound is also a measure of the power of words to heal. – Pádraig Ó Tuama.
Irish poet, author, theologian, and activist Pádraig Ó Tuama has published six collections of work over the years. His most recent, Poetry Unbound: 50 Poems to Open Your World, was released this past October. Ó Tuama is also the host of a podcast, Poetry Unbound With On Being. The solo podcast explores the meanings, themes, and intricacies of poems written by his peers in beautiful fifteen-minute recordings that let his audience fall deep into the words of these brilliant artists.
In Poetry Unboand’s May 30th, 2022 episode, Ó Tuama discusses poet Andy Jackson’s, The Changing Room, a delicate and alluring eight-stanza prose poem that discusses the themes of self-consciousness. Ó Tuama eloquently unpacks the verses during the thirteen-minute listen. He explains, “It’s a poem that pays attention to an experience of one [body], but really that’s a sleight of hand… Jackson is looking at the attention that [his body] gets and is refocusing it, extending it wider, looking at the deeper question, what does it mean for any of us to be in a body?“
Ó Tuama’s work expands beyond the written page and into his community. From 2014 to 2019, Ó Tuama led the Corrymeela Community, Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation group. During his tenure, he wrote Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community, a prayer book which draws on the organization’s spiritual practices. Ó Tuama formulated the collection based on decades of work addressing the personal and political conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, and other global conflicts.
Under Ó Tuama’s leadership, the Corrymeela Community helped develop school and group curricula to discuss narrative practices, art and conflict, and interfaith dialogue, and his work advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights had impact throughout Ireland and beyond.
A beautiful example of Ó Tuama’s ability to see and understand a wide and wise variety of perspectives is in his 2020 poem, How To
Belong Be Alone.
It all begins with knowing
nothing lasts forever,
so you might as well start packing now.
In the meantime,
practice being alive.
There will be a party
where you’ll feel like
nobody’s paying you attention.
And there will be a party
where attention’s all you’ll get.
What you need to do
is to remember
to talk to yourself
between these parties.
there will be a day,
— a decade —
where you won’t
fit in with your body
even though you’re in
the only body you’re in.
You need to control
your habit of forgetting
Remember when you were younger
and you practiced kissing on your arm?
You were on to something then.
Sometimes harm knows its own healing
Comfort knows its own intelligence.
It needs no reason.
There is a you
telling you another story of you.
Listen to her.
Where do you feel
anxiety in your body?
The chest? The fist? The dream before waking?
The head that feels like it’s at the top of the swing
or the clutch of gut like falling
& falling & falling and falling
It knows something: you’re dying.
Try to stay alive.
For now, touch yourself.
Take your hand
and place your hand
upon your body.
to the community of madness
Ó Tuama articulates the sensation of anxiety so effortlessly, in a way that allows readers not only to identify this feeling but also experience what this character, whether us, Ó Tuama, or someone else, is feeling as well. The line, “Sometimes harm knows its own healing” encapsulates this fascinating idea of using our perceived weaknesses as new strengths – the idea of taking a part of ourselves that we avoid focusing on, and finding its strength, finding its power and durability, and ultimately, its vigor.
Pádraig Ó Tuama will be featured as one of three keynote speakers at the TLA Network’s upcoming Power of Words Conference, titled, Hope is a Discipline. The conference will be held online from October 13-16, 2022. Along with Camille T. Dungy and Katherine Adams, Ó Tuama will be speaking and presenting on the theme of hope being a discipline. We welcome you to join us!
Gabe Seplow is a Philadelphia native who is studying Contemporary Theatre at The Boston Conservatory at Berklee. He went to high school at AIM Academy in Conshohocken, PA, where he was a founding member of the Student Diversity Leadership group, traveling the country to different conferences to study and learn to make school a more diverse and equitable place. Gabe has written and directed plays performed at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival addressing social justice, diversity, and equity issues, with the goal of shining a light on gun violence, racial biases, and white privilege. He is currently an Intern for the TLA Network, doing research, assisting with social media, and helping with conference programming.