Something beautiful: How KNPR puts poetry on the radio

The poet Michael McClure, interviewed for KNPR's weekly poetry segment.
The poet Michael McClure, interviewed for KNPR’s weekly poetry segment.

by Fred Wasser

I’m a producer on Nevada Public Radio’s morning talk program, “KNPR’s State of Nevada.” We’re based in Las Vegas, Nevada, which – it turns out – is not an unlikely place for poetry.

Last summer I brought on Bruce Isaacson to talk about his new role as poet laureate of Clark County, Nevada, and he read a couple of his poems. Then, a few weeks later, Bruce brought the U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera to Las Vegas for a reading and a writer’s workshop, and we interviewed Juan Felipe and Bruce – two poet laureates together on the radio.

My colleagues at KNPR seemed to like this and it seemed popular on the web, too. I thought it would be good to do more poetry, especially Nevada poets. I was given the go-ahead.

The parameters were five to eight minutes on the air, on the last segment on Fridays. The idea is that, since Fridays are the end of the week of programing, we can have a bit more fun.

I could certainly work with that. Actually, I was more than thrilled that I got the go-ahead to do this. The day, time, or length of the segment didn’t matter. Plus, the five- to eight-minute time frame is flexible. We don’t do it every week, but many weeks.

I want these segments to be accessible to every listener. A key decision: I decided I would bury my pride and not be afraid to ask the poets: “What do you mean by this?” In the pre-interview I’ll often say, “This phrase. Here’s what I think you mean. Am I right?” It turns out the poets they’re not at all insulted – well, as far as I can tell.

I also ask the poet about both their writing life and their “civilian” life so that the interviews are not solely about the poetry, but interesting on a couple of levels. Even if a listener thinks they don’t like poetry, they can enjoy the interview on some other level.  Then I fashion questions for our program hosts, who in the “performance” of the interview bring the whole thing to life.

This is a collaboration with “Desert Companion” magazine, which is published (online and in print) by Nevada Public Radio. In their digital version, every Wednesday, the magazine has a “Wednesday Poem” feature. I work with their editors, and we sometimes select the same poet to be featured both in their magazine and on the radio program. And we do some cross-promotion.

My inspiration for all this?

Well, I love poetry, I love talking with poets, and my favorite kind of journalism is radio journalism. In part, it’s an excuse to phone poets and listen to them talk. But then I also get to figure out how to best present them on the radio.


Some of Fred’s favorite pieces:

Poet Michael McClure On The Senses And The Natural World

“Paradise, Nevada” Through The Eyes Of A Poet