Poetry to Expand the World: M.F.A. candidate Joshua Moore hosts an innovative storytelling podcast

Joshua Moore is the voice of the Versify podcast.
Joshua Moore is the voice of the Versify podcast. Photo by Anne Rayner

When listeners tune in to Nashville Public Radio’s Versify podcast, they’re greeted by the voice of host Joshua Moore, a second-year master of fine arts candidate in Vanderbilt’s creative writing program.

Versify—which can be found at vu.edu/versify-npr—grew out of Poetry on Demand, or POD, a community outreach program of The Porch, Nashville’s nonprofit writing center. At POD events, poets talk with passersby who share a personal story; they then compose a poem on the spot, inspired by what they’ve heard. These encounters are recorded and shaped, along with Moore’s commentary, into roughly 20-minute Versify episodes.

The genesis of Versify is linked to a very practical purpose. “I was looking for ways to make myself write,” Moore explains of his life before entering Vanderbilt, when he divided his time between a delivery job at UPS and his poetry. One night in 2015, he attended a party where The Porch’s new Poetry on Demand project was being discussed, “so I eavesdropped on the conversation and volunteered.”

The following spring Moore shared his idea for a podcast with WPLN’s Emily Siner, who helped him apply for grant funding through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PRX’s Project Catapult. WPLN reporter Tony Gonzalez, who had recorded a POD event for a story in fall 2015, helped him create the podcast after both received extensive training through Project Catapult. The first Versify episode launched in August 2017.

Moore believes that storytelling enriches both teller and listener. As he describes it in one Versify episode, “Through trust and genuinely paying attention to a stranger, there’s a sort of fusion that happens.” After this deeply personal encounter, he says, “your world expands a little.”

That enrichment is why Moore brought Versify to the Vanderbilt campus last spring as part of a seminar, Deep Dive into the Literary Arts, taught by Director of Creative Writing Kate Daniels, the Edwin Mims Professor of English. Students shared stories about their first-year Vanderbilt experiences with five Nashville poets, and the one-on-one conversations were transformed into poems.

“Managing school and the podcast is a balancing act,” he says, “but Nashville Public Radio and Vanderbilt have both been really accommodating and generous in finding ways to figure it out.” After all, there’s a natural symbiosis between the two endeavors. A poem he wrote for Poetry on Demand—“Learning to Fight”—has since won a University and College Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets.

Moore confesses to feeling overwhelmed at times but recalls Daniels, his adviser, telling him, “The work you’re doing is important.” Fans of Versify surely agree.

—Maria Browning

Read the poem “Learning to Fight” at vu.edu/learning-to-fight