you know it, don’t you know

I love you, he said. He was
   shaking. He said:
I love you. There’s an art
   to everything. What I’ve
   done with this life,

what I’d meant not to do,
 or would have meant, maybe, had I
understood, though I have
 no regrets.” That’s “Civilization” by Carl Phillips, and speaking of “that’s civilization,” thank you for joining me today, a holiday, a holy day, to listen for this hour to what people have made with their lives, how they have answered the question of purpose Mary Oliver’s beloved poem “A Summer Day” asks in the last lines, after telling us she has been spending the day in Whitmanesque loafing and taking her ease in the grass, “Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?” We hear Harryette Mullen “just as I am come/knee bent and body bowed” on how to “proceed with abandon” and we hear Phillips again with an Aubade assuring us “Yes. You will be saved.” Thomas Merton weighs in with his own Aubade, and we pause to reflect on the life of Merton, making something holy of his life through the practice and devotion of poetry, and advice on living a wise life from Jeni Olin (speaking of “weighing in”) and Frank O’Hara, another city voice, speaking to us of how we should and could be, not exactly the monk Merton was, or turned out to be, more like the punk avuncular voice (think, “Saturday Night At the Movies”). So as we hear advice from poets on this question of how to live, some from the wicked uncle, some from a wicked uncle turned monk, everyone with something urgent to say to us to make something of our lives, something beautiful, we think anew of John Keats “Endymion,” his 4,000 line poem beginning “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Can we sleep our lives away? Will a moon goddess make fifty daughters with us as we slumber, as we think, unproductively? We reflect on Keats’ short but productive life, pondering the critics’ response to him to give poetry up .  . . let us all remember this, how what we do, expressing the voice within us, may not be recognized at the moment, but do it anyway, despite, despite—and here we are, enjoying Keats “thing of beauty” as long as we live and read. That’s what Mark Doty is talking about, beauty in our earth—at whatever season—“fabulous.”


And more on how we give ourselves to experience to make something beautiful of us: Honor Moore has a tribute poem to Wallace Stevens, in gratitude for the role of poets in our lives to show us by their own example how to make something beautiful, and that’s behind I think, the work of David Brower, using his words to ensure that a thing of beauty, earth itself, lasts forever. We hear Brower’s “Credo for Earth,” inspired by poets themselves inspired by poets who loved earth (what poet does not?). And then, at last, on how we live a life of purpose to make beauty, the life of the poet to turn our attention towards the beauty and in the process, make something that does not die: we hear Brooklyn’s own, Maine’s beloved Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius. We remember Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s call to a renaissance of wonder: we believe in this, in our capacity to wonder which will save us and save our earth, and hear again Janet Loxley Lewis’s “The Wonder of the World,” lines from a Swedish gravestone,

The wonder of the world,

The beauty and the power,

The shapes of things,

Their colors, lights and shades,

These I saw.

Look ye also

While life lasts.


Earth, air and upper air,

Earth, air and water I knew,

And the sun on my face.

The voices of women and men,

The shouting of children,

These I knew.

Harken ye, also.

Drink while life lasts

The wine of astonishment.


So spoke the stone. (“The Wonder of the World” from Poems Old and New 1918-1978 by Janet Lewis. Published in 1981 by Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, Athens, Ohio (
So drinking this wine of astonishment, and hope for astonishment, in our daily acts, what about flying a kite? Isn’t that the activity that goes nowhere? Go fly a kite, the expression goes; go away. Surely this is a time to slow down, look up, and feel our way to something marvelous. We hear Seamus Heaney wish us on our way, with “A Kite for Aibhin.” So may you take off, Poetry Slow Down, today, productive living beauty in your life, lying in the grass, flying a kite, with a sense of wonder and hope for the new renaissance for poetry, which your listening is evidence is happening!  Thank you for joining me! Write me, at, and happy birthday John Muir, Shakespeare, Earth, Osa, Lorraine, Sophia, and “life, and love, and wings” (e.e. cummings), and until next week, thinking of you wild and precious, flying a kite gloriously.

© Barbara Mossberg 2011



Our Poetry Slow Down’s title takes off from Alicia Ostriker’s “April,” with notes of birthday glads Shakespeare and John Muir, speaking for Earth Day, and the theme today of “I’ll Take It, I’ll Make It, Anywhere I Am (Pray It Be Outside),” and “it” is poetry, making our day as we make our way, perhaps thinking we are wasting our time, in waiting and being non-productive, finding in the off-road, off-pavement, out-of-pocket moments something in our pockets for just such time when we s l o w down. Giving our poets a hearing in this Realm of Air, we have Charles Tripi on Gerald Stern and Li-Young Lee on prayer and their blessing poems redeeming wasteland through the agency of grapefruit and peaches, a revery of John Muir’s cover of his tutor Shakespeare’s “tongues in trees . . . sermon in rocks” from As You Like It, pocket poems to get us through the so-thought wasted moments to new juiciness, Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Ilya Kaminsky, George Moses Horton, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Mark Turcotte, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, C.K. Williams, Goethe, Karl Shapiro, James Wright (a poem I cannot get enough of, you know which one), Barbara Cooney (at last), Amy Lowell, Joy Harjo’s “Eagle,” Gwendolyn Brooks’s frontyard, David Brower, Christopher Morley, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Janet Loxley Lewis, Seamus Heaney. Professor Mossberg? Dr. B? With all due respect, a glory of riches, in one hour! You are right, so right, I got carried away like Heaney’s kite! Like Tripi’s prayer! The sermon in stone, to be astonished! So listen, I will be broadcasting next week from Central Park at Shakespeare’s statue, and we will do Miss Rumphius then, and Brower, and Shakespeare the eco-poet, because we have to hear them all—our need of poets: they are (and this is the note on which our show ends today) wonderful, astonishing, exemplars in ways to be, reading the authorial earth, in Ostriker’s words, “a concerto of good stinks.” Thank you for joining me! And I would love to see the “bench poetry” you find, at What is it about love and memory, when only poetry will do?
© Barbara Mossberg 2011


CRUEL AND TAXING APRIL(S). April perturbs and taxes the mind of Emily Dickinson and T.S. Eliot, while Thoreau doesn’t worry about how to do justice to this season; he proclaims morning as the season of the day, the time of vigorous and momentous thought. We hear some of Eleanor Farjeon’s hymn “Morning Has Broken” and Thoreau gets us going with his paean to morning. Memorable events require a morning atmosphere, to be awake is to be alive, and we must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake. And thus, we make our morning The Poetry Slow Down. We hear about Leo Lionni’s Frederick, a mouse heroic poet who saves the day for his community. Speaking of spring, Mary Oliver in “Skunk Cabbage,”  opens with “these are the woods you love,” a seeming response to Thoreau’s “I went to the woods . . . .” We hear in her “Spring” a clue to the meanings of Holy Moley! And in honor of Dr. Steven Clarke and Mr. Stanley Sheinkopf, we hear A.E. Housman’s “Loveliest of Trees.”  We hear Newton speak passionately about Agitations, the heart and blood of creatures in perpetual motion, Eliot proclaim love in midst of bombing raids, and Sufi poet Hafiz tell us we are spring itself (thank you Elaine Bolduc): “Love will surely burst you wide open/into an unfettered, booming new galaxy.” We hear a lot about The Wasteland and a little about how the five words, April is the cruelest month, shaped my life. Poetry saves and makes the day. Thank you for joining me in our atmosphere of morning!

Looking Ahead:

April 14 is Pocket Poem day (go to, and next week’s show features Osher Institute of Lifelong Learning adventures in poetry and gardening, Pocket Poems for the DMV and other places you find yourself in line, a new poem by Charles Tripi that involves and invokes Gerard Stern, Li-Young Lee, Poetry Festivals, and a poem aired on last week’s show (“Fat Lady Flying”). To say Stern or Li-Young Lee is to see blossoms and fruits in the making, grapefruits and peaches and . . . what’s growing on your tree? We’ll celebrate John Muir’s birthday, Earth Day, and on that note of doing right by the earth with the voice of the poet, Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius: do something good for the happening illimitably earth. Listen for the flute, Producer Sara Hughes’ stream through our morning atmosphere, making it a woods in which we can live “deliberately,” as Thoreau says in Walden, and do justice to April’s green frolic, carrying on. To be continued . . . .Write me, and if you live on the Central Coast, you are welcome at the Poetry Workshop, Pacific Grove Library, on Grand Openings, April 12, and my talk on poetry at California Writers’ Club, April 19. Information on upcoming events Thank you for your support of poetry in our daily civic life.

© Barbara Mossberg 2011