I have been thinking a lot about the word “let” in our language. The past two weeks, we heard Linda Gregg’s poem “Let Birds”–Let birds . . . do what? You can see Poetry Slow Down how this has slowed me down. How to let birds . . .  be? What is being asked of us by the poet? And she does not stop there, with this mysterious title that takes us down the rabbit hole.  We first encounter the word “let” in the poem, “me like a mare let out to pasture.” Here, we understand “let out” as in, allowed to be or go as you wish, as you need, as you are able. Some outer force makes possible what is in you to do. Something was contained, contained you, and now is “let out.” It is a liberating thing, a freeing up. An outing. When someone is “let out,” as in, let out of jail, or, let out, as, of school, when school lets out . . . it is a release.

We hear that word, allow, when she says, allow the ocean to wake in you. When we say, allow this, we confer a power, an authority, to let something happen, to make something happen that something has the capacity to do or be . . . When we let or allow, it is to . . . the word I am searching for is . . .  surrender, yield, it is to not LET anything get in the way of what needs to happen or be, that naturally exists. But it is also an urging, a kind of command. A prayer, a plea, for whatever is possible to not be prevented. It is a way of language, a way of creation, a way of power, a way of going with the flow, being an instrument of the flow . . .

So, are you thinking, Poetry Slow Down, Let there be light! God said, Let there be light! So, light exists, and God says, yes! A charge to the universe, gather yourself, manifest, be! Light!

Or, Let freedom ring!

Or, the Beatles, Let it be! Or cummings, let it go! Or Shakespeare, Sonnet 116!

Or, Let us pray!, Or, Let us now praise famous men. Or, Let the good times roll.

And how many love poems, and songs use “let”–I will never let you go, let your heart speak; let is the word of the lover, the leader, in our civic culture, let is this word of allowance and permission to sanction open-ness and flow. And where does this word come from, this favorite word of poets that begins so many poems?

So “let us go then, you and I . . . ” in the words of T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and see what the poets have said about how and why to let “let” into our lives, and open us to the idea of what is possible if we imagine it.

And then, Poetry Slow Down, speaking of what we let in, when we open ourselves to human longing for something more free, more whole, more harmonious, more evolved in our lives, I happened to read “The White Rooster” by a Mr. William Goyen. This was astonishing poetry, even if it was a short story. I have to read it to you. You have to hear it. And then, I have to tell you about this author, and the role of poetry in his development and goals and values as a writer. And meanwhile, he set me on a wild rooster chase for rooster poems, and it turns out that poets not only write about roosters, but identify with them, as fellow poets, heralds, awakeners of consciousness, conscience, life itself. We consider that Elizabeth Bishop, William Stafford, and many others write remarkable poems about roosters, and we conclude with Henry David Thoreau’s identification with roosters in Walden, and the meaning to him of roosters in the context of his role as poet bringing us perpetual Morning, poet/rooster letting in the Light. I confess I had no idea where this show was going to take me, letting its path flow . . . but I am happy I ended up with roosters, and I hope you are, too. Let us thank our poets who slow us down, wake us up, and bring on a new day of hope for what is humanly possible.

© Barbara Mossberg

LOCKED OUT: The Poetry Slow Down Revelation, Elation in Blackberry and Palm

We DO move too fast! What’s wrong with that, Professor B? The early bird gets the worm! Well, if we’re going sixty miles an hour and it’s all a blur, or we’re so overscheduled and stressed and harried we can’t see the gorgeous details, or the grand big picture, we forget what a glorious ride we’re on, on our planet, you know, our planet which is whirling and twirling so fast. . . or light, you know, 186,000 miles a second, it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law . . . but us . . . So let’s slow down for the Poetry  Slow Down, I’m Professor Barbara Mossberg, thank you for joining me, and Producer Hal Ginsberg, as we let poetry beguile us, the Wolf to our clipboard carrying nervous nelly uptight upright Red Riding Hood selves, Wolf in a good way, wolf in the way that we use for a metaphor of primal gulping, as in wolfing something down, you’re hungry as a wolf for.. Wait, hold on, Dr. B, with all due respect, you’re saying we should slow down, but now you’re saying we should wolf down, and wolfing down something is to inhale it whole, not savoring it, so how can a poem wolf down, lure us, AND slow us down, maybe trip us up, allure us? Okay, Walt, help me out here, “do I contradict myself? Very well, then,  contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes,” thank you Walt Whitman, in Song of Myself, as he tells us he is lying at the feet of the familiar, the low, considering leaves of grass, considering lilies of the field. So you know how I love to read for us Mary Oliver’s A Summer Day, how she is getting down in the grass eyeball to eyeball with a grasshopper, and Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, a child said, what is the grass, I loaf and invite my ease . . . I lie here, waiting for you . . . Walt in my mind is always lying down, a leaf of grass in his hand, idling, well . . . and I always say, slow down, you move too fast, well, so a confession here, the truth is, I move  . . . pretty fast. There’s so much I want to do, I’m just running. So I fly across the country from lecturing on how interdisciplinarity fuels creativity, and I get to Los Angeles, for a program on creativity I’m getting ready for this weekend, and I have an article that has to be edited, a hundred urgent errands, my students are writing, my five email accounts are brimming with urgency and deadlines and it’s all pretty glorious, I’m in the saddle, I’m so busy that even though I’ve been up all night traveling, I don’t take a nap, I’ve got two computers going and two phones, and, our son is visiting and I give him my key, and he goes to Hollywood for some meetings, and I step out of the house and the door closes, and I realize it immediately: I’m locked out. Now normally I’d have my laptop with me, my ipad, my phone, my journal, a book, a message pad, I always have these things with me, so I can be productive, but no. So what do I do. I sit down on the grass. Then, I lay down on the grass. And I look up at the trees. I’m looking at palm trees. They are dripping with light! I’m looking at them: they have feathers, they are flying, they are shining, wet with light! They are waving at me, with green fingers, flirty, hello! I am thinking of W.S. Merwin, resurrecting palm trees on his Hawaiian ranch, his poem “Palms,” and I’m lying in the grass, thinking how to describe it, and then I’m gazing, amazed my fortune to be locked out, I just loaf, take my ease, I’m with Whitman, Oliver, Merwin, poems on the grass, in the grass, so we’re going to amble, ramble, swagger, as poets march to a music of their own making, with poetic feet: Linda Gregg’s “Let Birds” (we cannot get enough of this poem, and we’re going to make hay with it), we’re going to cultivate wildness, poetry, weeds, grass . . . honoring the sprouting idea that says I am a poem, working the psychic soil: Union Institute & University professor Joshua Butts, and we’ll hear Merwin, Oliver, Emily Dickinson, Richard Wilbur, William Stafford, Seamus Heaney, Robert Hass, and more . . . . all that we can learn from poets, when we’re locked out, lying in the grass and looking at the trees . . . thank you for joining me, at the Poetry Slow Down.

© Barbara Mossberg 2011

HUSK, SHELL, REMAINS: LETTING IN THE LIGHT, VACATING OUR LIVES TO LIVE: THE ABC’s of A Way to Be and See for Infinity, Featuring Mark Doty’s Reading of a Green Crab Shell

Thanking you, Poetry Slow Down, for joining me on this summer day, for an hour away, a way, as we go on vacation, for more poetry of the tourist kind, the tourist mind, perhaps disoriented, as Billy Collins wants to hijack us and take us out of town and drop us off in a cornfield . . . on our program theme today of how we honor life by living it now, paying attention so consciously, a way that requires going away, going outside, out of the normal workaday world. Let’s step outside, this summer day, and get down with it: literally, down to it, at ground level, with Walt Whitman’s Preface to Leaves of Grass, and Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day,” –“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?” That’s our question, isn’t it? Our one wild and precious life? And the paradox is that being present in our world requires or is a function of leaving it, in this sense, to spend time as Oliver does, so-called wasting time, unproductively in a field at grass level, eyeing a grasshopper, leaves of grass, eye to eye, and it is having to leave our daily routine, to vacate our world, vacate—the root world of vacation we were exploring in last week’s show together—to be empty, getting us away, in order to be . . . more fully present in our world. E.e. cummings pledges in our show’s favorite sonnet, i thank You God for most this amazing day  . . . i who have died am alive again today, in the spirit of gratitude Oliver expresses, for a sense of life, in the face of all of us dying, too soon, “now the eyes of my eyes are awake and now the ears of my ears are opened.” The emphasis on now, now, living and being present now–that’s what Oliver is talking about, and seeing, hearing, June Jordan, on ears opened, being present: Listening—a good way to hear . . . So today we are listening to poets taking us on vacation, vacating our normal lives, as they share their experiences of being AWAY, and what they see, and how they be, A way to be and see . . .

So let’s walk down the beach with Mark Doty, and see what there is to see, and like Mary Oliver, looking at the grasshopper in the grass, up close and personal, he’s at ground level, and he sees a crab shell fragment, what remains, and how enduring remains remind us of life within now, and what miraculous beauty is possible even now . . . in the precision of notice of our world.

So our line up for today, listening to poets taking us away and writing home, making us see our world with fresh eyes and appreciation for this world and our minds, which make the perception of this world possible: don’t you think our world created our minds out of vanity, wanting to be noticed and appreciated, why eyes evolved. . . and ears . .  .and brains, to conceive, this is . . . beautiful . . . marvelous . .  .what is this . . . we’ll hear W.B. Yeats, W.H. Auden, Rita Dove, Charles Wright in his garden, Pablo Neruda being corny, Linda Gregg—a poem that will carry you away, open you to life’s possibilities, your own role in letting in life, giving permission to what is wild and precious in you, one of my Union Institute and University colleagues where I’m broadcasting today, David Young, a marvelous poem about Adlai Stevenson and Yellow Jackets, outdoors pieces, Lois Melina, my Union Institute & University colleague in the Ethical and Creative Leadership Ph.D. program where we’re teaching, calling out my own response in Night Hunger, Wild Hunger, speaking of being outside, outing my ambivalence about being out there, but how necessary it is to being alive inside, inside our ice-chest–and what poetry has to do with it:

So Poetry Slow Down, let’s walk on the beach, wear your mental suntan lotion and glasses, because he’s got neural heat going on . . .

© Barbara Mossberg 2011

Yay! News!

Benicia Newspaper Article


Another article on I READ THE NEWS TODAY. OH BOY  in the Vallejo Times Herald this morning. I hope you can get a copy since it has two photos that aren’t shown on the web site version below.

A couple of you pointed out that the link I sent for the Contra Costa Times article on June 23rd directed or pointed to the Patch article instead. The Contra Costs Times also appeared in the OAKLAND TRIBUNE and the SAN JOSE MECURY NEWS.  Just in case you didn’t see the Contra Costa Times article, I am repeating the link here as well

We are very fortunate to have had such a positive response to our exhibit. This is all thanks to Jady Montgomery our publicity person for this program and a loyal member of the FIRST TUESDAY POETRY GROUP here in Benicia.

I am thinking we may have over 100 people at the Opening Reception on Thursday. Artists and Poets, please be generous with those snacks you are bringing!  You’ll have a name tag ready for you when you arrive. Please wear it and let people know who you are so they can ask you questions about your topic and your work for this show. I am proud of this show and I hope you are proud and pleased as well.

I’ve been checking on the exhibit every day and each time I’ve gone I’ve met people who are excited about what they are seeing and reading. I’ve met a woman who came from Walnut Creek after reading the CC article, a man who has lived in Benicia 45 years who said this is the first exhibit of art in this community he has really enjoyed. A woman in town wrote me to say that she’s been going everyday to really study one by one each of the artist/poet/article sections of the exhibit. Two teenagers stopped (with skateboards underarms)  to see the portrait of Les Overlock that Mike Kimball did because they’d heard about it from their friends and then went deeper into the exhibit looking and exclaiming as they went. More stories of the exhibit when I see you on Thursday.

All the best,
Ronna Leon
‘I read the news today …’

Benicia Library

Gallery of Images

Benicia Magazine

Published By Times Herald
Posted: 06/26/2011 01:00:39 AM PDT

Benicia exhibit focuses on the headlines
By Jennifer Modenessi
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 06/23/2011 12:00:00 AM PDT

THE POETRY VACATION: POETS AS DELIBERATE TOURISTS—Post cards from “somewhere i have never traveled gladly beyond any experience” (e.e. cummings)—or Messages from Lost and Found

It’s that time of year when people, maybe you, maybe you right now, go on vacations, which means, vacate, empty, leave home, leave the everyday routine, and be tourists. You are saying, Oh not me, I don’t want to be a tourist, Dr. B. Now you think I will say, because you know me, what I think of you, Oh, not you, but . . . peo–ple. But I say, Oh, how does a tourist act?

You know, you say, lost, out of place, wanting everything to be the same, stressed it isn’t, walking around with a map, not knowing, always asking questions, standing out like a sore thumb. I’m really glad you said this, Poetry Slow Down, because, speaking of go-ing on vacations, I want to go with this. This is Professor Barbara Mossberg, thank you for joining me at the Poetry Slow Down, it’s vacation time of year, and we’re going to have a little vacation this hour from the habitual world, what Emily Dickinson called Prose . . . Ann Tyler, do you know her works, I read them all, I buy them when they come out, in hardback–wrote a novel called The Accidental Tourist. It’s about a man in Baltimore, where Tyler herself lives, who organizes his whole life around preventing change–anything different from happening to him. He even hates to do errands across town because he gets homesick, only blocks away. Traveling is a matter of finding a place and a way to be where it is just like home. Being a tourist is his ultimate nightmare. He would never be one on purpose. And I think you’re right, Poetry Slow Down, of course you are, in how tourists are perceived. When we’re in a new place, we’re often lost, and demoralized, and irritated, and irritable, and irritating. We don’t know where to go or how to go or what to do. We think we know it all, and now we face the fact that we don’t and that people are doing things differently, in other words, wrong. But when we’re walking down the street, and we know where we’re going, we don’t have to think about it. We don’t have to look, so, we don’t look. We get to where we’re going. We aren’t peering at every sign and looking for landmarks, Is that it, is that, trying to match marks on a map with shapes of buildings-–or how they are described—When I was the U.S. Scholar in Residence in Washington, D.C., representing the academic study American culture, I would meet and travel with visiting foreign delegations, and there was this group of youth leaders from Europe, who had been traveling in the South, and every time we said goodbye they waved and said, knowingly, Piggly Wiggly. People in the Washington agencies were baffled. I asked them what they meant. They were so proud of picking up American lingo. They told me they asked directions for a place to buy aspirin, and people said, You go down this street, and turn that way, and you’ll see it, it’s right there– Piggly Wiggly. They thought Piggly Wiggly was a manner of farewell, like ciao, a toute de l’heure, see ya, but it’s a Southern market chain, the store they were looking for . . . Everywhere they went after that, in all their encounters with Americans, they proudly ended every conversation with, Piggly Wiggly . . . Anyhoosals: As tourists, we’re aware intensely of what we’re seeing, where we are, a little off center, possibly anxious, but wide-eyed. Aware we don’t know, we’re conscious. We’re awake. In the immortal words of our show’s theme song, Paul Simon’s 59th Street Bridge Song, Slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make the morning last . . . as a tourist, we’re slowing down, and, we’re making the morning and life itself last . . . how? Being lost, not knowing where we’re going, we notice: everything: We’re aware of morning, the present, the now of it all. The clouds, the feel of the air, the look of the sidewalk or the trees or the towers or the people on the street, the smells, the light . . . we might not remember what we were doing two days ago or last week, but on our vacation, when we were a tourist, we can recall every detail of a morning. And so where I am going with this, Poetry Slow Down, this mid summer day, when the privileged go on vacation, and when it is likely you may be a tourist, is that this state of consciousness, of not knowing, of being in a new place, an unknown place, and trying to figure it out, whether an emotion, a landscape, a scene, and engage with it, and own it, know it, for the first time, is what it is to be a poet, present in our world . . . Before we can write a poem about something, we first have to not know it, not know it in the sense that we take for granted what we think we know.  If we know, we don’t have to think, we just go—Do you ever find that people ask you directions to a place you go to every day, and you don’t know the names of the streets, or how many blocks, because you go there almost blind, from habit. . . But a tourist can’t do that. A tourist has to be on the lookout every moment, in fear or wonder . . . A poet is a deliberate tourist, seeking out the state of mind for which so much is unintelligible, and a new way of speaking is required, a new language, for a new way of thinking and seeing a new world. . .

So Poetry Slow Down, let’s imagine that you’re a tourist, you’re on vacation, you’ve gone somewhere, on purpose, and what’s the first obligation of being away? You’re right, of course, you have to write a post card to your friends back home. I am sure the first post card—POET card—was written on stone or coal or a log or leaf–Professor Mossberg, with all due respect, that’s pretty old school, writing a post card! Like that’s ancient, like a letter . . . OK, OK, so, today, maybe you write email, ok, I know, how old school, you text, you twitter, you . . . flitter—I don’t know—glimmer—whatever! You facebook, you take photos with your cell phone, but even so, you need a caption, you need words. . . and what should you say?

Well, that’s where poetry comes in: deux ex machina! Saved by the bell! Poets are tourists in our daily world! Poets are like Thoreau, going to the woods to live deliberately. Poets are wandering, wondering what am I seeing, what’s going on here, where am I, trying to put it into words, what is found there. . . present in our world . . . in what schools of psychology today call the Now . . . But poets have always ascribed to the sense of now, east or west: Vietnamese Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh (b. 1926), writes of what can happen if we leave off from our complacency, from the habits of mind that drag us down, our fears of change which impoverish us, and leave us destitute and forlorn; Hafiz: (b. 1310)- from Shiraz, in South-central Iran, writes of what we can find when we are alone and unknowing.

So today, we are going to see how poets are tourists giving us inspiration for our own post cards/emails/texts/twitters/captions of where we find ourselves, in the process of being lost, and found, as tourists, or simply, on vacation. . . vacating our normal lives, our routines, our habits of thought and being, our blinders preventing us from seeing the world because we think we already know it.

So let’s get started, Poetry Slow Down, let’s see where we are likely to be when we are on vacations this month, and see if the poets can help us out for writing our metaphoric post cards . . . our ringers . . . for sending home zingers . . . words that can do justice to the occasion . . .

We’ll hear how Billy Collins and Leonard Cohen and Emily Dickinson deliberate try to disorient us in their poetry, philosophies of creativity.

Here’s our line up: We’re likely to be  . . .


On the beach, and we’ll hear from our own KRXA Poetry Slow Down pilot philosopher poet Chuck Tripi; Going To the beach, Emily Dickinson; On the open road, on foot, Walt Whitman; On the ferry, Edna St. Vincent Millay; In the car, on an LA freeway, Leonard Cohen; In the car, on a Virginia highway, Charles Wright (and in his backyard); At the museum, with Billy Collins (fishing on the Susquehanna) (and Canada);

By the lake, Quantum Happiness by your Dr. B;

Eating barbeque, watermelon, corn on the cob, Pablo Neruda; On a hammock, James Wright;

At a café, W.B. Yeats and Robert Service; By a river, WH Auden; Gardening, James Tate; Checking into a hotel, Nancy Willard; Getting on a plane, at the departure gate, Rita Dove;

Sitting at one’s desk, Stanley Kunitz and Emily Dickinson. Wait! Sitting at a desk: does that qualify as a vacation? Thank you for this question! It qualifies if it is a vacating, a leave-taking . . . if it is a rest . . . if it gets us to the tourist state of mind. We’ll see what the results are, what is written home about! Please join me for this series on packing by emptying our suitcase of the mind, postcards from “somewhere I have never traveled” (e.e. cummings’ sonnet) . . . Let’s begin with the beach, get your sun tan lotion and binoculars! Mr. Tripi: you’re on! And we’re off!

c Barbara Mossberg 2011