STORM SURGE ON THE MIND: Words for Waiting (For/Out) a Storm, When You’re Slowed Way Down, to the music of Good Night Irene, Stormy Weather, Singing in the Rain, and You’ll Never Walk Alone. Can you guess what the poetry news is for this week’s show? We’re slowing down for . . .

Dr. B, with all due respect, what if we are slowed down . . . way slowed down . . . TOO slowed down . . . stuck in traffic, waiting for a storm, waiting out a storm . . . .

That’s what I’m talking about! Maybe you are listening on a battery-powered radio or a radio or computer powered by a generator, and it’s new moon, high tides. It’s high time, right now, for our Rx, for times such as these, poetry, each poem generating its own heat, its own power, its own light, its own sanctuary, its own nourishment, its own succor, its own solace. In times of fear and times of waiting, times of helplessness, what can you do? Well, Poetry Slow Down, take out your mind, hold onto your hats, for our show today, in respect of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene: poetry for slowing down when the world is spinning and hurtling, surging and storming, down and all around.

As it turns out, in the creating universe, it’s often stormy weather, and that’s a good thing, from the poet’s point of view. We begin (and end) with weather poet Shakespeare, devotee of Tempest, with a hey, ho, the wind and the rain, the rain it raineth every day, Feste the “fool’s” philosophy of life on earth, and a vision of the transforming effect of the greatest storm scene in literature, King Lear on the heath with his crew, the so-called Fool, singing hey, ho, the wind and the rain, and his buddy Kent and “Tom,” the wronged Edgar. Lear is enraged by the treatment of him by his daughters which puts him (in Toni Morrison’s conceit in The Bluest Eye) “outdoors,” not a good place to be in a raging storm (he’s not the best dad in the world, but he claims he is more “sinned against than sinning”—that’s his story). In fact, Lear has been in a rage most of the play; he is a one-man storm system, spouting and carrying on. Now he cries foul for how his poor white-haired head is being pelted in a furious storm. But we see him transformed by the experience, the storm righting him to his senses, calming him down. He comes to consciousness as a human being, morphing from king to kind to kin, in his treatment of the Fool who becomes a “good boy” of concern to the King for the first time. We see, by the agency of the storm, Lear become a man. One of the most famous storm scenes in literary history, it’s the storm itself, and experiencing it defenseless, in the howling wind and rain, that transforms Lear from a selfish, autocratic, heedless king into a man, shocked into sympathy, roused from self-pity to empathy: soaked, drenched, wind-whipped, this is his shining moment, his morph-moment. As you listen, Poetry Slow Down, make whoooooing noises, for the first iconic words as he gives the storm a piece of his own raging mind. We’ll hear stormy words from Odgen Nash, the Bible, Jeffrey Yang (reflecting on his 75 anniversary edition for New Directions, including the poetry of nature, and how we may heal from natural disasters), two poems Yang brings to us, William Everson’s “We in the Fields,” and Gottfried Benn’s “Epilogue.” Then we give a shout to Teresa Cader’s “History of Hurricane,” Bin Ramke’s “Into Bad Weather Bounding,” William Carlos Williams’ “The Hurricane,” Chris Martin’s “Becoming Weather, 21”—and yes, we don’t plan on doing it alone: we need to travel with Fool, the one who sings to us of the wind and rain, hey, ho. We hear an inspired Dr. B read her take on rain from immersion in these poems, Jack Gilbert’s “Tear It Down,” and two poems on rain the Hollywood way, rain in films: Don Paterson’s “Rain,” and Lawrence Raab’s “Why It Often Rains in the Movies.” We hear Anne Stevenson’s “Drench,” and you are already saying, but Professor Mossberg, what about Emily D? And yes, we hear about storms through the lens of domestica, kitchen and housekeeping quotidian realities, both versions of “The Wind begun to knead the Grass” and “The Wind begun to rock the Grass,” and more poetry on wind by her, Henry David Thoreau, and of course, John Muir’s iconic essay on the wind storm in Yuba during which he climbed a 100-foot swaying tree the better to observe nature in “high festival.” Robert Frost and Theodore Roethke weigh in on storms, and Seamus Heaney narrates “Storm on the Island.” Finally, John Tansey takes it home for us, as I ask how we could bring people in from the storm, quoting our poet President Obama and New Jersey Governor Christie, on how to stay safe. Tansey asks us to be in the moment, and we hear good advice on this from Rumi, Laura McCullough, Tim Seibles, and Gerald Stern, who I knew would have momentous words for us on the role of storm in the loving and passionate life. In our days of hurricanes and squalls and prayers for rain and flight from wind, our poets make storms in our minds to transform and redeem and enliven and enlarge us, creative storm surges disrupting the quotidian, the topic of our next show, and thank you for joining me for our journey. Take a Fool, and you’ll never walk alone; you’ll walk to singing, singing in the rain.

© Barbara Mossberg


This is my letter to the world who never wrote to me–

That’s Emily Dickinson, posting from her Amherst bedroom, and this is your host of post, Professor Barbara Mossberg, welcoming you to The Poetry Slow Down. We’re featuring bloggers and tweetsters Walt Whitman, Gary Snyder, Mary Oliver, Jim Heynas, William Stafford, Vijay Seshadri , Chu Hsi, Tao Ching, Tim Seibles, Eleni Sikélianòs

. . .

Now what do you mean by this, Dr. B, with all due respect? You aren’t talking about the aesthetics of the new media, are you, relating it to the ancient practice of poetry? Hey now: Poetry Slow Down, and your newfangled smartiness, we–ll, maybe it’s because I’ve been with my daughter before she headed back to college, or because this coming week I am back in the classroom with 18 year olds in First Year Seminar, and my ingenious purple ones, so internet savvy, Integrated Studies Special Majors rocking our world, and so I’m in this new world of internet tweet and twitter and flicker and Facebook and SMS postings—a metaphoric term for what people say on the internet, as in posting a message on a wall, that’s the phrase, so, yes, our program today reflects on the current practice and devotion to be-ing in public, going public, in the act of tweeting, in what is called twitter, and how it may in fact, the more I understand it, if I understand it, be the same as, poetry has ever been.

No way! Way!

Oh Dr. B, not you, who champion Homer and Horace and old-school classic learning and books and libraries and handwritten letters, who try to bring us back to the Grove! Et tu, Dr. B? Well, ah, I confess the first book I am assigning first year students is The Odyssey, but also, Chaos: Making the New Science, emergence theories of how we see our complex happening world around us, making order out of chaos . . . as poetry always has done—I see the connections between sitting on the sand, only sky and tree and hand for a text to figure things out, and what we today call twitter or tweet or posting or messaging or texting—reading and writing texts to collectively decipher our mysterious momentous world and lives.  This profusion of new media which is destabilizing our publishing and experience with books and how we read: maybe the flutter about twitter is how people once felt about clay and leaves as the new technology for telling our stories, from the chanting voice of the epic and lyric poets . . . Do you blog? Do you read blogs? Well, Poetry Slow Down, I realize I have been reading Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, which he added to and revised his whole life, as one long blog; we can look at poetry whether ancient or written today, as a blog—or tweet—a lens that illuminates the core of poetry’s role in our lives.

In instant messaging, our communications get shorter and shorter—faster and faster—as if we have so little TIME to say and hear, but yet long to cry out, to know, what’s up with you? It may be a loneliness, a hunger, our ultimate humanity, to sing our song, to be known– perhaps this is what poetry in its core is, but slowed down to wrestle with how to say, to stop for an insight, of how the world appears and organizes itself to our brains just then. Through the lens of twitter and tweet I see our poets posting all along, the original posters, twitsters . . . So let’s get started, what do you say, this August day? It all begins actually with sharing with you what I was doing when I was playing hookey from our live show, carousing in the court of the queen of tweet, Emily Dickinson, at Amherst College at the Emily Dickinson International Society Annual Meeting, and Board of Directors meeting, and teaching two Master Classes on “I’m Nobody.” We’ll talk about Emily Dickinson’s tweets, her good days and bad days, hard nights and wild nights, joys and pains, observations on the weather, and other “Bulletins from Immortality.”

We’ll talk about good news in the news, news we need, news we heed, news feeds, and “this just in” news of restoration and resurrection and reverence of the wild world, including the story of the Highway 101 Klamath River whale visitation and the role of twitter and Facebook newsfeeds as we try to figure it out. We hear this story through the lens of poets engaging imaginatively with whales, including Mary Oliver and Gary Snyder. We hear news feeds on earth watch from William Stafford and Jim Heynas and Vijay Seshadri, and bulletins about our hands from Tim Seibles, and Walt Whitman’s conviction he is the king of tweet. It’s all old school, poetry at full tilt, when we slow down and let each other know what it is like for each of us to be conscious here on earth.

Write me at, or “message” me on Facebook.

Yours sincerely, Dr. B

© Barbara Mossberg 2011


O something pernicious and dread! Something far away from a puny and pious life—Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself” (The Joys, 196)


Walt Whitman–he’s escaped what afflicts you and me, “something escaped from the anchorage, and driving free.” Now, Poetry Slow Down, this has been an eventful year, has it not? And I’m thinking of you, in the suffering heat, and of our times, hospitals, operations, deaths, births, losses of ones on two and four feet and winged, sorrows, bellows, neighs, pants, cries, and every which wayness happening illimitably. So it’s time to hang a sign on our door and say, Gone Fishing. There is something about poetry and fish, poetry and fishing that is ancient and that we have to hear.


So come away with me, Poetry Slow Down, from the pernicious and dread, close the doors, put up a sign, Gone Fishin, KRXA 540AM, and we’ll chill with Whitman, Billy Collins, e.e. cummings, Elizabeth Bishop, Shelley, Gerard Manely Hopkins, Thomas Hardy, Dylan Thomas, Pablo Neruda, Chuck Tripi, Herman Melville, Yeats, and me coming to terms with my inner bear/fisherman/fish.


We’re exploring what we mean by such a sign as Gone Fishing, for poetry and creativity and being awake and present in this world. What is it about Gone Fishing, putting up that sign? A socially sanctioned hookey? An eat-your-hearts-out moment? But the poets don’t leave us behind to taunt us with where they are and we’re not. They take us imaginatively with them, only leaving work to do The Work of the poet, casting the mind’s eye on our world’s waters, “gone” enough to be present  . . . to get us “out there,” “outa here,” and “hear” what our world has to say to us.  This show is not just about fishing, but . . . being gone, getting ourselves gone, to a place we need to be. A workday excursion, excused, perhaps because it IS The Work. The act, the practice, the devotion, the art, the science of being gone, no longer present, to be present in a different way that we need and upon which, perhaps, our world and lives depend. I suggest poetry as a practice of Gone Fishing is a way of Carpe Diem, catching the world’s meaning, seizing it, and perhaps letting it go, alive for us on the page of poetry, and we’re seeing “Rainbow!” (Bishop, “The Fish”). Meanwhile, heat, what heat? Okay, we’re slowed down, we’re catching the day. Thank you for joining me, and I’ll catch you later.

Barbara Mossberg, Dr. B

© Barbara Mossberg 2011

Produced by Sara Hughes

KRXA 540AM, Broadcast Live, August 7, 2011, from Yosemite National Park. Thank you to all who contributed to this production, Wawona Hotel/Yosemite Park Service, LeConte Memorial Lodge and Dr. Bonnie Gisel, “Billy” from Budget/Logan Interantional Airport (Go, Red Sox! And wait for future program), and Sophia Mossberg.