We always take advice from poets, Derek Walcott’s Love After Love (“The time will come when, with elation, you will greet yourself . . . “), Rumi (“Say Yes Quickly”), T.S. Eliot (“Let us go then, you and I . . . “). At a time of University Convocation, the beginning of the school year, T.S. Eliot’s birthday, the beginning of leaves turning, we celebrate beginnings of all kinds, beginning at the beginning with the earliest literature, epic, as we consider how epic is begun. We will hear from Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Odyssey, Beowulf, Divine Comedy (and their poet translators), Dr. Seuss, Walt Whitman, and the case for J. Alfred Prufrock as epic hero, revealing just how much the epic story is one of wanting to tell the story (“and how shall I begin?”), hence the beseeching of the Muse. We consider how perhaps we, you and I, are Eliot’s muse, that he can’t do it alone, a theory we explore with Walt Whitman’s own epic “Song of Myself,” requiring our collaboration as he guides us. In what ways does Dr. Seuss reveal the motivation, the inner Muse, in “And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street,” the need to tell a story more true, larger, respecting the imagination, and the human need for story that takes us on a journey, into the depths and heights of consciousness? How does he reveal the start  of, the voice of, epic? And Alfred, Lord Tennyson “Ulysses,” enticing us, his crew/reader, to go with him always on a continuous odyssey, a new beginning: “it is not to late to seek a newer world.” So says Thoreau, claiming he has more lives to live. So we begin, telling each other our stories, beginning in the middle, making heroic sense of our comic and tragic and everyday struggle. And so we do not end but begin again each week on our Poetry Slow Down. Thank you for joining me.

© Barbara Mossberg 2013



Are We a Mean Culture When It Comes to Proclaiming Beauty? Not You, O Listener: read on–
” . . . again the spotlight is on the poet writing the poem—out of darkness, out of silence–she is a tragic epic hero in poem after poem, brave and self-sacrificing”

We want to know, Would you put Poetry on Voyager’s Golden Record?

Saying future Intelligent Life can come up with a record player to play our Golden Record on Voyager, to represent earth knowledge and experience: would you put poetry on it? (It isn’t on the one hurtling as we speak in interstellar space)

If so, what poem(s)? The work of what poet? Any saying? If you could choose, what last words?

“Don’t be afraid”—Seamus Heaney’s “last words”

Language arts in the news this week: the news without which “men die miserably every day.” So here is to living happily today—hear-hear—as in the earliest poetry which was recited, stories told, and to aid the speakers’ memory, it was rhythmic, it rhymed, it used stock phrases while the speaker gathered her or his thoughts, yes, her, too—did you know that Samuel Butler in the late 1890s translated the Odyssey with the theory that Homer was a young woman?—I can see this, totally, but that is for another show, in fact, next week’s show is on the issue of translation of poetry, and I’ll tell you about that in a while, because it is a HUGE issue, that concerns you and me very much. But meanwhile, our news today is from newsy language happenings, maybe happiness:

“Don’t be afraid”—Seamus Heaney’s “last words” Continue reading

THIS POEM: POETS SLOW DOWN TO CONSIDER THE QUESTIONS THAT MAKE US THANKFULLY HUMAN; THEY HAVE “NO IDEA” BUT THEY WRITE THE POEM ANYWAY AND THAT IS THE POINT, by Rumi, Randall Mann, Archibald MacLeish, Robert Frost, Billy Collins, Muriel Rukeyser, Emily Dickinson, Baudelaire, Pablo Neruda, Walt Whitman, and Professor Higgins, and more

All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that,
and I intend to end up there. 

This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I’ll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I’m like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming when I fly off,
but who is it now in my ear who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth? 

Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul? 
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way.
Whoever brought me here, will have to take me home. 

This poetry. I never know what I’m going to say.
I don’t plan it.
When I’m outside the saying of it,
I get very quiet and rarely speak at all. Continue reading