ARE YOU TALKING TO ME? TREES TALKING TRASH AND GLORY, DISHING WISDOM, AND IT’S AN OLD STORY

Poetry Slow Down, our episode this week begins a series wherein we embark on ancient ships and rocky land routes to engage with trees, as people have always done, and I mean always. Since recorded history, our first forays into writing down what’s in our human brains have been records of talks with trees. Gilgamesh, Greek mythology, the Bible, Mohammed, Pliny the Elder, Caesar, Tolkien, King Arthur, Shakespeare, Alice Walker: the list is long, surprising, star-studded, and global. Now science is saying that trees do talk (for example, Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Fell, How They Communicate,a bestseller in many countries—and his wife told him to write it, I’m just sayin). And Michael Pollan’s The Botany of DesireA Plant’s-Eye View of the World, another best-seller. Yet poets have ever said so: how trees talk to us, not just to each other. We hear them in words. We hear them in poems. In our episode, we review the world over for the cases in which trees are recorded in history and literature of actually breaking into conversations, weeping when being left out, and needing to be consoled, and giving gritty and divine advice and healing love. We recall how in Steven Sondheim’s Into the WoodsCinderella “asks the tree” (whom her mother has become) for advice. In our next show, we’ll look at more of these stories about us talking to trees (Clint Eastwood “I Talk to the Trees”), and trees talking to us and what poets make of them, from Rilke and Alice Walker to John Muir and John Steinbeck, and the myths and religions that wrap around these events of tree-human relations. Then we’ll consider poets who wonder in what ways trees are human, and we are trees, and what happens to each of us when we’re cut down (Mars?). Trees, it seems, are inextricable from how we understand not only our human fate, but our actual humanity in the first place. Join me on this journey—you’ll be surprised (I am) and slowed down, way down—you know you move too fast!

Write me at Barbara.mossberg@gmail.com for your own story of your encounter with a tree. What has a tree said to YOU? You’re not alone. We’ll all in this together!

©  Barbara Mossberg 2019

DOWN WITH WASTING-TIME SHAMING: WASTING TIME FOR GLORY

CONFESSIONS OF KILLER OF CATERPILLARS, HEADS UP TO DEER (AND OTHERS) AT RISK, BEING RAPT, RAPTORMANIA, RAPTURE, AND RIPARIAN ECSTASY YOU HAVE TIME FOR IF YOU SLOW DOWN: Poems and Lyric Prose “On Life” and Utterly Necessary Living, Life, and Death. This just in, #PoetrySlowDown#saveyourlifenow, fresh from saving my lavender from The Very Hungry Caterpillar (apologies to Eric Carle who just.doesn’t.know—or does ) with white oozy sticky caterpillar remains and output on my hands, fresh from killing mindfully the white foam-containing fanged monsters, to talk to you lyrically with great sensitivity and empathy about our world and why and how to love it, for all our sakes, yes, tis moi, and all I’m going to say about that is this: if you love a gardener, and you should, you are at great risk of hating bonafide elements of our world and harboring murderous thoughts, and by the way, you know, you know you know, give it up– it’s hopeless. But fear not, because in our show this week, we uplift ourselves with Shelley, no less, “On Life,” and “Mutability,” Patricia Hampl’s The Art of the Wasted Day(along with our essential Mary Oliver and James Wright), Brian Doyle’s riffs on life from How the Light Gets In (you otter listen, and I’m not just badgering you), Doriann Laux’s “Life is Beautiful” (each getting us all misty about creatures that make us crawl and yelp—oh, wait—they crawl and yelp, and we, we shudder, we look for weaponized brooms: what happens when you love a gardener (if you learn you hate creatures what then becomes of you?). Well, poetry helps us figure it out, this age-old crisis of conscience, of being on two opposing sides at once, but only if we take time out, slow down—you know you move too fast– to live right. It’s true, perhaps, people could judge you, think you’re wasting your time right now, listening to poetry and its gab, but there’s a lot of evidence that what we call wasting our timeand being unproductive is actually supremely practical in getting done what needs to get done in this life—like being rapt, amazed, astonished, awed, grateful, humble, at all we can see and feel. Our show’s abiding spirit, William Carlos Williams, who felt that “so much depends upon a red wheel barrow” glistening in the rain next to which white chickens—yep, that’s it, but he said poetry is news that’s life and death—we die miserably without it—that’s pretty down to earth and practical as survival Rx.  The drama and trauma of a garden is only part of it: we’re in this world and we’re not alone 

© Barbara Mossberg

MOTHER’S DAY: confessions when a writer is a daughter!

Never mind the headlines, there’s plenty of drama in the kitchen . . . it’s a lot.  A play in the making about a daughter raising her mother from the dead, an act of which her mother approves, although not the means, which is poetry and gets you nowhere . . . . Our show considers a poet’s writing about her mother and ultimately making her mother immortal in the process, and the role poetry can play in days of headline news (there may come a day in newspapers’ demise when that is going to be a quaint expression, only metaphor—) (let it not be so!), with framing poems by Dorianne Laux and Shakespeare,  and music from “Hair” and Carol King and Judy Collins and “Que Sera Sera.” So I’m sharing with you my poems about my mother, as a tribute program to Mother’s Day, and some day, I will share my poems about being a mother, and what that has to do with poetry! Are you listening because you love mothers or because you love poetry? I will try to honor both kinds of listening! May the 4thand every day be with you. Yours sincerely, Professor Mossberg, aka Dr. B

© Barbara Mossberg 2019 

THE EYES HAVE IT: WHEN SO MUCH DEPENDS UPON A RED WHEELBARROW GLAZED WITH RAIN BESIDE THE WHITE CHICKENS. . . HMM . . . OBVIOUSLY SO MUCH DEPENDS UPON IT, BUT WHAT? WHAT IS POETRY’S NEWS ANYWAY? WHAT IS A WASTE OF TIME? WHO BROUGHT UP WASTE OF TIME? INQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW.

A consideration of what we consider slow news, and what’s at stake, for our own survival and for society at large. In which we take up the fate of earth and all life (including spiders—and you’ll be glad) (you truly will) in poems by Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Brian Doyle, Mary Oliver, James Wright, Theodore Roethke, Wendell Berry, Cynthia Wolloch, Elizabeth Bishop, Mark Doty, Robert Burns, Walt Whitman, Stanley Kunitz, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas Lux, Shakespeare, Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Leo Lionni, Maxfield Poizat-Newcomb, Caden O’Connell, and more. In such poems, so-called pests and weeds and other unloved creatures thrive by our own hand, thrive by our notice, thrive by our attention, thrive by our love, thrive by our gratitude: we’ll hear valentines to earth—love is still in the air! Yes, even Spiders and what not live, and we live! So what matters? So much. And thus we sort out the news we need, the news we heed, the news without which men die miserably every day( —thank you William Carlos Williams). 

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THE USE OF POETRY: REVELATIONS AND OTHER LEARNING FROM MY STUDENTS—REVEALING THE I, U, US OF GENIUS

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In which our show showcases poets’ love of teaching (their poems are proof of the pudding) and in which I learn from students’ questions to me about the role and use of poetry in our lives, and, in their own discoveries of what poetry means to them, I come to new consciousness about what it means to me: yes, it’s a pretty great life, this teaching poetry, this learning with students, this being taught by earnest learning. This is The Poetry Slow Down, with me, Professor Barbara Mossberg, your grateful host, and our Producer Zappa Johns, recording us from California’s Central Coast, while I’m in my studio up in Eugene, Oregon where I’m teaching eco literature and Emerson and Einstein as poets, at the University of Oregon. We’ll hear notes of Rumi, and poems by Mark Strand, Billy Collins, William Carlos Williams, Dorothea Lasky, Mary Oliver, e.e. cummings, Diane Wakowski, Howard Neverov, Lucilla Perillo, Elizabeth Alexander, Yvor Winters, W.D. Snodgrass, Kenneth Koch, D. H. Lawrence, Brian Doyle, and more. The questions that sent me on this journey were by a team of students interviewing me for Faculty Friday for the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon.

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CALLING ALL LOVERS: YOU NEED THE TREE—BUT THE TREE NEEDS YOU! THE POETRY OF THE EQUAL SIGN, AKA GENIUS, or what’s at stake in how we see and express our earth (clue: life and death–ours)

Hello, and happy new year, O friends, O ears, hear hear! You’re slowing down for the Poetry Slow Down—you know you move too fast! You know you are supposed to slow down for your health, and mind, and spirit, and poetry is an excellent way of doing that, because it’s .  . . well, it’s beautiful, but it’s also strange, let’s be frank, and difficult, and despised even—this isn’t just me talking, it’s William Carlos Williams, who says, my heart rouses thinking to bring you news that concerns you and concerns many men. It is difficult to get the news from despised news yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there. –That’s what he said in To Asphodel, That Greeny Flower. That’s a lot. That’s life and death. Now you could say, well, Dr. B, of course he is saying that, he’s a poet. He is an interest in our reading poetry. But his day job is a doctor. It’s his business to save lives. He writes poems on prescription pads, at the end of his day saving lives, with blood on his hands. He should know whereof he speaks, when he speaks of life and death and what can save us.

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HOW YOU MATTER TO A TREE, AND FOR THAT MATTER, EVERYTHING (Clue: It’s the Poetry in You)

If “everything is alive” (Ian Chillag), e=mc2 (Einstein), things “must be sung,” “sing themselves” (Emerson), then a) you are alive, b) you are everything, c) you are a song. We’re all in this together, like penguins and bats, singing our song, to find our way along, know how we belong to each other and this earth. Is your world singing and ringing? Are you? To a tree, and all things, YOU are indispensable, the song, the singer, and I’m talking to you, O listener for whom I have cast a pod, who has slowed down for the Poetry Slow Down, to consider poetry in our lives, in our every day. It turns out your mother loved it, your father wrote it, your friend frames it, and your colleague memorizes it. Who knew? You thought it was just you, this eccentric resonance with the oddly stated, quirkly reasoned, dapper and dappled language, put into girdles and tuxes, plaid flannel bathrobes, hooded, buttoned, stressed, pressed, wrested, strangling, wrangled, oddly fitting, evocative, provocative, word play that, frankly, for the world at least, is life and death. Poetry? Poetry! And herein lies an answer to that question fretting you all morning: I know how trees matter to me (let me count the ways); but do I, how can I, matter to them, or for that matter, to our world? And you’re not alone. In your existential crisis, you’re with your Poetry Slow Down, our program laying out the case for the need for humans on earth. We’ve been guilting ourselves lately, our roles in climate change, pollution, species extinction, and so we know we matter in a catastrophic way. But let us consider how we also matter in a redeeming, lifesaving way, a way on which the world depends, and perhaps for which we were brain-wired, purposed. Hear hear! We’ll hear Mary Oliver, Marianne Moore, John Muir, singing, and for things that must be sung, about David Milarch’s Archangel Ancient Trees, and Melbourne’s email trees civic project,  and more. Our PoetrySlowDown, the news feed you need, the news you heed, the news “without with men die miserably every day.” #poetrynowmorethanever #savedbypoem And if you hear the wind in the willows, that’s the trees cheering for you, your inner poet, to think on them through the poetic lens. I’m your host, Professor Barbara Mossberg, and we’re produced by Zappa-that-Zappa Johns.

© Barbara Mossberg 2018