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.
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
(A GOOD LOOK IN SHIRTS, NOT SO MUCH ON YOUR COMPUTER), AND DAYS ARE DARK, AND THE NEWS IS FRIGHTFUL, IT’S TIME TO LET GO THE NEWS FEED FOR THE NEWS YOU NEED: POETRY! YOU NEED TO GET OUT YOUR DANTE, WHEN YOU’RE FEELING DAUNTED, AND SEE YOUR NOBLE SELF EMERGE . . . AND WE’LL HEAR WHAT YOUTHS IN THE CLARK HONORS COLLEGE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OREGON ON THE THRESHOLD OF THE MIDDLE OF THEIR LIVES DID WITH THEIR VERSIONS OF BEING IN HELL ON EARTH . . . WE’LL HEAR IDEAS FOR HOW TO GET BACK ON TRACK IN YOUR LIFE WITH YOUR OWN VIRGILS, POETS WHO DO RESCUES OF US HUMANS, GEN-I-US-ES WHO LEAD US UP MOUNTAINS IN MORNING LIGHT . . . And this includes poets of morning and light and mountains, so slow down, and be ready for Thoreau, John Muir, Rumi, Mary Oliver, Kay Ryan, Gary Snyder, Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore, Wendell Berry. Brian Doyle!
From ancient drama to today’s poetry, lyric wisdom suggests (do or die –“miserably”) that our sense of success, “home” and other destinations, and goals need to be rethought. Living is fraught with perils and defeats—or are our “defeats” really something to be re-imagined , evidence of necessary and heroic struggle? Is it brave to have a goal? How do we judge ourselves, and think others are judging us? Yes, Poetry Slow Down, we are slowing down to consider plots from Oedipus to The Odyssey, and the ways ancient and modern poets portray our lives. In these weeks we are thinking of Wendell Berry, Joanne Penn Cooper, David Denby, Mary Oliver, T.S. Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Dante, Shakespeare, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Oscar Wilde, weighing in on our human predicaments—brave, foolish, earnest—of identity, what it means to be human, now, and apparently always? I’m your host Professor Barbara Mossberg, and we’re produced by Zappa Johns, so thank you for listening, as people always have, around some campfire, to poets and storytellers, sharing news of what it means to be us! Because, we live life from the inside out. We can’t see ourselves. We only see each other. Einstein—whom we consider a genius for saying e=mc2, and yes, it is a metaphor—says if you want to know about water, don’t ask a fish . . . But who else would we ask than the creature who swims in the water? Breeds, feeds, dies in it? But the fish doesn’t know water! Take it out of the water, however, and, gasping and flailing, it knows water. If we take ourselves out of our element, into the realm of other, out of ourselves, we can know ourselves. And that happens on the page, on the stage, in story for one another . . . and this is where our ancient wisdom begins, thousands of years ago, in the story of the Sphinx. So let’s slow down, you know you move too fast!
© Barbara Mossberg 2018
So Poetry Slow Down! You’re slowing down here (hear hear!) with me, your host Professor Barbara Mossberg, Dr. B, and our production team, Zappa Johns and Nico Moss: you know you move too fast! This is our time to slow down, for the news we need, the news we heed, the news without which men die every day—that idea, –that people can die miserably without the news of poetry, is by William Carlos Williams. But he’s a poet, Dr. B! Of course he thinks that! You’re right, of course, evolved listener, but he was also a physician, seeing patients during the day. He’d go home at night, with memory blood on his hands, and write poems on prescription pads, to save his life, and his patients’ lives—and all of our lives. Yes, he is the one who wrote, so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens. That’s the whole poem, and he’s claiming that things matter, that they are amazing, the view out the kitchen window, the weedy yard, and for that to happen, to see blaze in raindrops, there’s this eye and mind and heart: the truth that we’re each this cauldron of emotions, that in us is so much greatness of heart, of great feeling, magnitude of feeling, longing, emptiness, tragedy and pain, worry, a sense of importance of our lives, and the most innocent innocuous little things . . . well, there are no little things. Everything matters—as humans, we are triggered by anything, anything in this world, that invokes our ability to care. O, being human! What a piece of work we are! To quote the Bard–
This past week I was thinking about drama—our lives as drama, and what poetry and drama make of it . . . and I wanted to share with you what I was saying to our community, in the Insight Seminars at the University of Oregon, and Osher Institute of Lifelong Learning,
It can be that drama is the most natural of all literary arts—it’s just us, being ourselves. Think of a conversation, not even a conversation, just talking to someone, in person, on the phone—you may have had this morning, perhaps on the way here. What were those words? What happened? You’re going to say now that’s not drama, that’s not art, that’s just …normal life.
Now what happens if you imagine that exact scene, and us watching it? All of a sudden, moments that may have been charged, or maybe that seemed inconsequential, are full of portent, meaning, significance. Through the lens of our vision, they become art. Workaday language we use to order a latte or draft beer or kombucha or say goodbye to our partner or ask who’s seen your phone or to say debit card or I love you or it’s time to take out the garbage become, on stage, art. Drama–tragedy and comedy–provides stage directions for our experience of life’s stages. What did Oedipus learn from the Sphinx? We will engage fierce and funny lifesaving wisdom on aging as we read examples of bravery, foolery, and panache in these and other plays and stage monologues:
Author! Author! Who’s writing our lines? We live our lives from the inside out. Only on the stage page is our human experience visible if not also perceived as meaningful, noble, tragic, and yes, comic. Osher Lifelong Learning, yes: as we seek wisdom for sustainable life, we’re reading together a few fierce and funny famous plays that spotlight the most precious, challenging aspects of our human journey, and give us insight into the age-old wisdom of this dynamic literary form. Facing life’s drama, what is seen about our lives in Oedipus, the Salesman, Blanche, Cyrano, Quixote, Lettice Douffet? From T.S. Eliot to “Hair,” we’ll see drama making tragic and comic hay of our inner Hamlets (and secret Prufrocks).
So slow down, and we’ll stage right now for your ears how drama illuminates what’s to laugh, cry and sigh about when the worldgets you down–or, the Tragedy and Comedy of our Curtain Fates. Thank you for joining me in the wings, and I would love to hear (hear! Hear!) from you, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Yours truly, Dr. B
© Barbara Mossberg 2018