BLITHE SPIRITS: Hail to thee, blithe spirit– that’s Shelley, to the skylark, and I’m Professor Mossberg, hailing you, inviting the skylark in you to join me in our Poetry Slow Down, and we’ll find out more about the man who outs the flying-ness in us, whatever is airborne in our spirits, transcending earthly sorrow. Our show today reports on the role of poetry in the life and death of my mother, Ann R. Clarke, whose last breaths were taken to my improvised soundtrack of poets she loved and poems I wrote to find a way to help her and me in this journey to the next stage of her (and my) life. We hear from Edgar Allen Poe, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Galway Kinnell, D.H. Lawrence, Dylan Thomas, Pablo Neruda, e.e. cummings, William Carlos Williams, Mary Oliver, and others. I read my poems “What Do You Bring Your Mother Who Goes to Garage Sales? (The answer is: Nothing)” about my mother’s legacy of spirit to me as a poet, and two poems I wrote that were part of our last conversation, “Fat Lady Flying,” and “If You Promise To Let Me Write This Down I Promise I Will Buy You an Icecream (“we embrace, and we fly through the air barefoot knowing everything there is to know”). Thoreau’s assertion that our too-busy and hurried lives and useful knowledge prevent the ignorance essential for growth (and living) is taken seriously as an insight into the nature of poetry, how it functions as an agency of such “ignorance” which allows new seeing and wakefulness, creativity, and creation itself. David Grossman’s ideas on how creative writing functions to engage the “sphinx lying at the entrance to each of us” are discussed as central to how poetry serves to illuminate our common fates and create community of the heart we need to live. On this note, I thank listeners writing me at firstname.lastname@example.org and sending poems of solace and support. Listeners on California’s Central Coast are invited to two events for Emily Dickinson’s birthday: my dramatic reading of Dickinson’s life and letters December 9, at the Pacific Grove Library (with home-made gingerbread I am baking from Dickinson’s recipe); and my lecture on Dickinson as Drama Queen at the Cherry Center for the Arts (Carmel) December 10. Next week’s Poetry Slow Down, December 12, is the annual birthday tribute to Emily Dickinson: think presence. She knew we would be celebrating her. Send in your favorite poem and any dedications. Thank you to this remarkable listening community for which I feel blessed: doing the recent shows with you at my mother’s bedside in her last weeks and hours made dramatic poetry’s intrinsic role in our lives.
From Fat Lady Flying
In Memoriam Ann R. Clarke
June 13, 1920-November 24, 2010
With your sentence of death
Which you share with frogs and the heron in the marsh
And the stars, and you see them soar and float,
Radiate and sing out in darkness,
Consider: they soar and float,
Radiate and sing out in darkness.
You have seen elephants and hippos swim,
Glide over river bottom, sail through currents,
You’ve seen the orangutan swing through trees.
So you know the largeness of grace.
What I’m asking you, don’t look around,
It’s you I mean. How? Not by hoist, not a case of heft, or heave,
Cranked by harness, this is not physics of motion.
I’m not sure but my guess is to breathe.
There’s a way of holding breath And it has to do with your eyes in this line,
Imagining the happiness of being weightless,
The buoyancy of a fat lady flying
Who doesn’t even try, it comes when she laughs
And takes in the world, its splinters and pebbles,
Its cries and sagging truths, it’s such a relief
The world exhales and she just rises.
That’s you, how I see you,
See you flying, in these lines,
Your lungs butterflies.
Wind flows over and through you,
And what you hear now is your own voice,
Its awed silence, rising over the world.
c Barbara Mossberg 2010