Notes from the Poetry Slow Down,
Dr. Barbara Mossberg
June 19, 2009

Walter Cronkite, Story Musgrave, John Muir, and Emily Dickinson, Ulysses at Large

To Walter Cronkite, The Most Trusted Man on the Ground, As We Head Once More to the Moon

The news is hard,
but is it hard in all
the ways it is not new, but old, as old
as the hills, what you have to say to us,
day after day, the same old story we
seem to need to hear, to keep us humble, perhaps;
the story of our disappointment in our capacity to be noble, to think and achieve kindness and peace, reverence for each other and the earth; like forces of water making stones smooth? How hard was it to say those lines, of all our falls, to look at us and have us hear?
Or is it hard to say, hard to hear what is truly new? What? There is no new news? What then, of your telling us we landed on the moon? What could that mean, of our capacity to find new worlds? Can we ourselves become new on such worlds? It is you we need to hear this from. I’ll tell you, sir, and if you lived in England now you would be a Knight: I’ll tell you why we trust you with this earth-shaking news: it is because in your eyes a light, in your voice a catch, as you report to us, that says what this means, it moves you to tears. Going to the moon is something beyond words, beyond where mind can leap or pause; and yes, we have fallen in our improbable efforts to fly, to leave this earth, drowned like Icarus, burned in fires, become ashes in space, but now we’ve also swum in space, walked on the moon, and here’s today’s news: we’re going back.
And you, who wanted to go, married man, father of three! What faith in us: you believed in us all along, what we can do, and be. And so I understood. All you’ve seen, and you’re not afraid. And so you render our world as safe, to wander, to explore. We may become a star; the glitter we see at night may be you or me in orbit, we may explode into shining bits, but you were ready to go, when NASA asked for a journalist to accompany astronauts into space. You’ve opened up space for all of us, in your trust, in all of us, in the universe itself.
They say it is unmanned. But in these lines, this time you’re going too: in these lines (because that’s what lines can do), your eyes and heart will tell us how it is, wherever you are, in your life voyage, your dreams of flight, you’re reporting to us, we need to hear from you, whatever you experience, in whatever space you encounter, brave man we trust with the news, because, moved to tears, old Ulysses, you’ll get it right.
c Barbara Mossberg 2009

On the news that Walter Cronkite may be ailing, I am thinking of him as our Astronaut Journalist, after all, getting off the ground, going into space: and we need to hear what he has to say.
Two days out of Bloomsday, June 16, in which all over the world we celebrate James Joyce’s Ulysses, one more tribute work of poetry to the spirit of Homer’s Odyssey: the human spirit of restless exploration and daring and risk, going into the fray, into the spray, into the storms and passions of life, and coming back for us with news, news we need now more than ever. Isn’t our fascination with Homer and Joyce their genius sensibility articulated by Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” “all times I have enjoyed greatly and suffered greatly, both with those who love me and alone,” and whose imagination and poetic skill is on fire? We see lives of purpose and achievement, immortal poetry that makes us each hold a little tighter to our sense of life’s precious possibilities. Our writers are our daring adventurers who did meet up with monsters on their journeys, but they wrote about it, and created a landscape of suffering and joy and criticism and sometimes praise that is as important for us to know about as the moon and stars and space that Story Musgrove, poet astronaut, in spirit of Ulysses, is trying to map out for us as a poet.
I think it is extraordinarily important that we fly people with literary and artistic ability to catch what space is all about, so that other people experience it—Story Musgrave

“I get people to have the experience of cosmic consciousness, to capture it introspectively, and to learn how to express it. I do it through my poetry . . .the main thing I’m trying to do is uplift people . . .to20be a cosmic creature. . . .You’d be a peace with the planet . . . you would take care of the earth.”

That was John Muir’s explicit goal as a writer, too: in the 19th century, to write about wilderness in such a reverent exuberant way—and people of his time thought about and valued nature as little as people today may think about space– will want to save it.

Both Muir and Musgrave are explorers of wilderness. In Story Musgrave saying that he helps people find this empathy and new frontier through introspection, I am thinking of Emily Dickinson’s reference to the 15th century Hernando de Soto, explorer of the Americas:
Soto! Explore thyself!
Therein thyself shalt find
The “Undiscovered Continent” —
No Settler had the Mind.
In other words, you can’t find yourself, know yourself, by staying home, by settling, by complacency: you have to take off from what you know. Oh, she IS Tennyson’s Ulysses, isn’t she.
And thus Emily Dickinson also had this idea that she would be our Christine Amapour, the reporter for us on the “tremendous scene” of Nature, “this whole experiment in green,” as she says: She can tell us because she’s been there, taking these journeys, and therefore has this cosmic consciousness Story Musgrave is talking about:

The Only News I know
Is bulletins all Day
From Immortality.

The Only Shows I see
Tomorrow and Today—
Perchance Eternity—

The Only One I meet
Is God—The Only Street—

Existence– This traversed

If Other News there be–

Or Admirabler Show—
I’ll tell it You.

Or,
This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me –

The simple news that Nature told—

With tender Majesty.
Her Message is committed

To Hands I cannot see—
For love of Her—Sweet—countrymen—
Judge tenderly– of Me

When she says, A little Madness in the Spring/ Is wholesome even for the King,/ But God be with the Clown–/ Who ponders this tremendous scene–/This whole Experiment of Green–/As if it were his own! she is talking about claiming this earth in the same communing way as Story Musgrave describes in his poem on his picnic in space, “the sun and I,” my Bahamas, my earth. I am struck, in reflecting with you on his poem, that Emily Dickinson uses the word “wholesome,” and “whole experiment in green,” for this is how Story, from the vantage of hundreds of miles away in space, sees our earth, struck by its greenness, its wholeness, and its wholesomeness—our word for healthy, something that is good for you.
And speaking of what is good for you, Story believes in slowing down as essential for saving our lives, that we can do this by how we think about
our lives, and in fact, our hopes and dreams can slow down the aging process. This is what he says:

“In the study of aging, I think the overall weight of the evidence there is now is that aging is not just that you wear out, that there is a program in you, it is part of your DNA or RNA that is there to actually make you age and to make you die. The program is there, it’s not just that you wear out, I believe very strongly, although there is no evidence for that now, that the program is able to detect that you desire to live, that the challenges are still there and that the program will inhibit itself, will slow down itself, if you have a reason to be healthy; if you have a reason to live, if you have challenges and goals, and demands, places you are trying to go, explorations you’re wanting to do. In other words for you, life is not complete, you got so much more out there, that you’re pushing on to do and to see and to be, that if you have those things, if you have a tape, if you have a future you wish to play, that the program sees that and the program will slow itself down. The program that makes you age and leads you towards death, it will slow down if you have a reason to live.”

So I’m thinking, Fat Lady Flying bloggianae, and Poetry Slow Down listening ones, of Walter Cronkite today, and the role of poetry in this process of our dreams of flight, dreams of the improbably hefty, hoisting heaviness far beyond gravity and all that keeps us grounded. Working our mental abs, yes, but the kind of intensive resistance training work we build the muscles of our spiritual inner core, muscles that are there but need to be worked to emerge; as we read, as we write and discover ourselves in this magic mirror, we are conscious in new and stronger ways of our purpose, of what we are capable of dreaming, some inner noble wistful self. Poetry probably more than any other art form, because it integrates and intensifies music, language, visual imagery, body motion, all together, makes us aware and creates in us this sense of what we want to do, our perpetually incomplete selves, “always roaming,” as Alfred Lord Tennyson says in his 1833 cheer-up poem “Ulysses,” “always roaming with a hungry heart,” pushing at the margins. Tennyson’s idea in his interpretation of Homer’s Ulysses is that he doesn’t want to stay home safe and comfortable on Ithaca, “it is not too late to seek a newer world,” “some work of noble note may yet be done,” “following knowledge like a sinking star beyond the utmost bounds of human thought.”
Ulysses’ voyage was literally an ocean adventure on the high seas, but it is a metaphor for all of us ever since, of exploration,
and exploration of the world of knowledge. Tennyson’s Ulysses says, “much have I seen and known,” but it’s not enough: and this sense of it not being enough is what saves his life, the life of his spirit. That’s why he says that even though it may well kill him—and Tennyson is aware of Dante’s version of Ulysses indeed setting off on this late-life adventure that it is his last—he has to go, and live, because life is not just “breathing.” He does not want to “rust unburnished,” to “pause,” he wants to “shine in use.” And this would seem to be what Story Musgrave is talking about and what I imagine is the spirit of Walter Cronkite: our immersion in literature connects us to this wistful spirit “yearning in desire,” as Tennyson says, that slows down the program that is hurtling us all too fast towards our mortal ends. Story wrote in his journal: “We are explorers forever moving outwards, or we die inwards.”
When you’re looking that far out, you’re giving people their place in the universe, it touches people. Science is often visual, so it doesn’t need translation. It’s like poetry, it touches you.

Thus I think it makes sense that Story now devotes himself to “story,” as a poet, as a writer and public speaker, to get all of us invested in seeing our earth through the20divine cosmic lens, sharing his perspective as an astronaut. He believes that it is his poetry that can impart to us the experience of space as he has experienced its wonder and beauty, stir us up, I think, make us dissatisfied with what we know, and he actually gives workshops, using theater and poetry, to get participants to more creatively SEE our world, as an explorer, like Ulysses. And it is what Walter Cronkite longed to do when we first began to get serious about sending eyes and ears up into space to bring us its news. That Journalist in Space program was jettisoned after Challenger, but perhaps it was just a pause; perhaps what Story Musgrave has been writing will kindle the will to restart this program. That is what our Poetry Slow Down has been trying to advocate, and proposing poets to go to the moon, so that no astronaut talks on his cell phone on the moon as in Bruce Eric Kaplan’s cartoon in The New Yorker, “it’s fine—you know, it’s a moon.” We can do better justice to this experience, and Story Musgrave proves this eloquently.

Well, since writing that this past week, the news has come out that NASA sent up an un-manned rocket this week to the moon, to find water, and there is a first page story in the Los Angeles Times that we—speaking royally—are considering moon colonies and that this trip to the moon is the first step in that process. Our children and grandchildren could be pioneers on the moon: and it may not have a lot of trees but it does have great views. Also in the news is that Walter Cronkite is very ill. He was one of the original 1033 journalists who applied to go to space as a journalist in NASA’s Journalist in Space program. I see him as the Ulysses figure of journalism, and I have written this for him:

To Walter Cronkite, The Most Trusted Man on the Ground, As We Head Once More to the Moon

The news is hard, but is it hard in all
the ways it is not new, but old, as old
as the hills, what you have to say to us,
day after day, the same old story we
seem to need to hear, to keep us humble, perhaps;
the story of our disappointment in our capacity to be noble, to think and achieve kindness and peace, reverence for each other and the earth; like forces of water making stones smooth? How hard was it to say those lines, of all our falls, to look at us and have us hear?
Or is it hard to say, hard to hear what is truly new? What? There is no new news? What then, of your telling us we landed on the moon? What could that mean, of our capacity to find new worlds? Can we ourselves become new on such worlds? It is you we need to hear this from. I’ll tell you, sir, and if you lived in England now you would be a Knight: I’ll tell you why we trust20you with this earth-shaking news: it is because in your eyes a light, in your voice a catch, as you report to us, that says what this means, it moves you to tears. Going to the moon is something beyond words, beyond where mind can leap or pause; and yes, we have fallen in our improbable efforts to fly, to leave this earth, drowned like Icarus, burned in fires, become ashes in space, but now we’ve also swum in space, walked on the moon, and here’s today’s news: we’re going back.
And you, who wanted to go, married man, father of three! What faith in us: you believed in us all along, what we can do, and be. And so I understood. All you’ve seen, and you’re not afraid. This means our is safe, to wander, to explore. We may become a star; the glitter we see at night may be you or me in orbit, we may explode into shining bits, but you were ready to go, when NASA asked for a journalist to accompany astronauts into space. You’ve opened up space for all of us, in your trust, in all of us, in the universe itself.
They say it is unmanned. But in these lines, this time you’re going too: in these lines (because that’s what lines can do), your eyes and heart will tell us how it is, wherever you are, in your life voyage, your dreams of flight, you’re reporting to us, we need to hear from you, whatever you experience, in whatever spa
ce you encounter, brave man we trust with the news, because, moved to tears, old Ulysses, you’ll get it right.
c Barbara Mossberg 2009

In this week’s Poetry Slow Down, Sunday June 21, 2009, at 12:06 pm PST, www. krxa540.com, we will continue with the News We Need, poetry’s news in between the fast-breaking, late-breaking, heart-breaking headlines. We’ll discuss Story Musgrave, astronaut poet, Walter Cronkite, astronaut journalist, each a Ulysses, and modern readings of Homer’s Ulysses, the ancient explorer who could not resist setting out to “find, to strive, to seek, and not to yield.” We just marked Bloomsday, June 16, for James Joyce’s tribute to Ulysses, celebrated all over the world, and we’ll hear all about it and its impact on poets like Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. And we’ll ask, for all of us who dream of going into space, such improbable flights, heaving impossible loads higher than gravity can touch?

Where does someone go, who longs to soar, if not into the seas away from home, away from the storms and passions of domestic and civil life, the terrain most of us live everyday? Where do we go, when we love our family? What kind of model is Ulysses? Stay tuned as our poets, in space and here on earth, confront the meaning and value and epic delight and earnest questioning of our lives and purpose. Just asking these questions makes our body’s Program on aging and death stop in its tracks, Story Musgrave says– that’s his theory, how we slow down the process by slowing down, slowing down with poetry, and meanwhile, he wants to get us all reading and writing poetry to save our planet as well as our lives. That’s a good goal, and I am Barbara Mossberg, aka Dr. B, host of The Poetry Slow Down, www.krxa540.com, and you can write me at bmossberg@csumb.edu, or call KRXA, 888-KRXA540, to contribute your poetry and ideas about increasing our joy and responsibility in this amazing gift of consciousness on earth, right now.