Dr. B, with all due respect, what if we are slowed down . . . way slowed down . . . TOO slowed down . . . stuck in traffic, waiting for a storm, waiting out a storm . . . .
That’s what I’m talking about! Maybe you are listening on a battery-powered radio or a radio or computer powered by a generator, and it’s new moon, high tides. It’s high time, right now, for our Rx, for times such as these, poetry, each poem generating its own heat, its own power, its own light, its own sanctuary, its own nourishment, its own succor, its own solace. In times of fear and times of waiting, times of helplessness, what can you do? Well, Poetry Slow Down, take out your mind, hold onto your hats, for our show today, in respect of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene: poetry for slowing down when the world is spinning and hurtling, surging and storming, down and all around.
As it turns out, in the creating universe, it’s often stormy weather, and that’s a good thing, from the poet’s point of view. We begin (and end) with weather poet Shakespeare, devotee of Tempest, with a hey, ho, the wind and the rain, the rain it raineth every day, Feste the “fool’s” philosophy of life on earth, and a vision of the transforming effect of the greatest storm scene in literature, King Lear on the heath with his crew, the so-called Fool, singing hey, ho, the wind and the rain, and his buddy Kent and “Tom,” the wronged Edgar. Lear is enraged by the treatment of him by his daughters which puts him (in Toni Morrison’s conceit in The Bluest Eye) “outdoors,” not a good place to be in a raging storm (he’s not the best dad in the world, but he claims he is more “sinned against than sinning”—that’s his story). In fact, Lear has been in a rage most of the play; he is a one-man storm system, spouting and carrying on. Now he cries foul for how his poor white-haired head is being pelted in a furious storm. But we see him transformed by the experience, the storm righting him to his senses, calming him down. He comes to consciousness as a human being, morphing from king to kind to kin, in his treatment of the Fool who becomes a “good boy” of concern to the King for the first time. We see, by the agency of the storm, Lear become a man. One of the most famous storm scenes in literary history, it’s the storm itself, and experiencing it defenseless, in the howling wind and rain, that transforms Lear from a selfish, autocratic, heedless king into a man, shocked into sympathy, roused from self-pity to empathy: soaked, drenched, wind-whipped, this is his shining moment, his morph-moment. As you listen, Poetry Slow Down, make whoooooing noises, for the first iconic words as he gives the storm a piece of his own raging mind. We’ll hear stormy words from Odgen Nash, the Bible, Jeffrey Yang (reflecting on his 75 anniversary edition for New Directions, including the poetry of nature, and how we may heal from natural disasters), two poems Yang brings to us, William Everson’s “We in the Fields,” and Gottfried Benn’s “Epilogue.” Then we give a shout to Teresa Cader’s “History of Hurricane,” Bin Ramke’s “Into Bad Weather Bounding,” William Carlos Williams’ “The Hurricane,” Chris Martin’s “Becoming Weather, 21”—and yes, we don’t plan on doing it alone: we need to travel with Fool, the one who sings to us of the wind and rain, hey, ho. We hear an inspired Dr. B read her take on rain from immersion in these poems, Jack Gilbert’s “Tear It Down,” and two poems on rain the Hollywood way, rain in films: Don Paterson’s “Rain,” and Lawrence Raab’s “Why It Often Rains in the Movies.” We hear Anne Stevenson’s “Drench,” and you are already saying, but Professor Mossberg, what about Emily D? And yes, we hear about storms through the lens of domestica, kitchen and housekeeping quotidian realities, both versions of “The Wind begun to knead the Grass” and “The Wind begun to rock the Grass,” and more poetry on wind by her, Henry David Thoreau, and of course, John Muir’s iconic essay on the wind storm in Yuba during which he climbed a 100-foot swaying tree the better to observe nature in “high festival.” Robert Frost and Theodore Roethke weigh in on storms, and Seamus Heaney narrates “Storm on the Island.” Finally, John Tansey takes it home for us, as I ask how we could bring people in from the storm, quoting our poet President Obama and New Jersey Governor Christie, on how to stay safe. Tansey asks us to be in the moment, and we hear good advice on this from Rumi, Laura McCullough, Tim Seibles, and Gerald Stern, who I knew would have momentous words for us on the role of storm in the loving and passionate life. In our days of hurricanes and squalls and prayers for rain and flight from wind, our poets make storms in our minds to transform and redeem and enliven and enlarge us, creative storm surges disrupting the quotidian, the topic of our next show, and thank you for joining me for our journey. Take a Fool, and you’ll never walk alone; you’ll walk to singing, singing in the rain.
© Barbara Mossberg