RIPARIAN REVITALIZATION: FLOW AND WAVES, RIVERS AND WIND IN THE NEWS, AND WHAT POETRY HAS TO DO WITH IT

“I’ve known rivers.” That’s Langston Hughes. Perhaps the human soul has known rivers forever. Certainly there are soulful songs about rivers in our lives today. There’s Paul Robeson’s Old Man River, and Moon River and Billy Joel’s River of Dreams, and Joni Mitchell’s “wish I were a river,” and the “by the waters of Babylon,” and “one more river to cross,” and rowing our boat gently down, floating our boats. If we “slow” down, we can get into the flow. You know how I like to say about our show, the news we needthe news we need to heed, the news in between the late-breaking, fast-breaking, heart-breaking news, the news that William Carlos Williams, the good doctor, says we need to find in difficult and despised poems, without which “men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there?” Well, soooooooo, in the news, is good news this week, how people like you decided to do something on behalf of earth flow: down by the river bank. How does it happen? In every state, communities are calling to citizenry for “vision” of transformation of our rivers from industrial catastrophes. They are calling for a vision of health and beauty. What does poetry have to do with it?

Now, I am partial to river bank, perhaps because of the immortal words of Wind in the Willows, its riverbank world of an alive universe from the perspective of deep earth-dwelling creatures who have earth mud in their nostrils and live in and by the river, and for that matter, partial to wind AND to willows, if not also Moles, do you remember our show about moles, I loved that, a labor of moles, a love labor, well perhaps because of those immortal words by Kenneth Graham, on my first date with my husband do you know what we did? Well first of all we exchanged books, of course, and I gave him Wind in the Willowsand he gave me Knut Hamsun’s Pan, isn’t that interesting, Pan is in both books, the mystical force of nature, I just realized that, well, we drove in the country roads on a cold winter day with pale light, and we sat on a muddy riverbank, do you remember that B? and looked at the river flowing by. Don’t you think this is one of our earliest human memories, watching a river flow by? The view from the riverbank. And the wind in the trees, in the willows, in the oaks, in the pines, in the cedars. .  .[at this point our radio host waves and waxes effusively and philosophically on the topic of Wind and the Human Psychomythic, Ecospiritual Imagination, History, and Experience, with illustrations from world literature and culture].

It’s all flow . . . Well sooooooooo, anyhousals, as I was reading the newspaper, The San Francisco Chronicle, front page news, people are ingeniously figuring out ways to keep California state parks open, redefining what we mean by “public” and the polis, for our access to rivers and watershed and forests and nature’s beauty and peace, and in the process, our favorite water birds, and salmon, and all the life that free rivers represent.

These are restoration efforts, reclamation efforts, resurrection efforts, new life efforts, efforts that give hope to us, in these our darkest days of the year. This is news we need: news of people not taking bad news lying down, news of illness and injury to earth; we are not helpless—that is the story! Yes, tell us, O news bearers, stories that encourage us, give us courage and hope and belief in what is possible to do good and make right! In this case, the river is the Napa River, river nourishing vineyards, and cranes and frogs and salmon: it is one of our country’s most significant riparian revitalization projects, green and alive and flowing, so we’re flowing down, I mean slowing down, I do mean, flowing down.

We’ll hear poetry from the Mountains-River tradition of ancient Chinese poetry, the great Li Po, drinking alone beneath the moon in his own mental river dance,

I’ve found a joy that must infuse spring:

I sing, and moon rocks back and forth;

I dance, and shadow tumbles into pieces.

 

Sober, we’re together and happy. Drunk,

we scatter away into our own directions:

 

intimates forever, we’ll wander carefree

and meet again in Milky Way distances

 

I like that Mr. Li Po.

There were some poems I wanted to include and promised to mention here: Gary Snyder’s “For All,” Bin Ramke’s “Into Bad Weather Bounding,” “Balance,” by Adam Zagajewski, translated by Clare Cavangh, “Becoming Weather, 21,” by Chris Martin, poetry by Tu Fu, “Flood,” by Miyazawa Kenji, translated by Hiroaki Sato.

We also hear a shout out for the River of Words poetry contest sponsored by the Library of Congress, and the literary venture,Teaching the Poetry of Rivers, an online resource integrating poetry, water resource science, and the humanities for teachers who promote literacy and environmental education. There is a great website coordinated by the Colorado Center for the Book through the Colorado Endowment for the Humanities, provided for free by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education.

We hear Teresa Cader reflect on both wind and river flows, and “Flood,” by Eliza Griswold.

This engagement of our brains with atmosphere and finding in what is out there, outside of us, inside our  minds, a mood, a wondering, a wondering, a flow of thought: Henry Taylor finds much to think about in the flow of “A Crosstown Breeze,” Victor Hernandez Cruz finds comedy in “Hurricane,” “An Octave Above Thunder,” by Carol Muske-Dukes (for which we then read from Milton’s “When I consider how my light is spent” and Wordsworth’s “The world is too much with us) imagines her teacher confronting a storm by reciting poetry, two poems are twisting and turning, her mind is all shook up in its own weather turbulence, and in the process, she sees them coming all together or splitting apart   . . . .

The news, Poetry Slow Down, is that a river is coming back to life: 15 miles of river and 135 acres of floodplains: California’s largest floodplain and wildlife habitat restoration project. The Environmental Protection Agency contributed to the project, which, and I’m quoting, “would never have gotten off the ground without the cooperation of 43 landowners who agreed to take vineyard property out of production so that the river could be widened to create floodplains and riverside habitat.” The Water Resources Control Board and Napa County have contributed. The whole project is a tribute to government and citizens working together—and we see that the Rutherford Dust Society, an association of nearly 100 growers and wineries, say, “We hope we can repeat this on every river, in every state and every community in the world, but we’re starting here.” So Poetry Slow Down, I am so inspired by this news! Good news is contagious. Napa River once had as many as 8000 migrating steelhead and Chinook salmon . . . which nearly all disappeared . . . there was the danger of catastrophic floods. People came together and are supported with state and federal grants. “Everyone should know about this,” a visiting official said.

So Poetry Slow Down, now we have slowed down and now we know about it, and the question is, what is it that prompts citizen action, to take on a hopeful, helpful, grand project of trying to right a wrong, do things better, wiser, on behalf of earth and each other? Well, and this may not surprise you, I believe that poetry gives us a way of thinking that awakens our wise conscience.

Thus, for example, W.S. Merwin, who just finished his term as Poet Laureate of the United States, of Library of Congress has gotten involved in efforts to restore tropical rain forest in Hawaii. “Hear” he is, and as we hear his words, we realize that he was talking about the Wao Kele o Puna which was threatened by geothermic drilling. It is as a poet that he is addressing the California Academy of Sciences. We hear his case for the fusion of literary arts and scientific knowledge, and a way of seeing our earth that poets can contribute to science. We note that he addresses the Academy of Science in 1992 about this issue on behalf of the Wal Kele o Puna, and by 2006 it was purchased by the Trust for Public Land.

In fact, there are community efforts calling for “vision” in which poets and poetry play a role, for city and rural projects revitalizing riparian habitat. We hear about the Animas River Corridor project: The purpose of this project is to create a community vision to guide clean up, revitalization and reuse of a two-mile section of the Animas River Corridor that incorporates Silverton’s mining history, recognizes our mountain community spirit, and respects the natural beauty of the Animas River. The project has three phases: (I) create a community vision for a Revitalization Plan, (II) conduct a Remediation and Restoration Activity Assessment, and (III) research Funding Opportunities to support the Revitalization Plan.

During the past decade, the Los Angeles River has become a subject of intense re-examination, a major topic of policy debate, and a new kind of environmental icon. “It increasingly symbolizes the quest to transform the built and natural urbanenvironment from a place seen as representing violence and hostility for communities and for Nature, to one of rebirth and opportunity.”

Dear Friends:

CITY HALL LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA 90012

The development of the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan can be traced to a bold neighborhood vision in the early 1990s to convert an old rail yard, known as Taylor Yard, to benefit the community. In this neglected riverfront, just north of downtown, residents saw more than just a 200+ acre industrial lot. They saw parks. They saw natural habitat. They saw neighborhood revitalization.

The result: Today the City and California State Parks are transforming Taylor Yard into a 40-acre state park, a key link in the River revitalization. Parks cleanse the air, create a sense of community and provide a source of relief in some of the City’s most densely populated neighborhoods.

But just as important, the intensive community process, which allowed residents to create a vision for Taylor Yard in the early 1990s, became the template used a decade later to renew more than 32 miles of the Los Angeles River.

With this in mind, in June 2002, the Los Angeles City Council established the Ad Hoc Committee on the Los Angeles River to work with stakeholders on major revitalization efforts such as recreation, neighborhood identity, wildlife habitat, water replenishment, jobs, tourism and civic pride.

In October 2005, we launched a series of public workshops that have drawn thousands of people – from Canoga Park to Boyle Heights – of diverse ages, ethnicities and economic backgrounds, to weigh in on the River renewal. Their vision is captured in this master plan, one of the greatest opportunities to change the face of L.A. Even beyond City boundaries, it is a 25-year blueprint that weaves in environmental enhancement, green space and economic development that impacts the region.

The master plan is the result of tireless efforts by residents, community leaders, environmentalists and others who never stopped believing that the River, a trench entombed in cement, could be renewed, brought back to life.

Our communities want parks. They want wildlife habitat. They want neighborhood revitalization for our families and children. No one deserves it more than them.

After all, it is their vision. Sincerely,

ED P. REYES

Chair, Ad Hoc Committee on the Los Angeles River

The Re-Envisioning series was also a multi-disciplinary, community-oriented undertaking, with 56 co-sponsors as well as the host Urban and Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI) and its co-host, the Friends of the L.A. River (FoLAR). Through the Re-Envisioning program with its more than forty lectures, forums, art installations, poetry readings and other events, the historical, cultural, political, community, environmental, and engineering perspectives about the evolution of the L.A. River were explored. Many of the co-sponsors played a lead role in hosting one or more of the events (for example, the Arroyo Arts Collective sponsored a weekend-long art installation along a two-mile stretch of the River).

 

We are seeing examples of citizen projects all over the country to restore rivers! And the role of poetry in awakening our love of rivers and habitat and our senses of hope in what can be done. Thus there is an inextricable connection between the capacity of citizens to envision riparian repair and the poetry of rivers. We hear W. S. Merwin’s poems about rivers, “The River of Bees” and “The Way to River,” and Mark Jarman’s “Spell” for the Encanto Creek, the “Riparian series, and the poem “Beautiful Ohio” by James Wright.

Beautiful Ohio

Those old Winnebago men knew what they were singing All summer long and all alone, I had found a way to sit on a railway tie above the sewer main. It spilled a shining waterfall out of a pipe somebody had gouged through the slanted earth. Sixteen thousand five hundred more or less people In Martins Ferry, my home, my native country, quickened the river with the speed of light. And the light caught there the solid speed of their lives in the instant of that waterfall. I know what we call it most of the time. But I have my own song for it and sometimes, even today, I call it beauty.

 

James Wright’s poem illustrates the transformational vision at the heart of riparian reform and awakening on the part of all of us. Like Elizabeth Bishop who sees “rainbow!” in a dock spill, Wright sees “beauty” in a sewer pipe entering a river. Like the spoiled Prince in Beauty and the Beast, the river needs to be seen and loved for itself; then it can recover from the spell put upon it and once again be restored to its true (beautiful) nature. It is the poet’s redemptive vision that can save the day (and the river).

In “To a skylark,” Shelley finds in Nature the voice of the poet embodied in a bird, “Teach me half the gladness That thy brain must know, Such harmonious madness From my lips would flow The world should listen then – as I am listening now.”

FLOW! And there is a wonderful study,

FINDING THE RIVERS: POETRY IN ECOLOGICAL EDUCATION

A Study of The Rhode Island River of Words Project

by Colin Walker Plumb Cheney when he was a student at Brown University. We cite Cheney’s quoting Wendell Berry:

We are in trouble just now because we don’t have a good story. We are between stories. The old story, the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it, is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned the new story.

The poets provide such a “new” story. On this theme, another Poet Laureate of the U.S., Library of Congress, Robert Haas, who has been in the news—our show featured him recently as he was injured at Berkeley when he was checking on his students during Occupy Berkeley–shows the rivers in his mind as intrinsic to every part of our lives in “Spring Rain.”

 

The belief is that our sense of beauty that poets inspire can lead to a love that unleashes our human courage and conscience and creativity.

We conclude with a medley of words on river knowledge from the poets: T.S. Eliot, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Edward Abbey.

And here are words I love, taking us back to the riverbank: it was on the riverbank that Lewis Carroll imagined Alice in Wonderland, and that Kenneth Graham set Wind in the Willows, and Abbey visualizes as he writes,

Joy, shipmates, joy.
Edward Abbey, The Hidden Canyon — A River Journey, and Benedicto: 
”May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing.
May your rivers flow without end, 
meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets’ 
towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl. . . .”

We conclude with Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things.


I thank you for joining me on this current of air, this river of thought, as we contemplate good news of rivers being saved by the likes of you, by the love of you, all who love and live poetry: a message of hope in these days, for what words and thoughts can do, and next week, on that note, we will celebrate a man whose poetic words literally helped save earth, John Muir, who died, writing “behold!”, pages strewn around him on his hospital bed, almost 100 years ago this coming Saturday, in Los Angeles, we will have a program broadcast from there, a program on hope and rejoicing and joy and beholding, a program about light, and love, until then, Ralph Waldo Emerson bids us on our flowy, slowy, way, of Poetry Slow Down, waves, waving to you,

in the flow of things, the belief is that our sense of beauty that poets inspire can lead to a love that unleashes our human courage and conscience and creativity for sustaining life itself.

© Barbara Mossberg 2011.

A FLASH MOBBERY OF NOBODY SNOBBERY!

Bring Forth the Nobody and Send In the Clowns:

The Wild Spirit of Emily Dickinson’s Creativity and Freedom We Celebrate on Her Birthday “lest any doubt that we are glad that they are born today”

 

I have come to feel that Emily Dickinson’s Nobody and Clown are Dickinson’s poetic self, her inner heroes fighting what—speaking of heroes—my hero Sir Peter Shaffer has his immortal Lettice Douffet in Lettice and Lovage call “the mere, ” an ordinary somebody.” Lettice is like Dickinson’s clown, perceiving the tremendous: she wants to enlarge, enlighten, enliven, the three E’s she learned from her mother who takes Shakespeare to the French provinces, occupying barns and fields, her own flash mobbery. She defies and defines a way of living and seeing life that is mere—defined as “that and nothing more”. The small, the least. The nobody-ness. There is something in Dickinson’s clown, her defiant re-definition of nobody, that calls to us, something wild and yearning to belong and to be free. To see the world this way is a creative response that is beyond convention, beyond the usual way a somebody or king would look at life. Dickinson’s poems in my brain, as I hurry about my days (“. . . mov[ing] too fast”), busy and distracted, are flash mobs, slow downs, of pondering, wild thought, transforming the moment into a greater consciousness. Her poems are “pop ups” in my mind. As she says of the Poet (in “This was a poet”), they “arrest” us: they stop us, and make us wonder and think and feel, and we go on, as we do after a flash mob, changed and, in computer language, truly re-freshed as we go about our business. That’s what The Poetry Slow Down is all about.

 Public Notice

YOU ARE INVITED TO A BIRTHDAY PARTY

FOR WHOM?

“NOBODY!”

WHERE?

Where you are.

TIME? It’s happening now

IT SOUNDS LIKE A PLAN! COUNT ME IN!

I’m counting you in, welcoming you to our show today, all of us listening right now, assembled for the world’s most famous nobody, we’re perturbing the airwaves, disturbing the peace, disrupting the public space, occupying Prose, with . . . Nobody:

I’m Nobody! Who are You?
Are you–Nobody–too?
Then there’s a Pair of us?
Don’t tell–they’d advertise –you know!
How dreary to be Somebody!
How public–like a frog–
To tell one’s name the Livelong June
To an admiring–Bog!

That’s Emily Dickinson, and she was right, they WILL advertise, and what’s more, become a mob, a Flash Mob, to an admiring bog, that’s us! We’re celebrating a so-called “nobody” who became a big celebrity from tapping into everybody’s inner nobody. We’re disturbing the peace with words of poetry honoring the woman who lived her life unknown as a poet, “shut up” and “shut out” of public life . . . . The legend goes, even her friends did not see her face, but only heard her voice through a door that was ajar: isn’t that a radio-esque way that she communicated? Only her voice? Without any other distractions? It puts the focus on voice.

So I’ll tell you first what happened with a real Flash Mob, bringing Emily Dickinson not only outside, but to the streets!WHAT? Yes, we brought Emily Dickinson to the streets for her birthday yesterday. Have you been in a Flash Mob, sort of like a flash flood of culture, an Instant Scene? You were minding your business, going about your day, your, as Proust scholar Alain de Botton would say, quotidian realities, or actually, you were NOT “Mind”-ing your business, we were just crossing the plaza, waiting in line, on our way to somewhere, a no man’s zone of purpose, nothing planned, no destination, off site, off line, time out, time off, as we scurry and hurry and are OFF to someplace, and suddenly, someone comes ON, someone who seemed at that point ordinary and beneath notice, that is, invisible, and insignificant, and unimportant, and anonymous, right next to you, starts spouting lines from Romeo and Juliet, and up on the escalator, someone answers back in iambic pentameter. All of a sudden, we find ourselves in the middle of Romeo and Juliet, or a dance troupe kicking it up to a Scott Joplin rag or George Gershwin or jitterbugging, and the scene—yeah, it IS a scene, now, literally, is transformed, the nowhere we are, the waiting area, the space we are moving through and waiting in, is a somewhere, it’s a stage, and we’re on the stage, you and I, this is a happening . . . and you know, Poetry Slow Down, I see this phenomena AS a “poetry slow down:” here you are, driving in your car, sixty miles an hour down the highway, or along a business route, strip mall, or on your way to your grandchildren, or you’re at your office computer, paying bills, or at the kitchen table, where I love to think of you, chopping onions, or mixing cookie dough (stay tuned for our show, kitchen poetry), and then, poetry enters the air! And YOU, you good ones, YOU say, bring it on! And I say, let’s—let’s get poetry into our everyday life, it’s good for us, it’s good for us physically, cognitively, spiritually, for our whole brain, whole selves, whole lives! And let’s keep poetry in our civic life, as we travel on buses and trains, walk on stone and take ecalators up granite walls, from Freedom Plaza to Dupont Metro Station in Washington, D.C. Let’s keep it in government: the English-major poetry-quoting San Fransisco Supervisor John Avalos came in second in the Mayor’s race in a field of over 16 candidates, losing only to the incumbent; his reading of poetry gave him an epiphany of kindness of government. Let’s keep it in the White House, at Stanford in the Occu-poem. Coast to coast, board room to civic chambers to walls and sidewalks, poetry is vital for humanity.

And so meanwhile, back at the Flash Mob, our moment has been transformed, and if you have seen some of these Flash Mobs on video, on You Tube, you can see Flash Mobs at Denver Airport where people leave their luggage and join the dancing, enter the frolicsome fray, and there they are, dancing away . . .

So the element of surprise is key, right, and so organizing a Flash Mob for Emily Dickinson was logistically challenging. The invitation was a little tricky: Here is what went out, so weirdly:

Where? We can’t tell you where because a Flash Mob breaks us out of ordinary public rhythms, surprising everyone, revealing space we take for granted as a stage, how we actually do live on a stage or page, but we’ll give you some clues.

YES, Gingerbread will be served!

YES, Poetry will be recited!

This Flash Mob (shhhhh) is brought to you by Team Poetry’s Poet in Residence of Pacific Grove, Barbara Mossberg (“Dr. B), and students of California State University Monterey Bay and Pacific Grove High School, under the direction of Mr. Larry Haggquist and the champion Poetry Out Loud program.

COME ONE COME ALL! COME ON, and bring your favorite “NOBODY!”

I confess Poetry Slow Down I dreamed this up in thinking of a way to ring in Emily Dickinson’s birthday and put it “out there.” And so on the eve of her birthday about fifty high school students and college students wearing purple and white—I’ll tell you about that in a sec–joined me in this tomfoolery truly breaking the public peace.

We did it at an iconic literary site, on Cannery Row, next to where John Steinbeck, who won the Nobel Prize for literature, wrote Cannery Row, with his buddy Ed Rickets, a marine biologist who loved Shakespeare, and Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist (Hero With A Thousand Faces) who loved literature and science, and Steinbeck loved marine biology, so they all hung out right here where the seals bark, and so here we were, and first, I meekly accosted a couple crossing the plaza, saying, I’m Nobody, who are you? They sort of stopped, sort of alarmed, sort of annoyed, on the alert, but polite: at “are you nobody too?” they started to say their names, who they were, and the poem continued, and they stopped walking to listen, realizing, oh, this is something, something happening, looking at each other—I will let you know the link for the video:—and then, a young woman seated on a bench nearby leaped up and announced, I’m Nobody! Who are you! –the whole poem, and then a woman across the plaza leaped up on a bench, and declaimed the poem, and then, two and three people on a balcony held forth, and then people came out of stores, saying I’m Nobody, and then there were twenty people, chanting, I’m Nobody, and suddenly it seemed that EVERYONE was Nobody, and then across the street more, and more of Nobody-ness, emerging from stores and doorways and from all directions, until finally about fifty people were filling the air with chanting, I’m Nobody, who are you, are you nobody too?

First you are thinking, a community, a mob chanting in unison “I’m Nobody!” Um, Dr. B, What is wrong with this picture? Is this not a complete contradiction of the very spirit of Emily Dickinson? Singular, isolate, and alone, removed by choice from the public fray? Ah, Poetry Slow Down, you’re right, Emily Dickinson famously lived her life in seclusion, if not also exile. She wrote, explaining why she would not accept an invitation even by a famous editor of The Atlantic Monthly to visit, “. . . I do not cross my father’s ground to any House or town.” She did not engage the world—in person. She lived a quiet, invisible life. In her lifetime she was virtually unknown as a poet. She knew she was considered a “nobody but she defiantly takes that identity and shakes it, shakes it up, with pride and panache! Like the person you didn’t even notice at first in the Flash Mob, suddenly bursting into performance, her Nobody is not to be underestimated: “How dreary to be Somebody.” “Public” is literally a dirty word here—a bog. As in, mire, stench, quagmire, swamp, as in, getting swamped, getting BOGGED down, as in, the definition for quagmire, difficult situation.

That’s the “public” realm. Rivet. Yet she yearned to be famous, to be immortal, to matter utterly to us, to be “great, Someday,” that is, to be a poet—which would do all of the above, bring her fame, bring her immortality, bring her as a household word to us, to transform our quotidian world like a flash mob, into something momentous, lighting up the insides of our lives with insights into the momentous, precious, significant, comic, tragic, enormously meaningful truths of the dignity and epic struggle of each of our being, alive on this earth, and conscious. That’s her life To Do list, I think. Her poetry chronicles her struggle for an identity of distinction.

Emily Dickinson created an identity and poetry of such distinction and singularity that it took about a hundred years for it to come to us whole and not “fixed up” or “foxed.” She has become known as one of the greatest poets in the English language, beloved around the world, a “somebody.”Nobody: a person of no importance, no consequence, somebody unimportant,   “not one person.” So, perhaps, all persons? My freshman students at California State University Monterey Bay have exciting responses to these issues that illuminate Dickinson’s relevance to our world.

And how delicious to celebrate her celebrity, her fame, her public stature, with a mob, disturbing the peace or at least the business as usual! To an “admiring bog!” And to have a crew of Nobodies saying some of her most beloved and famous words. She is no longer “shut up,” “shut out.” She is part of the fabric of our daily lives, her words the spiritual soundtrack to how we live and think about life most profoundly.  Her joys and sorrows and insights into the largeness of life expressed on the sidewalk, declaimed in the plaza, pronounced on the street, shouted on a public bench. Yes–in public!

This seems right.

It seems that everywhere in the world I have gone, Dickinson is famous for writing “I’m nobody.” She is a cognoscente of defiant consciousness, speaking for people of every culture.It seems like a paradox, Dickinson as a famous Nobody. And yet I suspect that her fame as a nobody illuminates a truth about all of us—everyone. We each may harbor a conviction that we are a nobody, insignificant, invisible, in terms of our true worth. No one knows us for our true selves, our greatness, our genius. We each yearn to matter utterly.

In our world today, Emily Dickinson’s experience as a defiant nobody who created her own destiny is universally relevant. Her poetry takes us on a journey of self-discovery in which the Nobody within is a cocoon that will transform into a butterfly. I’m Nobody resonates with the secret sharer-self in which everyone, I suspect, considers oneself a “nobody” and yet yearns to matter utterly to our world. In my work as a teacher and lecturer, I ask people to engage with the structure of this poem to open up their own sense of longing to belong and to be known in significant ways to our world. And she recognizes us: are you nobody too? She makes a community of us, fellow nobodies, a mob of us.

Today we’ll hear a companion poem to I’m NobodyA little madness in the spring, and some of my favorite poems of her wild spirit expressed as Nobody and the Clown, on sunrise and letters and wind and rain and pain and of course wild nights and love and poetry and joy, how to see the world s.c., spiritually correct, why we need her in our mind’s ecopsyche, in our busy days, why she is good on our minds.

The miracle for me, of Dickinson’s life achievement of her poetry, is that despite her own lack of a public opportunity to express her voice, her power, and her genius (a topic that gnawed at her), and despite her loneliness, and ill health, she expressed a brave and indomitable vision both tragic and comic that inspires people of all ages, everywhere. On the one hand, she describes herself oppressed, with a feeling of helpless insignificance; and she describes herself assuppressed, repressed, her voice not wanted, literally, shut up, and shut out. she describes herself left out of life’s bounty, what’s given out for public nurture, like the Little Match Girl starving outside the windows of an oblivious society, unaware of her hunger. We see that she feels she gets life’s crumbs, leftovers, she’s so unimportant and left out and ill-considered. So that’s her pity party, and she really works the violins in our sympathy and compassion for her plight. On the other hand, she is feisty.

I am writing a book called The Power of Nobody to Change the World, on the unlikely role of arts and humanities for public policy and legislation for war and peace, environment, and civil and human rights! I see the impact of Dickinson on my students’ sense of possibility and mandate to speak their truths. Engaging with Emily Dickinson’s astonishing and disarming “I’m Nobody,” my students conceive their own lives as heroic struggles for identity of visibility and significance to our society, their creative response to anything that would discourage their sense of freedom and possibility.

So this short poem “I’m Nobody” is emblematic of a life, confined, compressed, a “calm bomb,” explosive in our minds, illuminating what is there in the darkness of our doubts and convictions of not mattering. The irony of Dickinson’s struggle with her identity as “Nobody” and her transformation of herself into this person invokes a poignant and moving truth about our deepest humanity and needs and longings.

So there we have it, Poetry Slow Down, a life lived in obscurity–no one knew she has this gift, this power of language and expression and thought, no one was receiving her missives, her emails, her texts and twitters and tweets and telegrams and hourly blogs, and yet, she persisted, in her own words, the spider sewing at night, in it for the long-range, long-term, for us, Poetry Slow Down, the hands she could not see, for the news she brought us on the fronts of war and peace, suffering and joy, the weather outside, and inside, frightful and delightful,  and her own How to See Appropriately to honor this gift of consciousness, of being alive on earth today.

Emily Dickinson, showing us her poetic moxie, her confidence and authority and. . . joy .  .  . in being our Anderson Cooper, our news correspondent.

I reflect on the influence of Dickinson on the way I think about the world and the actual language with which my brain conceives thoughts and perceptions about my day and life. I wake up and see the sky and think “a ribbon at a time.” Or on a day like today, seeing “a certain slant of light.” Reading her poetry I consciously have changed the language in which I write and speak about “our” world and “our” earth.

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!

The Clown may not legally own it: the King does. But—the way HE sees it,  earth and he are inextricably related, relations, out of the same cloth, as our own relations, people we came from and who come from us. What if we felt that each other and earth were indeed “our own?” How differently would we behold each other and treat ourcommon shared habitat? (And on that note, stay tuned for our show Dec 25 for John Muir, who made this his strategy for saving the wild outside and in us, honoring him, I’ll be doing the show where he died on Christmas Eve, writing, as he took his last breaths, on beholding the glorious lights of aurora borealis).

I have come to feel that Emily Dickinson’s Nobody andClown are Dickinson’s poetic self, her inner heroes fighting what—speaking of heroes—my hero Sir Peter Shaffer has his immortal Lettice Douffet in Lettice and Lovage call “the mere, ” an ordinary somebody. Lettice is like Dickinson’s clown, perceiving the tremendous: she wants to enlarge, enlighten, enliven, the three E’s she learned from her mother who takes Shakespeare to the French provinces, occupying barns and fields, her own flash mobbery. She defies and defines a way of living and seeing life that is mere—defined as “that and nothing more”. The small, the least. The nobody-ness. There is something in Dickinson’s clown, her defiant re-definition of nobody, that calls to us, something wild and yearning to belong and to be free. To see the world this way is a creative response that is beyond convention, beyond the usual way a somebody or king would look at life. Dickinson’s poems in my brain, as I hurry about my days (“. . . mov[ing] too fast”), busy and distracted, are flash mobs,slow downs, of pondering, wild thought, transforming the moment into a greater consciousness. Her poems are “pop ups” in my mind. As she says of the Poet (in “This was a poet”), they “arrest” us: they stop us, and make us wonder and think and feel, and we go on, as we do after a flash mob, changed and, in computer language, truly re-freshed as we go about our business. That’s what The Poetry Slow Down is all about.

My gratitude for her life is profound. Her words have shaped my life as significantly as a glacier shapes landscape, powerfully deepening my capacity to experience and know what it is that there is to see, to feel. My adult life has been shaped by a woman who stayed in her room and picked up a pen: “I took my power in my hand and went against the world.” And at the end of the day, was she glad that she had committed her life energies to this devotion? “I had the glory–that will do.”

So Emily Dickinson, honoring our inner nobody, our inner clown, I think the Flash Mob is just right for celebrating you. We’re taking you out. Didn’t you say:

Me — come!  My dazzled face
In such a shining place!
Me — hear! My foreign Ear
The sounds of Welcome — there!

The Saints forget
Our bashful feet —
My Holiday, shall be
That They — remember me —
My Paradise — the fame
That They — pronounce my name —

We do pronounce your name, and I think, Emily Dickinson, that your news to us, helps MAKE this a shining place, that is your gift to us, lighting and making luminous our world . . . your poetry is the gift that keeps giving. My early morning thoughts–as the sun rises “a ribbon at a time.”

NEXT WEEK: DECEMBER 18, 2011

I’ll be back next week, with rip roaring riparian river

restoration news, poetry of meandering and cascading and light and good news for all of us, here on our earth, this whole experiment in green, it’s still happening, it isn’t done, it’s alive, as Emily Dickinson is, with our reading and hearing her, immortal.

Poetry Slow Down, you are indeed Sweet Countrymen. Thank you for listening and sharing these moments, this flash mob in our day.

Check out Huffington Post and Facebook for images of Flash Mob and my Emily Dickinson play at the Cherry Center for the Arts in Carmel. She was right: they’ll advertise—you know!

YOU ARE INVITED TO A SURPRISE PARTY

(Undisclosed Location)

YOU ARE INVITED TO A SURPRISE PARTY

FOR WHOM?
“NOBODY!”

WHERE?
WE CAN’T TELL YOU.

WHEN
? December 9
TIME? 5 pm.
IT SOUNDS LIKE A PLAN! COUNT ME IN!

I’m Nobody! Who are You?
Are you–Nobody–too?
Then there’s a Pair of us?
Don’t tell–they’d advertise –you know!
How dreary to be Somebody!
How public–like a frog–
To tel one’s name the Livelong June
To an admiring–Bog!
That’s Emily Dickinson, and she was right, they WILL advertise,
and what’s more, become a mob, a Flash Mob, to an admiring bog,
that’s us! We’re celebrating a so-called “nobody” who became a big celebrity from tapping
into everybody’s inner nobody. We’re disturbing the peace with words of poetry honoring
the woman who lived her life unknown as a poet, “shut up” and “shut out” of public life.
We’ll bring her to the streets!
When? December 9th, 5 pm, the eve of Emily Dickinson’s birthday.
We can’t tell you where because a Flash Mob breaks out of the ordinary public rhythms, surprising everyone, but we’ll give you some clues.
Look for sightings of Nobody, wearing purple boots and white clothes for the woman who dressed
only in white and expressed herself in “the purple well.” Look for a seating place on which a famous literary creation waxed
philosophically about chocolate (“my momma said, life is like a box of chocolates). Look for a street, or “row,” where our region’s own Nobel Prize author wrote a book with a title that is a BIG CLUE to where this Flash Mob celebration of Emily Dickinson’s birthday is happening! (hint: you can hear seals bark!)
YES, Gingerbread will be served!
YES, Poetry will be recited!
This Flash Mob (shhhhh) is brought to you by Team Poetry, for the Poet in Residence of Pacific Grove, with Barbara Mossberg (“Dr. B), and students of CSUMB and PGHS, under the direction of Mr. Larry Haggquist and the Poetry Out Loud program.
COME ONE COME ALL! COME ON, and bring your favorite “NOBODY!”
Interview with Barbara Mossberg:
Emily Dickinson lived her life in basic seclusion, if not exile. In her lifetime she was virtually unknown as a poet.
Yet she yearned to be famous, to be immortal, to matter utterly to us, to be “great, Someday,” as a poet. She knew she was considered
a “nobody” and she defiantly took on that identity with pride and panache! She created a whole identity and poetry of such
distinction and singularity that she became one of the greatest poets in the English language, beloved around the world. How delicious to celebrate her celebrity, her fame, with a mob, disturbing the peace! To an “admiring bog!” And to have a crew of Nobodies saying her most famous words. She is no longer “shut up,” “shut out.” She is part of fabric of our daily lives, her words the spiritual soundtrack to how we live and think about life most profoundly.  Her joys and sorrows and insights into the largeness of life will be expressed on the sidewalk, in the plaza, on the street, on a public bench . . . Yes–in public!