Here is the link for Emily Dickinson’s Recipe for “Cocoanut” Cake
MORE DUST UP ON POETRY’S PHILSOPHERS OF SWEEPS AND SACRED SWEEPINGS, FROM RUMI, KABIR, HAFIZ, TO WENDELL BERRY TO WILLIAM CRONON, TO EMILY DICKINSON TO RITA DOVE TO JULIANNA BAGGOTT TO GINGER ANDREWS TO ELEANOR LERMAN, TO DOROTHY BARRESI AND JAN BEATTY, A SWEEP OF POETRY FROM STARDUST TO METEORS
and I don’t know about you but I can’t seem to get enough of housework . . . poems. I know! You can sweep, or you can write a poem about it. You can dust, or try to capture its essence, the quintessential experience of it, the magnitude of it all, the sparkle in artful words that sweep your mind and clean its hollows and make its dark spaces shine. You can clean the house or your mind: what do you say, Poetry Slow
Down, shall we put down our brooms and shake those mops and listen to those who put them down, in words, that is, slowed down to put down into language that shakes and makes a clean sweep of everything but the right word to shine in our minds, like some gleaming Truth and Beauty?
My heart rouses to bring you news, that concerns you and concerns many men. It is difficult to get the news from despised poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.
That’s Dr. William Carlos Williams, a poet and OB-GYN, and this is Professor Barbara Mossberg, welcoming you to the Poetry Slow Down, on KRXA 540AM, at the San Francisco airport; in the past two weeks I’ve been criss-crossing the country from blizzards to draughts, snows to warm desert sun, talking about the role of poetry in civic life, the power
of poetry to shape our life as inevitably and powerfully as glaciers—maybe it doesn’t look like things are happening–, when someone writes or reads a poem, but
over time, poetry rocks and moves and carves our civic landscape. Our weekly hour show here on KRXA waves a flag for poetry’s necessity: how William Carlos Williams says, in his poem To Asphodel, That Greeny Flower, my heart rouses to bring you news . . .that men die miserably without, that poetry is a different kind of news we need. Our show places poetry in between the headline news, the late-breaking, fast-breaking, heart-breaking news. In arguing the role of poetry in our lives, we see this week the Haiti earthquake. People all over the world are organizing relief efforts, and one thing
that strikes me is how we see the role of The Poet in society, because a disaster focuses attention on a culture’s values. Who do we send to help save the day in a crisis? What expertise do we consider essential? Do we send poets as well as engineers, story tellers as well as bridge builders? What does poetry matter? How has it ever mattered to civilization in constant crisis? How has it mattered to each of us in our daily struggles, and to larger society, the destiny of countries? Do we need the poet as well as the engineer, the fire fighter, the surgeon? With the story of Haiti’s earthquake I have been thinking about Tracy Kidder’s Pulitzer Prize winning book on Dr. Paul Farmer’s work in Haiti, Mountains Beyond Mountains: Dr. Farmer has a medical
degree and Ph.D. in anthropology, both from Harvard, in order to be useful in what is considered the most hopeless nation, certainly the poorest and most beset, in the Western Hemisphere, and takes up what are considered the most hopeless of diseases, HIV/AIDS virus and TB, as one single person tries to take them on . . . with hope and determination. Is he Don Quixote? Is he innocent of reality? What makes him believe he can and should make a difference in such overwhelming conditions of hopelessness? He describes his transforming moment when he is visiting Haiti, when he commits to his life work, literally, to set up clinics and raise money and get international aid. He is riding on a truck on steep rough mountain roads when before him
he sees a truck overturned and a lady with a basket of mangos strewn all over the road lying dead. Describing this moment’s momentousness to him as a philanthropist, historian, scholar, doctor, administrator—he writes a poem to express the meaning of what he sees and feels: it is in poetry that he finds a transformative image that enables him to define what he wants to do and be. We’re going to talk about the poem and the role of poetry in his life as an emissary of hope, in the context of the news today coming from Haiti, and we’ll take flight from poems and thoughts you send to me every week—today we’ll share with you some poetry of our listener Chuck Tripi, and Elaine Bolduc, we’ll go on wild goose chases from their
poems and writings to hear news of this “great happening illimitably earth,” we’ll be talking about magnetic fields and electromagnetic fields, yep, the science behind the earthquakes and Einstein, and how poetry leads us to the science of the earth . . . and stories of indomitable human courage and perseverance to inspire us . . . . So, first, from our headline news this week of Haiti’s earthquake, Dr. Paul Farmer is on the ground, his organization Partners in Health calling for the medical community to come help. He has been appointed by President Clinton, who is the UN Special Envoy for Haiti, as the Deputy UN Special Envoy for
Haiti. “Paul’s selfless commitment to building health systems in the poor Haitian communities over the last
20 years has given millions of people hope for a brighter future for Haiti,” President Clinton said. “His credibility both among the people of Haiti and in the international community will be a tremendous asset to our efforts as we work with the government and people of Haiti to improve health care, strengthen education, and create economic opportunity.”
In his account of how he came to play this role, he was driving along National Highway 3, and on a dangerous curve saw an overturned tap-tap, baskets and mangos strewn everywhere, and a woman lying dead by the side of the road. He was silent, and then wrote a poem called The Mango Lady: here is the poem—and our program . . . I hope you enjoy, and thank you for listening, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org, this is Professor Barbara Mossberg for the Poetry Slow Down…
© Barbara Mossberg 2012
A show which starts humbly in musings of humble arts, sweeping and ironing, and ends with a transcendent vision of transcendent arts of sweeping and ironing as nothing less than Truth and Beauty, and along the way picks up four newsy companions, news we need, news we heed: stories on Virgin Galactica’s space flight sale, book now; Stephen Hawking’s search for an assistant, apply now, help him communicate his visions on secrets and mysteries of the Universe; The Cardinal as offering musings for epic longing and the role of empathy and compassion, invoking what the Center for the Greater Good at UC Berkeley is finding about happiness—it’s all about kindness, compassion, and slowing down to notice . . . .
© Barbara Mossberg 2012
A FRESH START IN THE NO-COUNT NEW YEAR, featuring Henry David Thoreau’s Chanticleer and the Morning Risers, a cast of thousands of epic minds from every culture and clime: who doesn’t write about morning? Gerard Manley Hopkins, Edward Hirsch, Billy Collins, Robert Bly, Charles Tripi, Emily Dickinson, Rumi, Barbara Mossberg, Mary Oliver, Thomas Merton, Robert Browning, Tennyson, Gary Snyder, with notes of Joyce Cary, Emerson, John Muir, John Milton, Wallace Stevens, e. e. cummings (“. . . are awake and . . .”), Karl Marx, Bill Stafford, Blake, and thoughts of so many great morning poems, and still to come, Jane Hirshfield, “Waking the Morning Dreamless After Long Sleep,” Jane Kenyon, “This Morning,” and Ruth Stone’s “Living Alone at Eighty-Three,” all night you waited for morning. So this is a beginning.
From our show’s theme song, Simon and Garfunkle’s Fifty-Ninth Street Bridge Song, slowing down to make the morning last, to cowboy country, and Midwest/southwest ranch culture, east to west, north to south, Homeric days to top hits today, morning is something poets sing about. As we begin a New Year, the morning of the year, full of resolution or at least reflection on how we spend our days and hours, we think about the meaning of morning from the point of view of poetry. We’re slowing down to wake up, to arise and go now, today in our hectic and rushing and whirled lives, to wonder, What is it about morning that would make Paul Simon and Art Garfunkle feel groovy and want to make it last? What is it about morning that made a politician a few years back win minds and hearts by saying it’s morning again in America? And I find myself as a mother and professor earnestly urging earnest souls to find their way to morning for a new life. But why? What say our poets, each poem a fresh start for the human mind to record consciousness, being alive on this earth? Let’s listen to our poets and what they have to say about morning. Then you decide: when, how, where, what and why is morning in your life?
Isn’t it interesting, we have Wallace Stevens’ Sunday Morning, but not Sunday Noon, or Sunday Afternoon, or Sunday evening? We have Emily Dickinson telling us how the sun rose, you know this one, Poetry Slow Down, a ribbon at a time. We have Mary Oliver, poems titled Morning, but not—interesting—afternoon or evening. We have Gerard Manley Hopkins, of course,
catching this morning’s morning’s minion, and his—well, we’ll hear his great morning poems, but we’ll start with the troubadour of morning, the poet laureate of morning, the ambassador of morning, Henry David Thoreau. Close your eyes and listen to his rapturous take on Aurora.
Part One. Auroral Delight.
Last week we heard about aurora borealis sung by John Muir in his Alaska travels, thoughts lighting his way as he drew last breaths from pneumonia Christmas Eve almost 100 years ago. (Poetry Slow Down, December 25, 2011). Aurora is the rosy-fingered dawn we hear sung in The Iliad and The Odyssey, and auroral delight is the grounding of Henry David Thoreau’s bookWalden, the account of two years spent at Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, his philosophy of life, and it’s interesting, speaking of morning, that he begins the book with a cultural symbol of morning, of day break itself, the crowing rooster–Chanticleer. Thoreau in writing the book says HE is Chanticleer, the voice of morning, waking us up:
I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.
So his book is self-consciously the voice not only of a waker-upper, but an upper, an anti-ode to dejection and despair, a bold breaking voice in the day of our lives.
It’s a curious mix of an outsider voice to his culture, steeped in classical traditions, a philosophy of how to live, to rise to the occasion of earthly consciousness. And what he says is, we’ve got to get up in the morning. Close your eyes now, and listen to his reasons . . . . a great way to makethis morning last.
Part Two. Morning As Gift, “revelation to the beloved.”
We’re talking about an approach to the New Year, the morning of the year, getting up for it, waking to it, and resolving to get up early! We’re finding in poetry reasons for resolutions of seeing the dawn, being able to verify Emily Dickinson’s early-bird reportage, “this is the news that nature told,” “I’ll tell you how the sun rose, a ribbon at a time.” It seems that if morning rises a ribbon at a time, ribbons are what decorate a dress, for a party, something festive, or one’s hair, or . . .a gift . . . as if earth’s lightening up is a gift, morning as a present, wrapped in ribbons of sunlight, streaming . . .
Why get up in the morning? A Q and A with Ralph Waldo Emerson (“In the morning a man walks with his whole body; in the evening, only with his legs”) and Gary Snyder’s “For All,” and several poems. I find myself writing about morning, and share with you two poems I wrote. I reassure anyone seeing my anguish at leaving earth when I love it so in “On Looking at the Sky on an October Morning”: “How good this life was to me—/. . . those tears,/What life deserves./. . . To do justice to consciousness on earth,/. . . breaking of the heart/And fierce resistance/ Are correct./ . . . Life deserves this refusal to exit, this awkward leaving/ Without Grace./No grace. It is the least we can do.”
I have several on this theme—I find myself wanting to share this experience of morning happiness, that is so private, so invisible, perhaps, because we may seem a hot mess, so to speak. And perhaps you can hear the way sound structurally connects the poem’s flow from “alarming” at the outset to “disarming” at the conclusion, and the interior rhymes connecting “Yes,” “no/Progress,” “Happiness,” “Largess,” as the “messiness” of morning light balances headache and all we assume that dulls our day:
Just So You Know
Sometimes I feel so good it is alarming.
Yes the headache but I’m making green tea,
Morning has spilled sun all over this cottage, it is messy with light.
For some reason, for no good reason, I am feeling too good,
It feels slightly dangerous to feel so well.
I had not planned to do anything special with this day,
I am in red lifeguard shorts and T-shirt,
Writing, and making no
(It is going slow and not well.)
I get up to make more tea and it should not feel this good
To be alive, this powerful, to breathe, I am not Paul Bunyan enough
To feel this planetary heave within me, interior lakes where my boots fall—nor
Monet enough to paint the day with the colors of vibrating lilies in my core,
Nor William O. Douglas enough to do justice
To this spacey conviction of sky and tree—
The pine and leaves outside the window in the wind,
How it is, just now–how it is to be me;
And yet I stand Bunyan, my breath is Monet’s brush, I am of Douglas’ opinion:
Let the trees decide.
Maybe not feeling so well because there is the headache
And backache so maybe it is actually
This whatever it is. And I’m holding it like fresh cut flowers,
You have it give it to somebody, you have to make an occasion.
You have to think of someone to appreciate, some cause to celebrate,
So I’m here beholding and maybe feeling good or not
And wondering if I am up to this size of being,
A little intimidated at the
Of epic life, and I go back to my chair and write these lines,
Not epic, but some internal Iliad is about to happen, some myth breaking free
Of tragedy right in me, and I hear wings beating, my heart pounds, already more than mortal
When gods consort with us—a glimpse of pine against September sky is all it takes—
Disarming. Joy. In. Being.
© Barbara Mossberg 2011
Part Three. Is Stanley Kunitz’ “The Round” the Perfect Poet Morning Poem?
In which we continue our exploration of why to wake early, what’s in it for us, UP in the morning, for our minds and spirits, as we begin the day, and who knows, a new life–on that note, we think of our guy who lived to 101 and for whom morning is experienced with gratitude—I think there’s a connection. (Assignment, everyone: re-read “The Round.” We’ll do a show in the next weeks on the neuroscience of happiness from UC Berkeley’s Center for The Greater Good.) Kunitz’s attitude honors life and makes each day a beginning, a new year. We hear from Mary Oliver “Why I Wake Early,” and Edward Hirsch, Robert Bly (especially “The Hermit at Dawn,”), Billy Collins, Rumi, and our own Chuck Tripi, all of whom are converging thinking “in ways you’ve never thought before:
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message larger than anything you’ve ever heard, vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats. Think that someone may bring a bear to our door, maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose has risen out of the lake, and he’s carrying on his antlers a child of your own whom you’ve never seen. When someone knocks on the door, think that he’s about . . .”– well, I’m leaving you with this Rumi –like threshold morning poem, “The Taste of Morning” and Thomas Merton’s “A Morning Prayer.” And John Muir and Edward Hirsch. And Billy Collins tells us about the way he writes poetry, as a way to be in the day. Collins is “reader conscious”: “I have one reader in mind, someone who is in the room with me, and who I’m talking to, and I want to make sure I don’t talk too fast, or too glibly. Usually I try to create a hospitable tone at the beginning of a poem. Stepping from the title to the first lines is like stepping into a canoe. A lot of things can go wrong.” “I think my work has to do with a sense that we are attempting, all the time, to create a logical, rational path through the day. To the left and right there are an amazing set of distractions that we usually can’t afford to follow. But the poet is willing to stop anywhere.”
I like this image. We can imagine poetry as a way to step into the day’s canoe, carefully, slowly, balanced, moving forward, a meditative way, and there is the quiet but also the loon, perhaps . . . the quickness of the heron, all of a sudden . . . . Poetry is a kind of morning light that makes known to us what there is to see and feel, what can happen in our day, what is happening, now. And a way perhaps to bring on a state of mind of morning, of fresh start, of new year, a kind of dawn of it. It wakes us up, and is an up! So, what do you say, Poetry Slow Down, you evolved minds of listeners to poetry on this first day of the year, slowing it down, to give respite and renewal to your spirit, if we hear, on this day of day, from e.e. cummings, a poem I personally like to begin my days with, every day of the year, a poem calling for us to be awake, so that every day, and really every moment is a new day, a morning, a new life? “i thank You God for most this amazing”—cummings’ sonnet which is a prayer and invocation to each of our own mornings.
So we come upon a New Year, and make resolutions, for new beginnings, and our challenge, it seems to me, from our poets, is to realize a new beginning each day, a fresh start. The sun could say been there, done that, but it arrives for our senses every morning without fail, and I like to think that it is welcomed on behalf of humanity by our ambassadors the poets, who represent humanity, and say thank you, morning, aurora, and wax eloquently and discourse philosophically on morning, the fresh start which happens every day. And let’s sing out again for Jim Harrison’s “Rooster,” since we begin with Thoreau’s Chanticleer. I don’t include it on our show today but here it is, as I plan for our show around The Greater Good center at Berkeley, linking happiness with compassion and kindness. We want to hear Thoreau as Chanticleer, and before we kill the old red rooster, we can be heartened by day’s greeter in this poem:
from Vol. 11 No. 4
to Pat Ryan
I have to kill the rooster tomorrow. He’s being an asshole,
having seriously wounded one of our two hens with his insistent banging.
You walk into the barn to feed the horses and pick up an egg
or two for breakfast and he jumps her proclaiming she’s mine she’s mine.
Her wing is torn and the primary feathers won’t grow back.
Chickens have largely been denatured, you know. He has no part
in those delicious fresh eggs. He crows on in a vacuum. He is
utterly pointless. He’s as dumb as a tapeworm and no one cares
if he lives or dies. There. I can kill him
with an easy mind. But I’m still not up to it. Maybe I can hire
a weasel or a barn rat to do the job, or throw him to Justine,
the dog, who would be glad to rend him except the neighbors
have chickens too, she’d get the habit and we would have a beloved shot
dog to bury. So he deserves to die, having no purpose. We’ll
have stewed barnyard chicken, closer to eating a gamebird than
that tasteless supermarket chicken born and bred in a caged
darkness. Everything we eat is dead except an occasional oyster
or clam. Should I hire the neighbor boy to kill him? Will the
hens stop laying out of grief. Isn’t his long wavering crow
magnificent? Isn’t the worthless rooster the poet’s bird brother?
No. He’s just a rooster and the world has no place for him.
Should I wait for a full wintry moon, take him to the top of the
hill after dropping three hits of mescaline and strangle him?
Should I set him free for a fox meal? They’re coming back now
after the mange nearly wiped them out. He’s like a leaking roof
with drops falling on my chest. He’s the Chinese torture in the barn.
He’s lust mad. His crow penetrates walls. His head bobs in lunar
jerks. The hens shudder but are bored with the pain of eggs.
What can I do with him? Nothing isn’t enough. In the morning
we will sit down together and talk it out. I will tell him he
doesn’t matter and he will wag his head, strut, perhaps crow.
But let us hear Thoreau, who after all, compared his identity and purpose as a poet to a rooster, awakening us: he ends his book, and his sojourn, with these words, there is more day to dawn, the sun is but a morning star. Our poet Thoreau has awakened us, with his thoughts on how to live more consciously, to make every day a morning. “To be awake is to be alive.” “We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn.” We learn this way of expectation and thus are open to dawn as it unfolds infinitely, as e.e. cummings says, “everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.”
On the note of Yes, I greet you on this New Year, as we make the morning last, and learn the poets’ reasons, the poets’ seasons, for slowing down and living it up. And speaking of morning gratitude, thank you for listening, thank you for joining me in this journey as we make poetry part of our living day, part of our civic life and consciousness.
© Barbara Mossberg 2011/The Poetry Slow Down, KRXA 540AM.