LIVE FROM THE 4 CHICKS CAFÉ and the Emily Dickinson International Society Annual Meeting


  • EVERYDAY WONDER Dazzling Poetry but You Don’t Need Glasses to Listen–
  • All-Us in Wonderland, or, It’s News to Me


One is constantly reminded of the infinite lavishness and fertility of Nature — inexhaustible abundance amid what seems enormous waste. And yet when we look into any of her operations that lie within reach of our minds, we learn that no particle of her material is wasted or worn out. It is eternally flowing from use to use, beauty to yet higher beauty; and we soon cease to lament waste and death, and rather rejoice and exult in the imperishable, unspendable wealth of the universe, and faithfully watch and wait the reappearance of everything that melts and fades and dies about us, feeling sure that its next appearance will be better and more beautiful than the last.
John Muir- My First Summer in the Sierra (1911) chapter 10.

That’s John Muir, his first summer in the Sierras, astro-geo speak high on altitude, with us in spirit as we all had our eyes up to the skies this week, trying to honor the occasion of an Eclipse—and this is Professor Barbara Mossberg, a host with a host of artist angel technobobbies, our West Coast Poetry Slow Down Team, Producer Zappa Johns and Creative Consultant NicoMoss, and Science Guests Exhibit A, the Clarke family, the von Trapps of chemistry, with Dr. Cathy Clarke: curious and dedicated minds bringing you our Poetry Slow Down which puts this hour’s news of the universe into relief,  in a way the moon makes the sun visible in a total eclipse—an hour of listening to poetry fractals of brilliance of the human mind, lighting up your world, temporarily covering over the headline deadline late-breaking fast-breaking heart-breaking news, for the news you need, the news you heed, the news “without which men die miserably every day”—according to William Carlos Williams, poet physician who knew his way around an artery and what is actually life and death: his bumper sticker would read, I slow for Eclipses, and he meant poetry, “difficult” and “despised” as it may appear: if you’re a reader of Emily Dickinson, as many of you are, were, and will be, in your orbital human path, of course you are thinking of her poems about Eclipse— she left no stone unturned in nature’s “infinite lavishness and fertility,” as Muir saw it. She saw across scale and function, setting out for us her vision of what there is to behold:

“Nature” is what we see—
The Hill—the Afternoon—
Squirrel—Eclipse— the Bumble bee—
Nay—Nature is Heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Sea—
Thunder—the Cricket—
Nay—Nature is Harmony—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.

This is from the mid 19th century, from a bedroom window looking out on the Main Street of a small rural college town, a town she did not engage with. Rather, she stayed home, confining herself to the plot of her family garden and house drama.  She said her poetry was her letter to the world, “the simple news that nature told.”—Eclipse  was definitely on her plate of things she noticed about our world and took to heart as a way of even describing herself:

How odd the Girl’s life looks

Behind this soft Eclipse – 

I think that Earth feels so

To folks in Heaven – now – 

And oh, yes, God: “to address the Eclipse”—she’s describing her family to an editor she is trying to get interested in her work: They are religious, except me, and address an eclipse, every morning, whom they call their “Father.”

And we’re going to talk about what poets have thought about eclipses, but here’s my question for us, Poetry Slow Downists! Or first, this thought: It was so moving to see so many people all lined up literally to watch the sky, for an event of a few minutes. A change in light. To be excited about a natural phenomenon. After all these years and techno bells and whistles, we still are the same human beings watching the sky with wonder when a phenomenon occurs. I love this. We haven’t lost our capacity for wonder. We are not blasé, been there, seen that. Hu hum. But here’s my question: the earth is moving, precisely, at the same speed, the whole time; every day; out of darkness the sun appears as sunrise; everyday out of light the sun disappears into night; the light is always different. It seems with our eclipse frenzy that moving into light and out of light is so pivotal an experience! What if we gathered every morning to watch the sun rise, with reverence and awe and amazement? Or stop everything to see the sun set?

I have a control group of world-famous scientists here standing by, who left the labs to travel to Oregon to see the eclipse. We will ponder this question with our focus group, whom I have consulted:  our poets, who seem to have nothing to do but sit around and gape and act star struck and notice and not take for granted what our earth is up to! So our show today will feature poems about people being dazzled by looking at the sky at its moments of transition from light to darkness and darkness to light. And perhaps they will kindle our enthusiasm for events that occur daily—on the theory proposed by Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland. He was a mathematician, at Oxford University, and also a pioneering photographer, so he had an eye for phenomenon, an inextricable connection with light and how it moves. Coincidentally, I think, in Alice in Wonderland, he has Alice in conversation about birthdays—speaking of cosmic revolutions and earth movements and stars. Birthdays occur once a year—and so we celebrate. But, here’s his thinking, presented by the March Hare, Mad Hatter, and company—why not celebrate unbirthdays? What’s that, asks Alice. They explain. Alice says, oh, I think I prefer a present on my real birthday. Then they say to her, how many days a year do you have a birthday? One. How many days a year do you have an unbirthday? 364.  . . . Oho! The reasoning follows, would you rather have one present a year? Or 364? I’m just sayin.

© Barbara Mossberg 2017

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