I TOOK my power in my hand
And went against the world;
’T was not so much as David had,
But I was twice as bold.

I aimed my pebble, but myself
Was all the one that fell.
Was it Goliath was too large, Or only I too small?

(Emily Dickinson)

The poetry shoe of poetic feet in the headline news, late-breaking, fate-making, heart-breaking, heart-shaking, the news of “despised” and “difficult” poems “without which men die miserably every day” (Dr. William Carlos Williams). The news this week brings to the fore poetic language that challenges us to think more wisely—in terms of fairness, kindness, humanity. It’s not easy to think this way: Einstein calls for empathy and compassion, and it’s e=mc2, rocket science. Nor to speak up, out, for, against. To return to Dickinson, whom we don’t usually associate with putting herself out there in the public sphere, of course she did, boldly, altogether self-consciously, knowing what was at stake: committing oneself to words on paper is to enter the fray, engage with one’s times and all times, and add energy to the public discourse. It doesn’t always end well, at least in the short term. Dickinson herself, still unpublished and unknown, with no voice in her world, says,

They shut me up in Prose –
As when a little Girl
They put me in the Closet –

Because they liked me “still”—and has hundreds of poems speaking of repudiation, imprisonment, retaliation for transgressions of speaking up, speaking her truth to power. Was she brave, in her white dress, moonlight gardening, sending gingerbread to neighbors, writing her poems? It seemed so to her. The use of one’s words in struggle to be seen, to be heard, for respect and dignity and justice, has always been a form of moral courage. In our show today, produced by Zappa (named for THAT Zappa)Johns, and hosted by me, Dr. B, University of Oregon Clark Honors College’s Professor of Practice, I’m practicing what I teach, whether it’s epic literature and the green imagination, or John Muir, or Emerson and Einstein, or eco literature: waving the flag of poetry in defense and celebration of how we belong to each other and our earth. We’ll hear ringing and rousing words of poets and poetry readers who were brave on behalf of human and civil rights, peace, and the environment. Mark Twain, Sojourner Truth, Abraham Lincoln, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau, Nelson Mandela, MLK, “Hair,” ACLU, and Rumi, Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, and Wendell Berry, offer examples for today’s calling for standards of human decency. We’ll focus on a few cases, where people went to court or jail on behalf of others, and spoke out, to hisses and boos and jeers and even assassination, written off, as not to be taken seriously, and yet, as Dickinson says, still, still singing.

And I’ll play the piano for us, to ring it home.

So thank you for slowing down for our Poetry Slow Down, and if the shoe fits, wear it, hear hear!

© Barbara Mossberg 2017

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