In which our show showcases poets’ love of teaching (their poems are proof of the pudding) and in which I learn from students’ questions to me about the role and use of poetry in our lives, and, in their own discoveries of what poetry means to them, I come to new consciousness about what it means to me: yes, it’s a pretty great life, this teaching poetry, this learning with students, this being taught by earnest learning. This is The Poetry Slow Down, with me, Professor Barbara Mossberg, your grateful host, and our Producer Zappa Johns, recording us from California’s Central Coast, while I’m in my studio up in Eugene, Oregon where I’m teaching eco literature and Emerson and Einstein as poets, at the University of Oregon. We’ll hear notes of Rumi, and poems by Mark Strand, Billy Collins, William Carlos Williams, Dorothea Lasky, Mary Oliver, e.e. cummings, Diane Wakowski, Howard Neverov, Lucilla Perillo, Elizabeth Alexander, Yvor Winters, W.D. Snodgrass, Kenneth Koch, D. H. Lawrence, Brian Doyle, and more. The questions that sent me on this journey were by a team of students interviewing me for Faculty Friday for the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon.
Here is what they asked—for a ten-minute interview:
we hear tell that you assign fairy tales in an Einstein genius course? What is up with that?
What role does hope have to play in the creation of genius?
“You do so many fun projects with your classes, which one is your favorite and why?”
What is the importance of journaling and revolutionary imagination?
What poem or poet do you live by?
What role does poetry play in our lives?
In a way the first questions about fairy tales, genius, revolutionary imagination, journaling, set up the last two epic questions—what poem or poet do I live by, and what role poetry plays in our lives. I confess to you I had pause. Einstein said if you want to know about water don’t ask a fish—but why not? The fish swims, feeds, breeds, lives its whole life in this water—who else to ask? But the fish doesn’t know water! Take it OUT of water, and, gasping, flailing, in crisis, the fish knows water, waterness, waterhood, waterty—and fishity. We can take it for granted what poetry is in our lives, why poetry is, and having to try to explain—poet-splain—it in a few minutes brings to consciousness what we think. So I just went in there and hoped that the “water” would, in Emerson’s words, “sing itself”—that in the crisis of being outside of myself, and having to look in to see the poetry in my mind and heart, I would know, after all this time, what to say to such momentous questions. I will share this with you—the UP in what’s up with that?—poetry in our lives, of our lives, for our lives.
I want to start us off with a framework for these questions, a gift book of poems on my desk that I leaf through in my little slow down moments, Brian Doyle’s How the Light Gets In, and Other Headlong Epiphanies. And we’re off! Thank you for joining me on this journey. Please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Barbara.email@example.com.
c Barbara Mossberg 2019