First of all, welcome to our PoetrySlowDown—you’re slowing down with me, Professor Mossberg, aka Dr. B, with our Producer Zappa Johns, and the idea for the show is from Simon and Garfunkle’s 59th Street Bridge Song—slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make the morning last. This show began as AM Talk Radio on 540AM, KRXA, and people called in from all over the U.S. and from several countries, and it was very ironic—it was at noon, and so I thought that we would make the morning last, literally, by slowing down with poetry . . . There was news “at the top of the hour,” and I thought of time that way, as a shape, as a space, as a ball, and it was 54 minutes in diameter, although in my head it was an hour. I had three breaks for commercials, and it had to be exactly scheduled. So here I was, providing a time and place for people to slow down in their daily lives, and make the morning last, literally, and metaphorically for those on the east coast and Midwest and overseas, and I was hurrying, panting, a mile-a-minute trying to fit all the words in by the time it would go silent and the news, the late-breaking, heartbreaking news go on, eclipsing our heart-shaking news WITHOUT WHICH MEN DIE MISERABLY EVERY DAY (William Carlos Williams), so it was kind of paradoxical. Slowing down at breakneck speed. It was funny, too, because Paul Simon’s lyrics about slowing down were specifically about being a poet, engaging with the world that way: Hello, lamppost, whatcha knowin? I’ve come to watch your flowers growin, ain’t ya got no rhymes for me . . . So he’s looking around his world, totally relaxed and chill, counting on rhymes, on the prowl and amble for poetry around every corner.
I was thinking about rhymes . . . they are sort of a miracle! How words that seemingly have nothing to do with each other sound alike, and thus call each other to mind—as if they are actually connected. And so the brain thereby connects them. And each carries a meaning, something we can visualize–an object, an experience, a feeling, an idea, and to see such words rhyme, we instantly are connecting them, seeing how they relate. I was just reciting e.e. cummings’ “i thank You God for this amazing” for my eco literature class, and by saying it out loud, you apprehend rhymes you might not notice by sight on the page. I’ll say it for us, since it is definitely a New Years’ Poem, a new day, new decade, new life, waking up poem.
Since it’s a sonnet, it has a formal rhyme scheme; every other line’s last word rhymes, in theory . . . thus, we have amazing and everything; trees and yes; earth and birth; day and gay; no and You; awake and, and opened. These rhymes make us understand the message, cummings’ gospel, that everything is amazing. This is a fairly not subversive, but radical proposition for the mind: a human responsibility to experience wonder, awe, reverence, astonishment, without boundaries, unconditionally. The final couplet almost gets by us: awake and/opened. It took me a few years to notice this, reading it and reciting it. I know! And so you think how brilliant, how clever cummings is, in his physics ministry, to make us get this connection between being awake and opened, in the sense of Henry David Thoreau and Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses–do you know this book? She has a slew of books on the neuroscience of consciousness from the point of view of poetry—she is as lyric as they come—a Pablo Neruda—a sensual visualist; she is earthy, she smacks of earth-smells, of moss and rain and honeysuckle; she is intense—and her point is that if we open ourselves to our world, we experience the beauty, the reverence.
We hear Dolly Parton’s song, sung with Willie Nelson, “Everything Is Beautiful In Its Own Way.”
And there is a method I am learning from an artist at the University of Madrid, Rosalinda Ruiz-Scarfuto, the Flaneur method, which publisher and earth celebrator/plant genius Patricia Hamilton of Park Place Publications has been talking to me about, and I will be sharing this with you, this intersection of poetry and art and consciousness in our world, in which we walk more consciously if we touch, just as Ackerman asks us to look and sniff and touch and taste—and I have a slew of poems on this to share with you today, on a lemon and bear and whale and fox and fish and moose and crab, by people who walk through this world awake—Pablo Neruda, Galway Kinnell, Elizabeth Bishop, Ted Hughes, D.H. Lawrence, Mark Doty . . . who tell someone about it in the way Mary Oliver gives “Instructions for Life: Pay Attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
It is a kind of revelation that rhyme provides us, a revealing of the inner workings and outer manifestations of our world, of how things connect. Einstein is a poet when he says e=mc2. Poets have their hand on the pulse of this mystery of the world, exploring the meanings of how things connect: Only connect, says E.M. Forster. Live in fragments no longer.
― E.M. Forster, Howards End
It’s so mysterious, how words rhyme, how sounds connect us . . . and make us see, and hear, what’s there. The sound of words and how we put them together can add up to insights . . . and rhymes can be at the end of the line, like roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, and so are you . . .or they can be slant, as we hear in e.e. cummings, or Emily Dickinson (“a little madness in the spring”), or internal rhymes, like Dolly Parton’s, and I found myself working with this in a poem in which I was writing about a difficult subject, my mother’s failing health, her misery in an assisted living center hardly able to walk or eat or speak, and it was a what-do-you-wear-to-your-mother’s-bedside poem, but somehow, rhyme became important:
After Pindar, Bon Chic Bon Genre: Ode to My BCBG Holy Inappropriate Dress
First, the strophic dress TURN Then me the antistrophe TURN Then you tell me.
It was on sale. Shopping with my teen-aged daughter. MOM! It’s two layers, almost see-through. Beneath is flesh-colored gauze—sewn into the bodice, and then flows free from the neck and arm seams. That’s it! That’s what’s going on with this dress—Free. Flow. The top is bright soft red with white flowers. It is so transparent, so skimpy, so flimsy: like a cloud manifests, weightless, this dress flutters when I turn as if there is a breeze. It has its own weather system, eddies of wind, currents, squalls as I move, or even breathe. Even the sleeves, little flaps, bunched at the shoulder, then draping down, fluted— the whole thing loose, wavy, rippling, the V-neck gathered, edged with ripples. Ladies, you know, help me out here. Then the empire waist, ruffles, that’s it: ruffles, all along my bodice, then, a ribbon sloping down into a bow; material so light, so translucent, so fluttery, it rides my curves lightly; and the dress descends, loosely, to a ten-inch ruffle, bordered by more tiny ruffles. So you’ve got the dress, and now you’re thinking of me, what, am I four? Or, nine? Or Audrey Hepburn at sixteen, or Maria from Sound of Music? I’m dating myself here. I’ve turned sixty. So they say. My arms: you know orangutans, the scope and heft of their feathered arms, enormous, hang prodigiously. Now think of flesh: soft white floppy, arms so heavy with soft flesh they dangle when I walk. My breasts are hanging, too, filling nicely a 34-G, and they sway; you’ve seen me and dismissed me as a comic turn in a thousand films, the stout giggling aunt in the background, shaking to the music. My belly sags and sways. My jowls, you see gravity at work, erosion, fault lines exposed. Aging’s geology.
So now, you have me turning, counter-turning. Now the epode.
Why? Why do I wear this dress? Well isn’t it obvious? I wore it in Rome, and the children rolled their eyes to one another, and gave advice on how to wear the bow, my husband shook his head without shaking it. I peed in the plaza (they fled)—Okay! It happens! But the stains came out nicely. And I wear it today, with pearls, to visit my mother, in her outpost in the assisted living place, where we have hired twenty-four seven care since her two falls and perhaps one stroke three weeks ago. She has not spoken since. Last night I lay my hand on her trembling hand. Together like that, they looked so similar—hers a little more wrinkly—a few more brown spots– red from cumedin bruising, my own hand in twenty-eight years–twenty-eight years which once seemed enormous— my mother of such size and heft to me, now a flutter in time—a ruffle, ripples on the surface, like stone dropped in pond, her ripples becoming my wrinkles, as pond absorbs our energy. Eighty-eight does not seem so far, and twenty-eight years a heartbeat, this morning at her bed with the rails we installed last week, so she doesn’t fall out and hit her head—hospice, which she does not know about, or she does, and none of us knows, either, how something like this is read. Is it clear to you this is my perkiest dress, so light it flutters when I walk—you would swear I was in the Carpenteria afternoon breeze; if it had any more ruffles I would fly; I am a flag of some weightless nation, like a cloud manifests. My arms are bare. I flutter, and flap, and sag. It is so light. It billows and sways and caresses each curve. I have plans for tonight— freedom and hope and time to finesse. I kiss her goodbye. She speaks: you. look. pretty. That’s why. I wear this dress to face, face to face, heaviness, all gravity’s laws, weighted with sorrow, and loss, and fear, in hospice, I bear it, I wear it, this buoyant excess, this innocence. Good style, good class: tell me it’s an inappropriate dress.
c Barbara Mossberg 2018 (New Millennium Writings)
I wonder if when we meet each other, and connect in some chemical mysterious way, if that is a rhyme–if we realize that we rhyme with each other, in obvious ways, and in internal ways . . .if nature rhymes in its shapes and patterns and forms . . . if rhyme is a way that nature speaks . . . .
The slew of poems I have for us actually don’t have many obvious rhymes, by some coincidence . . . yet key concepts are rhymed for impact; in looking at our world and connecting to its creatures; I think they rhyme the human heart with the soul of earth creatures the poet is connecting us to . . .
After our show today, when people say, how did you spend this hour, you can say, oh, I slowed down rhyming with a whale.
But I have taken us on a detour down a rabbit hole, today, because today’s show is built around the theme of recent books, What Would Alice Do?, and the great Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life—the idea that we can learn practical things for our most quotidian challenges of life from ponderous, pondering, curious, and remarkable literature, that people think has nothing to do with our actual lives. I thought of this, speaking of our actual lives, sitting in my kitchen nook, with a book, What Would Alice Do? Extracting the wisdom of Alice, I was thinking about our show, drinking coffee, surrounded by books, and I noticed that the books I have there DO NOT RYHME, that is, they do not seem to get along, much less have to do with the kitchen. Well, of course there is The Joy of Cooking, but next to it is Emily Dickinson, and then Anthony Bourdain, and I was thinking, oh I shouldn’t have them even next to each other, but then I realized Emily can take care of herself with the likes of Bourdain– they are equally lusty about earthly pleasures, whether oysters or puddings, and then I have books on chaos and cosmology, and Eugenides, his brilliant Middlesex—and Lucille Clifton, and books by my friends: it frankly is a hodgepodge. No one belongs. No one gets along. It is the opposite of rhyme. Yet it is my kitchen nook booky companions I take up when I drink coffee, or water in a wine bottle I keep there because the label says Merry and Kind, I love that. So on the topic of what would Alice do? Just like How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton, or the Tao of Pooh, these works that extract the wisdom of a poet and translate it into a practical how to, to do, for the affairs and difficulties of our lives, the etiquette, the manners, of as Joseph Conrad said, how to be. So I thought I would try this as an experiment with Pablo Neruda, whose lemon poem I read as an example of his spirit rhyming with earth.
|Well, I am not sure: what would Neruda do? He would slice that lemon, for sure . . . and he would be enthralled. What about Rumi? This being human is a guest house.|
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi,
So here is our chance to know What Would Rumi Say? WWRS? What Would Rumi Do? WWRD?
First, the doorbell rings. We should answer it, for sure. The people outside look strange and even—dangerous. But we should let them in. Yes, they may be robbing the house, sweeping us clean, but that is a good thing! That is what Rumi would do! He would say, bring it on!
Dear Mr. Rumi, I have been having very distressing thoughts lately. It is hard to get out of bed.
Dear Distressed: laugh, and welcome them. This could be a good thing.
It may seem, dear Listener of our Poetry Slow Down, that invoking Rumi for hard times, with his bring-it-on, welcome it in, philosophy, is not that practical, because unlike Rumi, who lived in the 1200s, our world today is challenging beyond his imagination. But consider: Rumi was born on September 30, 1207, present-day Afghanistan. His family had to flee the massacre of Genghis Khan’s army all the way to southern Turkey. Despite the violence surrounding him, Rumi was a poet of compassion, kindness, faith, spiritual insight and enlightened living. He did not write about military revenge or political power, but advocated love.
In 1244 AD he came across a wandering dervish named Shamsuddin of Tabriz. Shamsuddin and Rumi were friends. Shams Rumi expressed his love for Shamsuddin. After Shams died, had great grief; out of that pain he wrote nearly 70,000 verses of poetry—and music and dance. What we really can learn from Rumi is how to manage grief: write 70,000 poems. Dance. Promote love and gratitude. “The horse of love has brought us here from a grand Mystery.” “Plant seeds of compassion in this pure land,” he urges us.
It seems the message is that love and forgiveness saves the day: it turns out that Einstein practices, WWRD? What would Rumi do? But that is for another podcast, if e=mc2, what then, and what does love have to do with it? You have slowed down with the Poetry Slow Down, and I’m thanking the Eugene Team, Ashley Kim, the Oak Knoll Team and sound engineer set up Nico Moss, our producer Zappa Johns, our Engineer O. Really, the Pacific Grove Poetry Collective, Park Place Publications with Patricia Hamilton, and Rosalinda Ruiz-Scarfuto, for the Flaneur methodology which is coming to us soon, and I’m your host, Professor Barbara Mossberg, Dr. B, and you’ve been slowing down—you know you move too fast . . . you’ve been rhyming!
What is in your kitchen bookshelf? Let’s noodle that . . . Write me at Barbara.firstname.lastname@example.org, and I remain yours truly, with the news you need, the news you need, the news without which men die miserably every day! Not you, not you . . . thank you for joining me on this life journey! We definitely rhyme!
© Barbara Mossberg 2020