(Poetry of Emily Dickinson, e.e. cummings, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Theodore Roethke, Stanley Kunitz, Barbara Mossberg aka Fat Lady Flying)


THAT APRIL! This April. This here April. –-No locked doors here, April’s welcome on our Poetry Slow Down, as we note Emily Dickinson’s issue with her bad boy April taking his own sweet time to arrive, and we’re reflecting on a time of recognizing and pondering earth‘s poem i thank You God for most this amazing, with its lines, “i who have died am alive again today”resilience and resurrection in Spring. We and eddieandbill and bettyandisabel are skipping past what e.e. cummings calls “in just spring” barely barely barely newness or re-newness when the world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful, and what Gerard Manley Hopkins and Theodore Roethke call the juiciness of deep down freshness, when against seemingly all odds of darkness and oppression and silence and death, up comes a green radiance, a color of purple, white petals, out of a frozen, crusted, ravaged earth, in a process T.S. Eliot calls cruel: April is the cruelest month, he says, a statement so surprising that in his honor we dedicate this month as National Poetry Month, and the reason he says this is because April is so mud-slushous. Through all time, poets have put their mental shoulders to the wheel of this time of year, this concept of new life out of what seems like death. And so today, we will celebrate what I call, Life and Death and Life Again, poems of spring as renewal, centered on e.e. cummings’

(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth

day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)


—those “ands,” for everything that belongs and is included when we count in what matters and what belongs and what we cherish, and on that note, today, we’re celebrating Jacques Brel’s birthday, our Belgian troubadour, and I’ve asked Producer Hal to play a Brel song for us, your favorite may be Carousel, I love it, too, and I asked Hal to play If We Only Have Love, on this theme of hope against all odds and what besets us. So let’s begin (I have looked forward to this for months) with a juicy poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Nothing is so beautiful as spring,” that includes these lines:


What is all this juice and all this joy?

A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning

In Eden garden. –


We proceed to discuss Hopkins’ life and poetic career, interrupted and silenced and fraught by his own self-censoring from his conviction that such joy as he takes in writing poetry, even poetry as revelation about the divinity that he sees in our world (as the great “Inversnaid” and how it sent Theodore Roethke reeling in weeds a wheeling in resilience and resurrection), is a sinful distraction from his real duty of devotion. However, such is the power of his joy in poetry that we will hear poetry from his last years, when he suffered from depression, despair, illness, going blind, isolation, loneliness, overwork, and a sense of failure both to his practice as a Jesuit priest and his call as a poet (his “terrible sonnets” pity-party of marvelous lines), yet writes of resilience and resurrection. We have seen his spirit, in “Inversaid,” what “springs” in him, sounds, colors of life emergent, triumphant, out of death and despair—a pioneer ecologist’s call to preserve the wetlands that nourish   our spirit and keep us and earth resilient:


What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness ? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet ;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

To which Theodore Roethke replies, in a call and response. And Roethke’s response to Hopkins shows us something of the force in the human spirit, a creativity in conceiving and writing and birthing a poem that expresses the effort of earth itself in renewal in spring, so I am going to read for us some of Hopkins and

Roethke’s poems and stories of their lives as poets who bring US spring out of winter, out of death: Hopkins 45 years on earth, Roethke’s 55 years . . .

We hear how he is “sprung” from his vow of poetic silence, to invoke his painter musician self to express his ecstasy in the beauty of nature in his journals and poems with his ideas of “inscape” and “instress.” We are changed when we experience the world as beautiful, the meaning in what we see, I’m thinking here of James Wright’s Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s farm where he’s seeing the afternoon light on last  year’s horse plops, manure, and he sees them as shining, blazing gold. For Hopkins seeing the world this way connects us passionately with creativity, our Creator, what is divine both in it and in us as one thing. But his famous joy in seeing nature is set against his own sense of darkness, and this it seems to me is the meaning of these poems of Spring and resilience and resurrection. They don’t come out of sweetness and light and a failure to see what is hard, what is dark, what is deeply sorrowful—on the contrary, these poems of shining, his own lines, a vision of shook foil, come out of winter, of suffering: that is their power.

And so we think of Hopkins’ life—a “winter world” physically, emotionally, spiritually, as he in the poem lifts himself, is lifted perhaps, by a force which loves the poetry in him, like the crocus or bluebell or tulip which cannot be stopped rising upward through earth to break free into light and to give out oxygen, to be beauty—poetry as a force of the Spring within each of us: the triumph of Spring, of coming to life when one has died: he calls his poem “That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection.” In this poem we will see an April-ish celebration of our world at hand, a rowdiness of sky as “cloud-puffball,” “torn tufts,” “tossed pillows/flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers” with words of “delightfully,” “bright wind boisterous” and one after another word-image of energy that is epiphenomenal. It is full of gust and zest and juicy joy.

But vastness blurs and time ‘ beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, ‘ joyless days, dejection.
                Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. ‘ Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; ‘ world’s wildfire, leave but ash:


                In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, ‘ since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, ‘ patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
 Is immortal diamond.

So referring to himself, this reverent Priest who professes classics, each word and phrase shaped and worked to shaking quivering life, in slang, insolently, with self-disrespect, as “this Jack,” this generic nobody, everyman, this “joke,” this poor, paltry “potsherd”—a relic, a piece of broken pottery, a dug up curiosity, a matchwood, small bit of wood . . . these expressions of himself as a poor, fragment, relic, piece, and the image of himself behind the plough, the trash and mud and grit of soil seen as shining, immortal, eternal, from toil, suffering, discipline, harsh, humble, mortal clay. He is the world’s wildfire; a beacon and eternal beam, he says—transcending the realm of worm, it is as a poet  he acknowledges his own rising shining spirit out of this mud, his own Spring. And thus, the possibility of his famous deathbed words—”I am so happy, I am so happy. I loved my life.” His poetry gives him a way to express the Spring in him, the life and death and life again—because here we are, Poetry Slow Down, talking about his poem, his words, that he set down, and these words, and his life, are alive again for us, in us. In Part Two, we’ll hear more poetry of life and death and life again, resurrection, Spring, green and blooming words–cummings, Roethke, Stanley Kunitz, and me, as Fat Lady Flying, poems of heft, heave, hoist, list, when one feels too heavy to rise, when flying, as one too plump, seems out of the question.


In a dark time, the eye begins to see,

I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;


All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.

My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,

Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?

A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.

The mind enters itself, and God the mind,

And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

That’s Theodore Roethke, “In a Dark Time,” in which through poetry his “I” climbs out of fear, enters itself, for a new life, and here we are, at the Poetry Slow Down, celebrating THAT April today, a time of earthly resilience and resurrection that has been a symbol for what is possible for us, the way we see our lives, over all human history. We’re talking on the theme of life and death and life AGAIN, Gerard Manley Hopkins, who loved poetry so much he gave it up for Lent and burned his poems and did not write them for seven years, as a way of denying himself this passion of expression of love it gave him so much happiness, —and yet, like the weeds of Hopkins said, long live the weeds, the wet, the wildness, that to him was life and poetry in one inextricable mud-lusciousness, juicy-ness, Roethke read Hopkins and took up his call for the weeds, the spring, the new life in us, out of all that would weigh us down, that dark despair he talks about. His poems are very much in the spirit of resilience and resurrection. In “The Waking” (and we love this, here at the Poetry Slow Down):

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

. . .

Of those so close beside me, which are you?

God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,

And learn by going where I have to go.

The poet Stanley Kunitz said of Roethke, “The poet of my generation who meant most to me, in his person and in his art, was Theodore Roethke.” And I love this, because who is more representative of the resilience of the human spirit, invested in the faith of resurrection, than Stanley Kunitz, who like Roethke dealt with a childhood trauma of a parent’s death, who found refuge and respite in the greenhouse, in the garden, and was writing poetry from this nurture into his hundreds, poems of struggle and looking life’s winter straight into the face, proclaiming how much he loves this life and is in the game, for the long run: his poems I love to read for us, “The Round” and “The Long Boat.”

I pick my notebook up and I start to read aloud the still-wet words I scribbled on the blotted page:
”Light splashed . . .”

I can scarcely wait till tomorrow when a new life begins for me, as it does each day, as it does each day.

This is the spirit of resilience and resurrection,

And what fuels it? When he imagines his life receding past the point where he can do anything to stop it, he lets it all go:

Peace! Peace! To be rocked by the Infinite! As if it didn’t matter which way was home; as if he didn’t know he loved the earth so much
he wanted to stay forever.

This is the poem he read aloud when he was 100. I think of what it must have been to see and hear him read these lives of love, love lyrics of loved life, and we can

see his sense of kinship in Roethke who finds kinship in Hopkins who finds kinship in Keats and classics, poets, agents of resilience and resurrection! Out of winter, out of darkness, out of despair, and to me, no one says it like e.e. cummings, the meaning of Spring, conscious of what it springs FROM, always making us aware of the forces of darkness AND light, death AND life, no AND yes, this wholeness of vision Hopkins is talking about with his concept of inscape, when we apprehend our world. We will hear e.e. cummings on Spring in the context of his own life.


What we see in e.e. cummings, who knew sorrow, is this ebullience, this unremorseful energetic embrace of life in all its wholeness: and that is what I want us to think about today, Easter Sunday, resurrection and resilience on our minds, in his poem which I consider—well this is the poem I wish I had written, could write, but instead recite every day, and in this way, perhaps, honor and keep alive e.e. cummings, who promises us he IS alive again today:

i thank You God for most this amazing

day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes


I always get these words wrong; they are so alive in me, they squirm around, and I think of what he told people seeing one of his plays, don’t try to understand it, let it understand YOU, in some ways this poem comes inside us and becomes part of us and how we understand who we are, inextricable from our own being and way of seeing and thinking. Now, as I read this poem to you, Poetry  Slow Down, you can hear the rhyme, the sonnet form. But what you can’t hear, and it’s strange to think of the poem on the page because I think cummings like so many poets conceive their poems to be just like we are doing now, heard, part of sound waves going into our brain, good vibrations, but he does something with this poem visually on the page I want to tell you about. First, of course, he does his famous punctuation. He does not capitalize i, when he says, I thank You God, but he capitalizes You and God, so that his small case I is bowed in reverence and holy respect for God. Yet his I is not a small insignificance. He starts with this assertive act, I do this: I thank you. He doesn’t say, thank you, as we normally do when we thank someone. He puts himself right out there, first and foremost, making himself noticeable to God, a grand great gesture of gratitude in a dance with the immensity and magnitude of God. In saying You God, that’s pretty direct . . . he doesn’t say, in respectful indirection, Oh Lord our heavenly father, it’s hey You, You God!  And the other thing he does in this poem is that he puts whole quatrains and the entire concluding couplet into parentheses. Now when we put something into

parenthesis, it means we want to say it, it’s part of our message, but it’s not the official story, it’s our aside, our whispered comment in the ear, taking you aside, in confidence; it’s a way of being transparently truthful,       telling us what’s the story and what ELSE is the story we have to know. So here is how he divides up what we also could think of as light and shadow, or major and minor chords, the lines that are in the light,

i thank You God for most this amazing

day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes

THEN, in parenthesis, he tells us,

(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth

day of life and love and wings:and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)

and yet his news of his resurrection—this is pretty important, alive again today, birth-day of life and love and wings and earth . . . .like, p.s. , so this is the

backstory, in the wings, perhaps the story that is always there, remember?, or is it whispered, oh, and by the way,  not only is this day amazing, but (I’m alive again) . . . .this is what the earth contains all the time even if we don’t see it. . .

Now he goes back to the stage perhaps,

how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any–lifted from the no

of all nothing–human merely being

doubt unimaginable You?

and he’s asking, how is it that we mortal foibled limited humans can possibly comprehend the immensity, the infinity, of the Creator of this world, how? From the no of all nothing, and then the answer, as he asks this, is in parenthesis: (now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

it is immediate, NOW, and the answer is his ears first, and then eyes: awake and/now  . . . are opened, so it’s present tense, this is happening NOW

before our eyes, before our ears, this awakeness, this openness, to what is there. But it’s in this parenthesis of a kind of modesty perhaps, or back stage, in the “wings”—ready to be emergent . . . like Spring’s growth with its news of what is there, has been there, all the time, it only looked over       and done with, dead and gone,

and I think about how he says this amazing day he’s grateful for, the leaping greenly spirits of trees, he does not say, trees, he does not say, blue sky, he says,  spirit of trees, and blue true DREAM of sky, and it is as if our bodies, the visible world, are one reality, and they contain another, deeper reality, within them, the spirit, the dream, and this spirit is the resilience that is the heart of the resurrection, the new life, the life out of

death, the life and death and life AGAINness that he is trying to express to us, this vision of wholeness of experience, us and our world.

And on that note, life and death and life again, in Part Three I’ll share with you some of my work on Fat Lady Flying, taking this plumpitude for a ride, with you our Poetry Slow Down




What if you are too fat for deus ex machina? I was too plump to be the witch in The Wizard of Oz, to be cranked  into the air by pulleys and yanked around on wires. I was Dorothy on the ground, and I watched a skinny girl fly flanked by monkeys. It turns out that flying can occur in poetry—not just my own, but everyone’s and everything’s. In poetry anything can fly. Buffalo, spirit, fat ladies, museums, John Muir, willow. Laws of gravity do not apply.


I did not set out to write poems about flying. But I realize that in the thirty five or forty years of poems in my life, through all kinds of weather,       from the Arctic Circle to Morocco to Jojgakarta, from halls of hospice to massage table with good with Glinda, to the Peabody Museum of Natural       History, that flying is happening. So my ground rules for being grounded are that there has to be flying in poems, at least.


We’ve been talking this time of Passover and celebration of earth’s resilience and resurrection, about how poets do spring. Literally, how spring is expressed in poetry, “sprung,” its meaning in the poems themselves evidence of what I think of as life and death and life again, the immortal life of the word that is alive in us, when we read or hear or think of these words, connected to the mind and heart and spirit and soul of the person who  wrote them . . . and now they are part of our brain, living in us, changing in some ways how we see our world and ourselves and our lives. And I was

sharing with you my perspective from a lifetime of plumpitude the view from the wings when we are too heavy to fly, by which I mean, in my trope of a fat lady flying, I think, how impossible is that, right? The physics of it, even with pulleys, and what I really mean is the heaviness of awareness of all that is hard and dark, sorrow, injustice, we read the newspapers, we hear the newsbreaks at the top of the hour on this station, the news, the violence and lack of humane-ness, what people are suffering, and so with this knowledge, how, why, when, where, would we, could we, should we see another truth as well, a reason for not despair, for not giving up or in or on, for making of this existence something that does justice to what

Mary Oliver calls our “one wild and precious life”—so, what are the ways that we can heft, hoist, heave, this heaviness, this fat lady up into the air, lift those spirits, defy the forces that would bring us down, and fly, fly, fly! Well, I realize that what I am talking about here is an attitude not only of gratitude but resistance and defiance poems, to forces of despair, that allow Stanley Kunitz to never want to leave this life, that make Gerard Manley Hopkins say in midst of illness, blindness, loneliness, despair, o happy me, I am so happy, I am so happy, I have loved my life. This seems to me a way of Spring, out of winter, and so I will share with you some of these poems.


What I notice in looking at poems from when I was in my twenties through my mid sixties, never thinking at the time, oh, I’m trying to raise my spirits, rise again, that this is the journey of each poem, taking us from a moment of possible despair, or fright, and working it through the poem, trying to get the feeling right, so that the poem ends up as the discoverer of the news that is there to find; and somehow a theme without my being aware of it at the time, was flight, improbable flight. So that as I read last week, in Indiana, an emigrant from Southern California, rain to me was exotic, when it rained, in my mind, buffalo flew, I heard them on our tin roof, and my mind was trampled, flooded with rain in the night. When my friend was going to have a baby, I imagined her ready to fly, as a hot air balloon, with all the history of life inside that belly of hers,

Is it all of us you will bear, when you rise, like the sun, light with fourteenth-century copper dawns, desert stars, women’s hope? Are we ready for another life?

You will bear cries, your great balloon belly will bloom white flocks, bright Impatiens. . . . Yes, this belly will be satisfied. It will sun-rise, and we/will be dark mountains to catch its fall.

And for Sandra Gilbert, called one of the fear poets of our time,  the spirit is defiant: Certainties we don’t believe in, stars at day, ours to recall at will for a

darkness of our own making, a darkness our mother taught us, but a darkness whose fears we angle like fish. We lure them with our secretly unrepentant selves, who will never, never die. We are humbugs, heretics in the palace of death.

When I go to the Getty Museum with my mother and five year old son, on my birthday, seeking answers and solace, from all the sense of failures of being a daughter and mother and not being enough or the right thing, what is needed, that fear, sitting on a bench to write the poem, If you promise to let me write this down I promise you an ice cream, the poet suddenly envisions the world in flight, the possibility of freedom and forgiveness,

And I think of plump babies in the sky—not improbable—the babies I know fly, walk on water, wear wings.

. . . .my son begins to dance . . . and everything out of its shell goes wild. A Guard approaches.

I have come to learn, I say. And I enter into the frame. We embrace, and we fly through the air barefoot, knowing everything there is to know.

In Poor Barbara Can’t Eat, my poem as I packed for Oxford University to lecture, having failed in my diet to fit into my lecture suit by my love of lemon meringue pie, it ends with a vision of goddesses, see the loose robes, see the radiant faces, see the glow. See the ladies flying,  and let’s not pretend, they are hefty, and the clouds hold them, they rise in cloud meringue, light

as air. And in my poems on hospice, as my mother’s feisty spirit is grounded in a wheel chair, and she can no longer  move her legs, or arms, or finally throat to speak or sing, there is still poetry, and she still flies, and I dream of her and I making an escape, and these poems kept me going, poems I wrote in the hallway outside her room, weeping, and then, got up and went back in, poems that made me endure, gifts from wherever poetry SPRINGS from. This is the poem for her, I wrote during this period, which as it turned out, I read for her as she was dying.

Fat Lady Flying, and the last line when I say awed silence, it is the sense of awe, of reverence:

And so one by one in these poems of overcoming despair and fright, there is flight, there is new hope and life and fight.



NOTE TO PODCAST READERS AND LISTENERS ON THE CENTRAL COAST OF CALIFORNIA I will be giving a poetry reading in honor of National Poetry Month, as Poet in Residence for the City of Pacific Grove, Fat Lady Flying, yep we’re going to take her out, up and over, at the Pacific Grove Public Library, MAY 3,  7:30 pm.


And one of the things I love to do on our show is to be mindful in our civic space of both the old and the new, the ancient and the just now of poetry in our lives, and there is this wonderful website, from the Academy of American Poets, that sends out, free, every day, a poem, and the PoemADay has this day sent out a poem that I think fits in       beautifully with our theme of life and death and life again, it’s by Laura Cronk, Darling, You Are the World’s Fresh Ornament,


So that’s Laura Cronk, with this ‘tude of fight, Flight, coaxing the spring out of a relationship, the spring that is in there, that is in our world. The poet can invoke this spring in us that lies coiled for a source of hope, that makes for resilience, a way of ceaseless resurrection, and at this time of year of celebration for life after death, in all that grows, us, earth, sun, one flow of immensity—I thank  you for sharing this time with me, for slowing down this hurtling life, for poetry, which slows us down to think for ourselves, to honor consciousness of this journey on earth and with each other, and send you each greetings of fresh news that April, yeah, THAT April, that’s the one, brings to us without fail, no matter how it seemed in winter, and poetry always has this news for us, it’s always spring in the happening illimitably earth in poetry, I’m Professor Barbara Mossberg, on KRXA 540AM.

c Barbara Mossberg 2012


“Fat Lady Flying”


Not the fence and not the ivy, but you.

No, no, you say,

It’s not possible, I can’t, and you are too full of despair.

Of course there are things that don’t need to fly,

Things that are posted and rooted, nailed and nourished,

But you’re not one of them.


With your sentence of death

Which you share with frogs and the heron in the marsh

And the stars, and you see them soar and float,

Radiate and sing out in darkness,

Consider: they soar and float,

Radiate and sing out in darkness.


You have seen elephants and hippos swim,

Glide over river bottom, sail through currents,

You’ve seen the orangutan swing through trees.

So you know the largeness of grace.


What I’m asking you, don’t look around,

It’s you I mean. How?

Not by hoist, not a case of heft, or heave,

Cranked by harness, this is not physics of motion.

I’m not sure but my guess is to breathe.


There’s a way of holding breath

And it has to do with your eyes in this line,

Imagining the happiness of being weightless,

The buoyancy of a fat lady flying

Who doesn’t even try, it comes when she laughs

And takes in the world, its splinters and pebbles,

Its cries and sagging truths, it’s such a relief

The world exhales and she just rises.


That’s you, how I see you,

See you flying, in these lines,

Your lungs butterflies.

Wind flows over and through you,

And what you hear now is your own voice,

Its awed silence, rising over the world.



c Barbara Mossberg 2012

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *