I I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-wash’d babe, and am
not contain’d between my hat and boots,
Aand peruse manifold objects, no two alike and every one good,
Tthe earth good and the stars good, and their adjuncts all good.
–Walt Whitman, from “Song of Myself”
This show is dedicated to Thing Two. Or Thing One. Who can tell? Who can
Who is precious and necessary to my heart, sweet mayhem of a late April
In which we begin with a poem by Robert Frost on the blue butterflies of
wild April, ONE reason why April is National Poetry Month. This poem was
brought to me by the Editor of *The Cedar Street Times*, Marge Ann Jameson,
who brought it to the Poet’s Perch, Whitney Lechich’s legacy for Pacific
Grove to promote poetry, by which grace I am the city Poet in Residence.
For the whole crew on California’s Central Coast, I’m Professor Barbara
Mossberg, your host, broadcasting live today from San Francisco
International Airport, SFO, having traversed our entire listening area in
the past few hours, I have truly been Fat Lady Flying! Thursday night if
you are in the region of the Penninsula, May 3! Poems of uplift and
defiance against all that weighs us down . .
7:30 pm. Pacific Grove Library. Central Avenue. Meringue served.
FAT LADY FLYING!
And on that theme, Hats off to you, our Poetry Slow Down, a bow, a way of
saying a sincere and sweet salute to you. March with her hat has come and
gone—do you remember how excited we were to hear at the beginning of March,
Emily Dickinson’s “Dear March come in”, how the poet welcomed the panting
breathless visitor, rushing her upstairs to gossip over the past year she
was away. “Put down your hat,” she says. We wear hats to honor an
occasion, a community; in our language we wear hats of respect and
recognition—or rather, take them of; we humbly request, hat in
hand—divested of our power, vulnerable, naked. We put them on, tip them,
and take them off, and hold them, in polite company, gestures of respect.
And just as we say, my hat goes off to you, we say grab your hats, for some
adventure, we say, hold on to your hats! When we want to tell people
something’s coming, something sensational, and to not let ourselves be
destabilized, to calm down, at the same time as alerting them to some windy
fate that would remove them. Well, hats are something we don that transcend
clothes. Our show today explores the realm of hats in our lives. I’ll tell
you what started this theme Poetry Slow Down—as usual from you, a listener,
a spark from our community. A hat that came to dinner. Hats like cats can
take on their own lives. This hat belongs to said friend MargeAnn Jameson
who wore it to a dinner of our Pacific Grove Poetry Committee, planning a
poetry event for May 20 I will be telling you about, called ahem, Mayhem!
Where the muse meets the melody, we’re doing improv and formal recitations
by the denizens of mainstreet PG on May 20. So I made a dinner, which I
like to do, making up recipes from colors, orange and yellow and green, and
when people asked what they could bring I replied, bring a poem and wear a
hat—that always makes for the best dinner, don’t you think?. That seemed
appropriate for the 19th century Victorian “tent” I live in, a cottage with
a porch near to the sea, where people once wore hats and swirled dresses
and carried umbrellas, and meanwhile I worked on olive oil organge
upsidedown cake with lemon curd, with meringue icing, and pumpkin cilantro
lasagna. We stirred and boiled and bubbled ideas of a poetry event that
maybe because of the hat MargeAnn wore, had us on the edge of our seats
holding on to our hats and taking them off and then it was over, everyone
went home, and something was different. This being, this existence, was on
the sideboard. It was this presence. It was there and everything was
different. It was shamelessly glorious. It was a high wide straw hat,
defined and upright, with a brim, and then it was looped with olive colored
scarf of how do I describe it, a silky flowing. It occupied the room. It
occupied my mind. It took over. So I sat down and wrote this—
*After A Meeting of the Pacific Grove City Poetry Committee*
A hat is on the sideboard, I cannot say *was left*, or *sits*, or *lays*,
Because those words are not right for what that hat is doing.
It has taken over.
You could say it has taken a leadership role in my dining room,
All right, a coup d’etat. Without lifting a finger, it owns the furniture,
The room is no longer the room I lived in.
Everything belongs to the hat.
Maybe the room was always rebellious, always had it in it, to conjure this
This straw hat with stature, high hat and brimmed, for chin up escapades,
Silk olive draped, bedecked with wide sash ribbon cascades.
Bedecked, you heard me say,
It’s *beribboned*, *festooned*, you see what I’m saying,
Having to use these words which don’t belong to me or my life,
These words it brings to the table now which needs quiche and good cheese.
Its graceful pluck transforms the room to a Monet scene,
The walls become French doors, windows open to a terrace
Where a woman stands in white flowing dress with pink sash,
Or is that England, haberdash, is London outside, The Street Where I Live,
Freddy singing, or is Paris outside, my bedroom a Renoir boudoir,
Am I blushing, where is my corset? My life is become a je ne sais quoi,
A bustle, a hustle, and a rustle, there’s parrots and lace
And panache, words I have to think now, say now, ways I have to live now,
Oh I could return the hat, I could see it as a loan, and give it back,
But the truth is, you know the truth is,
The cow has left the barn.
April 21, 2012
© Barbara Mossberg 2012
Then Marge wrote back, then Laura, then Susie and then Cathy, so this one
taking off a hat inspired all this, then, in returning the hat, just
carrying it, I stopped at a store and saw a dress in a window and I don’t
go out and buy dresses in windows, or buy dresses, I wear my mother’s and
daughters and what I wore first teaching in the seventies, it was olive
green the color of the scarf of Marge’s hat, with a wide front zipper hem
to collar, an enormous collar like Queen Elizabeth, and it was unlike
anything I wear, so stylish! So I wrote to my friend Dorothy about this
hat-inspired style dress and that hat was so potent even in retelling SHE
who has been laid up got in the car to PG to look for new dresses of
style—thinking her mother wore hats to the gates of paradise, and gloves,
who knows where the wearing of one hat can lead? And so it seems that one
wears a hat, all zaniness lets loose, a freedom of spirit somehow, tophats
going with feet going wild in marvelous rhythms, tapping and strolling,
street quartets of harmony, cat in the hat frenzy, Alice in Wonderland tea
parties, thinking of hats seemed to inspire the heads which wear them, and
so now Poetry Slow Down, we are planning a mad-“cap” poetry happy-ning here
on the Central Coast May 20: ahem, Mayhem! Grab your hats! Where the muse
meets the melody, we’re doing improv and song and formal recitations of
music and poetry by the denizens of mainstreet PG on May 20. At our Public
Library, 3-5 pm, that time of day when nothing remarkable is going on or if
it is we’re too tired to notice, the time just before the crisis when the
British say we need a cup of tea, or more . . .: join a frolicsome,
boisterous, seriously marvelous crew! More on this anon!
and I was at The Works Bookstore and Café, sponsor of this poet in
residence readings and so many literary events—and speaking of mixing it up
in poetry and song, the owner Robert Marcum covers Gordon Lightfoot and we
are hoping he joins this zest fest—I was looking at poetry on hats, and I
had to buy Philip Levine’s latest, his News of the World, and on the cover
is a scene of people sitting wearing hats. Coincidence? I think not.
There’s a fountain and a bicycle and columns, so we know we’re in Europe,
and then, everyone is wearing a hat. What does that mean?
As Billy Collins says, to wear a hat is to be in history, to wear a hat is
to be in art, or be an artist, to wear a hat is to be a great lady or man
of stature, to wear a hat is to be in literature, and it is to be in poetry.
If we think of our earliest exposure to poetry and poetic language, nursery
rhymes have hats, The Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore, Frosty the
Snow Man—there must have been some magic in that old black hat he wore . .
. now I have to ask you Poetry Slow Down, have you ever given someone a hat
for their birthday? Or has someone ever given you a hat for your birthday?
You see what I mean?
On this theme, we read from *Days With Frog* and *Toad and Frog and Toad
Together*, on the topic of a birthday present of a hat, and how it
illuminates the creativity that goes into friendship.
So THAT is THAT about what kind of friend is so good to have, who not only
gives a hat, but makes it fit . . .so Poetry Slow Down, you’ll hear
philosophy and music about hats, reflections on *The Cat in the Hat*,
poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, Lewis Carroll, William Jay Smith, Aaron Belz,
David Biespel, Ogden Nash, James Tate, Stanley Moss, Mary Oliver—yes—she’s
on record for wearing (and/or taking off) a hat, and Billy Collins, who I
knew had to have a poem about a hat—all around, a bevy of your favorite
poets talking about their thinking for themselves about hats . . . and
you’ll hear me (you’re the only ones besides my children, who didn’t know
better when they were young what songs were supposed to sound like) sing a
song I wrote to my daughter when she was born, on the topic of flying for
our Fat Lady Flying show, let’s keep it on the down low, as we slow down
now, I’m wearing the hat of your host of our show, Professor Barbara
Mossberg, taking off my hat to YOU for slowing down today for poetry on the
theory and practice of hats! What a joy it was for me, and I hope for you
as well, so hold on to your hats! And write me, at email@example.com.
Share this with a friend, and if you write me, I’ll write back.
© Barbara Mossberg 2012