THE KIND OF HAPPINESS THAT DOESN’T DEPEND ON WHAT HAPPENS (thank goodness!)

—leave it to poetry to figure it out: David Whyte, Gratitude.org, Gratitude Is the New Old Happiness, and Poetry Expressing Gratitude for All We Can Say, two shows of gratitude including Albert Goldfarth’s “Library,” a trailer of Bruce Beasley, C.K. Williams, Jane Kenyon, Marilyn Nelson, Charles Berstein, W.S. Merwin, Stanley Kunitz, Tim Seibles, B Mossberg, and more . . .  

. . . life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness . . .  

Poetry as Insurgent Art [I am signaling you through the flames]

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I am signaling you through the flames.

The North Pole is not where it used to be.

Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest.

Civilization self-destructs.

Nemesis is knocking at the door.

What are poets for, in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?

The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.

If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.

You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words….

And that’s what I’m talking about! Welcome to The Poetry Slow Down! KRXA 540AM, that was Thomas Jefferson, the Preamble to our U.S. Constitution, our nation formally founded on idea of the primacy of happiness, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Poetry as insurgent art,” and this is Brother Steindl-Rast:

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.”
— and now this—hello there– is Professor Barbara Mossberg, your host of our poetry slow down hoe down at Think for Yourself Radio, KRXA 540AM, and I am SO happy and grateful for our poetry community, you being here, our Producer Hal Ginsberg, our podcast

producer Sara Hughes, my hometown of Pacific Grove committed to poetry in our civic heart, and Colrain poets who are committed to the practice and devotion of poetry, many of them teachers, and here we are on a topic of poets being present in our public spheres to do some vital good, and our theme today is “THE KIND OF HAPPINESS THAT DOESN’T DEPEND ON WHAT HAPPENS”—Isn’t that the best kind, in today’s world? Given what “happens”–Leave it to poetry to figure it out. and not that that isn’t a good topic for us, I mean, it is the BEST, but it so “happened” as our shows always happen, out of what happens, that I got a message, Alice going down the hole and so this is what started our theme today . . . in my Blackberry in-box:

Imagine a truly inspiring and transforming event that combines the beauty of music, poetry and movement, with discussion and discourse from luminaries from around the world – all with intention of spreading the joy of gratefulness. Okay, I’m imagining that . . .I’m in! This is sent from the Gratefulness Team, or A Network for Grateful Living, and appears in my email among

notes of opportunities for last minute travel, discounts from Orchard Supply and hair salons and cupcake emporiums, okay, if  you give your email address, you get a cupcake, questions from my university students, offers to buy things and support political candidates and causes, I cheer them all, environmental updates—yay Restore Hetch Hetchy!–we see at a glance all the effort and energy for doing good to each other and our earth, antidotes for the daily news, we should call it the olds, so many people like you are SO good, we need to know, it would make such a difference, and then messages from Lilly colleagues and Emily Dickinson International Society Colleagues on conferences coming up all dealing with poetry—we’re taking Emily to the Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, more on that anon, and my editors of several overdue articles, ahhohhh, one is on Emily Dickinson, an Oxford lecture that has gotten out of control, completely taken over by Shelley! as an expatriate poet—it’s totally out of hand– And one on chaos theory and Walt Whitman, Tennyson, and Emily Dickinson, so a little guilt here, skip those, just kidding if you’re listening, O editors, and news from Colrain colleagues and Pacific Grove colleagues, and messages from you, Poetry Slow Down, and in this mix of news from our world in my BlackBerry hand-held in my pocket–in general I feel a duty to regard anything that comes across the transom as illuminating a purpose, an opportunity to be present in our world in some useful way, but you know in the effort to be responsible and on top of it I’m whizzing through, what needs attention, and I realized that I should really walk the walk, saunter the banter, slow down already, to open this email because what I really believe, and why I love poetry perhaps, is in the duty of gratitude as the least we can do for the gift of consciousness; so I open this mysterious email to read:

The diverse group of invited guests includes world-renowned poet David Whyte, Physicist Fritjof

Capra, and Chip Conley on emotional intelligence through math, who will share visions and practices that encourage and celebrate gratefulness in all areas of life.

–      Pico Iyer’s New York Times opinion piece describes “something deeper than mere happiness: it’s joy, which the monk David Steindl-Rast describes as ‘that kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.’” (December 29, 2011)

–      And this describes a poem that David Whyte wrote in Pilgrim, that includes this passage:

bow to the lark
and its tiny
lifted silhouette
fluttering
before infinity.
I promise myself
to the mountain
and to the foundation
from which
my future comes.
I make my vow
to the stream
flowing beneath,
and to the water
falling
toward all thirst,
and
I pledge myself 
to the sea
to which it goes
and to the mercy
of my disappearance,
and though I may be
left alone
or abandoned by
the unyielding present
or orphaned in some far
unspoken place,
I will speak
with a voice
of loyalty
and faith
to the far shore
where everything
turns to arrival

He’s not talking about happiness, explicitly, but it seems that this IS a kind of happiness that does not depend upon what happens, but exists in an embrace of

unknowing, lets go any sense of control in the future, about which we worry constantly, and lets us live in the present as well, and maybe that is why William Blake says, kiss the joy as it flies, and you will live in eternity’s sunrise! David Whyte is a poet I know from my work when I was president of Goddard College, and I took to giving our Board members books, to inspire our work with philosophy and values at the heart of our mission for the College; I gave them David Orr’sEcological Literacy, and the first book I gave them was David Whyte’s Rousing the Heart, and Poetry Slow Down you are already saying to yourself, I recognize that, and you’re right, the title is from William Carlos Williams’ “To Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” which near the poem’s conclusion says, my heart rouses, seeking to bring you news that concerns you and concerns many men. . . You will not find it there but in despised poems. It is difficult to get the news from despised poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there . . .

Whyte uses this poem as a framework for talking about the lack of poetry’s news in today’s corporate and business culture—and I wanted it for our board as grounding the work of the business of the college in respect of each person’s deepest hopes for how we each hunger to live meaningfully and contribute to our world—Williams’ poem on poetry’s news as the news we need to live is the grounding philosophy of our radio show, that we urgently need the news of poetry, in between the fast-paced, fast-breaking, late-breaking, heart-breaking headline news, and it seems that the news of poetry, and its slowing down ways, are a way that we can appreciate—another word for gratitude—the present moment, a way of attention to what is happening, and things happening may not be the most joyous, but the act of attention itself, the process of trying to articulate what is happening, outside and in, brings us to a consciousness of the moment that forgets time, that forgets to worry—

it is true, from the neurosciences point of view, our brains’ latest evolutionary form, the neocortex, trumps the most ancient brain in our heads, the brain stem, the seat of fear and worry . . . when we appreciate, it is an act of engaged consciousness that  is the highest work of the neocortex . . . and appreciation seems the heart of gratitude! So poets such as David Whyte, and W.S. Merwin, are at this conference organized by gratitude.org.

David Whyte was the conference lead off, and he not only wrote Rousing the Heart—which is a wonderful book about bringing poetry into the workplace—and he himself is a poet, but his degree is in Marine Zoology, Aha! doesn’t this remind us of John Muir, I know, we will surely end up with John

Muir on the theme of gratitude and happiness and poetry, and why not? You’re right, it is a good idea, and there is John Steinbeck, who majored in marine biology at Stanford, and Storey Musgrave, the biologist astrophyscist astronaut turned poet, and I wonder how many scientists whose science knowledge is what turns their eyes to our world as a devout gaze, a devoted beholding, a wondering, an attention, a reverence and respect write poetry. . . bringing US in,

reading the poem, WE are in the moment, we are present thinking about our world, and as Beverly Cleary’s Ramona the Pest would say, we are present FOR the present, the gift, the gift of consciousness. . . and it is this that poetry can give us . . . I love the idea that W.S. Merwin and David Whyte are at this conference with scientists and philosophers—what do we call physicist Fritjof Capra—and that both have emotional and spiritual roots as interpreters of our natural world, like John Muir . . . David Whyte worked as a naturalist guide in the Galapagos Islands and led anthropological and natural history expeditions in the

Andes, the Amazon and the Himalaya. Now he is a poet bringing this practice of attention to our world, slowing down to put it into words, in the worlds of business and organizational leadership, which need, he would argue, slowing down with poetry more than ever . . . so he is a professor at Oxford’s BUSINESS school, wait ! hold on! parents! Children! Consider!  Hi Dad I’m majoring in poetry! Oh, thank heavens! Your mother and I were so worried you would do something impractical and that didn’t pay—now you will be in business school!”

Well Whyte IS an example of that, he works with leaders around the world on how poetry can foster qualities of courage and engagement we need if we are to respond to today’s call for increased creativity and adaptability in the workplace. 
So as a poet at this gratitude conference, he is mixing it up with – Living Tao Foundation,
 Community Activist & Social Change Innovators, Fritjof Capra, 
 A Network for Grateful Living Cesar Chavez Foundation, Entrepreneurs and CEOs, medical doctors, The Center for Mind Body Medicine, Zen Buddhist roshi, Ecologists, Civil Rights Activists, W. S. Merwin on video, Laureate and former US Poet Laureate, 
30daygratitudechallenge.co Network for Grateful Living,Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkeley and Dr. Philip Watkins, Gratitude Researcher (UC Berkeley has a center on the study of goodness and gratitude!)—

All of this on the theory that gratitude is so important in our lives—and that society has so much at stake in our capacity to feel it—that it changes the world!

They were at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco—perhaps gratitude is a fine art– this past week, and I’m looking forward to hearing how it went. W.S. Merwin is another example of a poet who takes poetry to the civic spaces, when he was our official Poet Laureate of the United States, for the Library of Congress, I got to greet him at his inaugural lecture and present him a plaque on behalf of the City of Pacific Grove, as its poet in residence, and he had flown in from Hawaii, where he devotes his energies and time, to restoring, a plant at a time, the rain forest! For Merwin, as for another Poet Laureate, Stanley Kunitz, a gardener, poetry is a form of response to life that is as generative as cultivating life from earth, literally, as growing flowers and trees . . . and  gratitude in living—so Kunitz wrote this in “Longboat—“

. . . you can listen to our show, and stay tuned for poems and discussions about Albert Goldfarth, C.K. Williams, Tim Seibles, Jane Kenyon, Bruce Beasely, Marilyn Nelson, Mary Oliver, and me,  your host, Professor Barbara Mossberg . . . Thank you for listening, and being part of our poetry community. Please write me at bmossberg@csumb.edu. Next week I’m live in Austin, Texas, so stay tuned for news from poetry in and about the Lone Star State,  and then we’ll be grooving with our Pagrovians in Pacific Grove, and treated to Colrainia, the Colrain poets of summer, and summer poetry cool-downs . . . thank you for the happiness I feel in being your host. And remember, when you have a hard time thinking of something to be grateful about in someone giving you a hard time, you can take my poet father’s advice, “you can be grateful they’re not twins!”—I’m just sayin. Poetry always has a solution! If we slow down . . . .

© Barbara Mossberg 2012

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