I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, . . .
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray, I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
That’s W.B. Yeats, arising to go NOW, to a place in the deep heart’s core, where it’s “dropping slow,” or, as Song of Solomon says, The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.”
And this is you and me, right now, you beautiful ones, arising now, here, at our Poetry Slow Down, KRXA 540AM Think for yourself radio, I’m your host Professor Barbara Mossberg, and (my beautiful one) we’re going now to a place poetry takes us, as it took Yeats, standing on a grim paved street of traffic, even in 1892, noise and the equivalent of honks—whatever was stressing him out, because he WAS stressed out, and he did what we tell our kindergartners: he uses his words, his mind, to imagine a place slowed down . . . and he ducks no doubt into the nearest café, not answering his cell phone with his boss wondering where his article is or taking the clothes to the laundry WHICH HE PROMISED or picking the kids up or helping with the home improvement project which HE started and promised to do all the work and now instead is writing the poem, but that is the way of poets, taking time OUT to get it DOWN, to work it OUT, and OUT, to a place we want to be, slowed DOWN, that’s our lead in to our first theme today, take me OUT to the ball game! Which I have been promising you, and my fellow ladies, don’t say, oh, baseball, snore, because, first, there’s more in store, there’s—well let’s just put it like this, it has to do with desire, I’m not kidding, it’s passionate and earthy, borderline FCC eye-raising . . . you know fig leaves, well, what do we use them for? Okay then, we’re going to be hearing poems about—well do you remember on our last show I read you a quotation by George Eliot, who is not a man but Mary Ann Evans, writing in the decades before Yeats dreaming of Innisfree, and wanting people to take her seriously as a writer (when poets wore beards). She wrapped herself in the George Eliot identity shawl. This is from Middlemarch:
If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.—
And so we heard (July 15, 2012, BarbaraMossberg.com) about the poetry of squirrels; and if we listen closely to their heart beats, what we learn, in that roaring inside, we who are NOT wadded with stupidity, or waddling with stupor of stress, because we’re thinking about poetry, is that in the heart of hearts of squirrels, is desire, for figs. You know this is true, go look at your fig tree, there are green leaves, right, and green and purpling goblets hanging just ready to be picked by you for your fig pizza, which yes we ARE going to get to, and fig lemon cake, recipes, so have your pens and computers and ipads ready–but wait, there’s also . . . what IS that, the branches are bouncing up and down, there’s a brush, a tail, there’s this giNORMous beast, this squirrel! And so, even though on the internet we consulted under the research topic typed in, squirrel in fig tree, and the first 198 entries begin with Seven Pumper, which I found out is a gun, we went the other route, we went in peace, with poetry, the poetry of squirrels, the poem by Robert Hass that is a glorious welcome of all the creatures crossing our transom, but then we’ll get down to what it is the squirrels see in these figs, that makes their hearts beat so, and this, Poetry Slow Down, this poetry about figs, this is pretty delicious, luscious rush on the mind, this is downright, well, remember fig leaves and art museums, I’m just sayin . . . . So our show today, Take me OUT to a place that eases the mind, be it ball park or other national past time, a place that slows us down–and personally I love baseball, I love playing it, well okay if I get to be pitcher, because otherwise I’m afraid of being hit with the ball, when the batter hits I crouch and cover my head, and that includes when I’m catcher, but I do love to play, I love the sense of team out there, but as much, I love to sit and watch, and I’ll watch any baseball game, Little League, my daughter’s fifth grade league, where in her first game playing first base, the batter is coming to first and everyone is scrambling to field the ball, she wonders what all the fuss is about, hey, she’s got a ball right in her pocket, she’ll use that, she takes out the ball and tags the runner out. I like to watch, sit there, and drink beer and eat hog dogs, and look at the sky, and feel the air, and just SIT for a few hours, there’s something to look at, there’s a plot, every so often there’s some action, that you can notice or not, you just sit in the flow, and it’s like the tide, your team in and out, in and out, ebb and flow, UP, and down, and the language in our culture, how intrinsic baseball is to our way of thinking, when I used to interpret American culture for us around the world, I lectured on baseball as the window into how we think about things, and stepping up to the plate, going to bat for someone, striking out, and the whole idea that it is all about going home, but it’s so American and modern life isn’t it, you can’t just stay where you are, and savor it, no, you have to leave home, and start running like mad, you can’t take your time, you run and slide and skid for dear life, all in the cause of getting home again. You’re Ulysses, the modern hero confronting monstrous forces trying to get you OUT, keep you from getting home, Poseidons at every turn, who is the Poseidon in YOUR life, Poetry Slow Down, many? I know—so it’s this drama close to OUR hearts, our lives, leaving home, yearning for home, being with a team who has your back, being alone against a whole array of forces, each primed in its own way to knock you out, get you down, waylay you, distract you from your true path, your true purpose, and we’re the runner, even if we walk, and we’re each like E.T., Home! Home! The Lake Isle of Innisfree of our hearts, a place of solace and belonging we always yearn for, the Ithaca of our minds, running, running, do you recall Cafavy’s poem “Ithaca?”—Let’s stop on second base a moment and hear it as we round this metaphor of you as Ulysses in your life where you MOVE TOO FAST . . .
What these Ithacas mean to us, a place we always want to get to, the narrative of baseball, as we each take our turn, trying to get to a place like Innisfree, where “peace comes dropping slow,” and also in baseball, on a field, cleared of forest, and all that remains is the vestigial trunk or limb, our whole relationship with the land, well, I like to sit and watch the sky, and the plump guys or little kids, so hopeful each time at bat, THIS time, a whole new start, the dream: it could happen, the home run . . . and the idea of a plate, well, we’re going to get to that, plates, what we put on it, fig lemon cake, poets love baseball, and that includes Marianne Moore, who saw poetry and baseball as inextricable in her mind, so let’s begin there! We’ll hear “Poetry” and her poem on poetry and baseball as inextricable: equally exciting!
Marianne Moore, the grand dam of modern poetry, dame with the passion for baseball—when we round first after the break, speaking of passion, we’ll hear more poems on baseball and then delushious poems on figs, speaking of squirrels, and the roar of squirrels’ hearts which WE can hear, because we’re slowing down, with poetry, on the Poetry Slow Down. . .we’ll be back at the top of the inning . . .
We hear notes of Aaron Shurin, James Wright, William Carlos Williams, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg on baseball and our line-up on figs, in a graceful transition relating the roar of the squirrel’s heart of desire for figs, D.H. Lawrence, Erica Jong, and a mighty poem, a poem you will want to hear over and over: “Thirteen Ways with Wigs” by Michelle McGrane; Edward Hirsch’s “The Fig Tree,” Edna St. Vincent Millay, Maria Fama . . . and more.
Walt Whitman welcomes us in the land of the fig and the lemon; we hear recipe for fresh fig tart with lemon meringue filling, and Dr. B’s own recipe for fig pizza, and fig lemon cake . . . We learn about fig trees and the fig itself as a synconium occupied by the fig wasp, who has a fate that evokes both Shakespearian and Wizard of Ozian description. And we learn that our President of the U.S. not only is a poet, which we knew because at his inauguration your Professor Mossberg was in Washington, D.C., doing a live show on him as a poet, but did we know he also writes poetry about figs? We read from “Underground.” And we discuss the review by Professor Harold Bloom, who suspects he has read Lawrence (having heard Lawrence on figs, we admit his fig poem is pretty unforgettable). We hear that “war is not the season for figs,” by Lidija Cvetkovic. We did not get to hear Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem about her father and the figtree, but we are far from over the topic of figs—clearly. We hear from Louise Gluck’s “Midsummer,” which reminds me of my graduate student days in Bloomington, Indiana, and the quarries, and young love!
Well, to be “nuts” about something is to be really excited about it, as squirrels are about nuts, a little eccentric in one’s enthusiasm. Poetry Slow Down, we are nuts about baseball and figs, and we’re rounding second, and coming into third and home! Professor Mossberg, what about the fig wasp—shouldn’t there be a show on that? You’ve done weeds and bats and moles and fox and roosters, all troublemakers, and what about this wasp? Hmm, good question . . . I recall John Donne on the flea, and I think Blake and Shakespeare and . . . . Meanwhile next week a traveling theme, and the week after next, live from Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where “Emily Rocks” with the Emily Dickinson International Society! Stay tuned! You know she rocks, and for now, you beautiful ones, may you enjoy your home slow down to your Ithaca, your Innisfree, your ball game, your fig delusious mind, a waving to you, air waving, this is Professor Barbara Mosserg, thanking you for joining me and slowing down this way, baseball, poetry, and the roar of the squirrel’s heart’s desire . . .
© Barbara Mossberg 2012