How much is up in the air, how much is up to us? What are our choices? What’s yes and what’s no, what’s up and what’s down, what’s charm and what’s strange, what’s bottom and what’s top? Okay, Poetry Slow Down, YOU’re the quarky top, and charm and UP and yes, AND no, we’re saying NO to going too fast . . . on KRXA Think for yourself radio, this is our way of slowing down to think! The urban dictionary defines “vember” as “An adrenaline rush, something that makes you nervous, neurotic, up-tight,etc.” so NO-vember invokes our mellow, slow-downed, relaxed, flowing Poetry SLOW DOWN, I’m your grateful host, Professor Barbara Mossberg.
This is a time, these hours and days, of big time national storms and tumult, fray of decisions, of choices, as our nation votes in the national election and winds howl and crack their cheeks and howl their rages. What do poets say, not about who to vote for in such turmoil times, but about making decisions—even TO vote? How do we feel about decision-making? What choices do we think we have in this life? Do we think we have a choice? Even something so simple as yes or no? You’re right, it’s never simple. Or perhaps it is. Who can say? Poets do say. Shakespeare has Hamlet conceive a choice, boiling all decisions to the roux, the essence, to be or not to be. Life or not life. This young man, so conscientious, in so much pain, so disillusioned with life, how we let each other and ourselves down by not being noble—we remember in this play, his reflection “what a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, in action how (like the angels),” and he’s seeing all the shenanigans of adults around him, so disgusted he is ill. He reasons out his course of action, and it all pivots for him on what IS noble: that is his criterion for making a decision. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is compared to Twain’s Huck Finn, and Emily Dickinson’s poet self, in the pursuit of a moral independence, fierce yesses and nos.

We learn from Rumi, faced with decision, to “say yes quickly.” We learn from Rumi how sometimes it’s neither yes nor no but how we have to resist false certainty and polarities, and that our ability to sustain not knowing will be the portal to a “mighty kindness.” The mystery of the link between conceiving choices, making moral decisions, and kindness is pursued this week and next, with discussions of Homer and Tennyson, Mark Twain, Mary Oliver, e.e. Cummings, T.S. Eliot, and Naomi Shabib Nye, as well as Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his activist optimism. We’ll continue our theme of kindness in the eyes of the poets next week, with examples of people practicing random acts of kindness, and the Ferlinghetti project for poetry in civic space, and his new book out. We will continue to think about the various kinds of advice regarding kindness, moral decisions, and the conviction of choice in our daily experience, from Victor Frankl to Einstein: it’s UP to us. Thank you for your civic participation, for making the choice to listen. I welcome your feedback at bmossberg@csumb.edu.

© Barbara Mossberg 2012

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