RAVENS, SKYLARKS, AND A LEADERSHIP CURRICULUM: LEADERS’ POETRY, THE NEWS WE NEED, A TWO PART SHOW CELEBRATING PRESIDENT OBAMA’S INAUGURATION, MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY, THE FILM “LINCOLN,” BARACK OBAMA, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, MARTIN LUTHER KING–THE POETS THEY READ, THE POEMS THEY WRITE, THE WORLD POETRY CHANGES . . . INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO SHELLEY’S “A DEFENSE OF POETRY,” EDGAR ALLAN POE (GO RAVENS!), THOREAU, EMERSON, DR. SEUSS’ YERTLE THE TURTLE, AND POEMS OF EARNEST CONSCIENCE AND BEHOLDING BEAUTY THAT GET PEOPLE THROUGH THE DAYS AND NIGHTS IN WAR AND OTHER HEADLINE NEWS. . .
Welcome to our Poetry Slow Down, your think for yourself radio station of KRXA 540AM, with the KRXA team Hal Ginsberg and Producer Sara Hughes, I’m your host, Professor Barbara Mossberg, Poet in Residence for the City of Pacific Grove, and I got to address our new mayor and city council this week, on poetry and the city, think of it—with everything a city has to do and its leadership to manage, and time is made for a poet—really?–the question is, is it responsible for a government to traffic with poetry in these days of economic stress and headline news of mayhem across all cultures and geographies, tragedy and strife in every section of the newspaper, bombings, kidnappings, wars, atrocities, fraud, shootings, unsafe schools and streets and even football fields everywhere–is poetry any kind of relevance for us today? Is it a luxury we cannot afford?
I raise these questions with you, Poetry Slow Down, reflecting that these questions were asked—all right, Plato just outright outflanked poets and prohibited them from The Republic, in 1821, by an Englishman, Thomas Lovejoy Peacock, who declared poetry no longer had value: good minds could be better used in other pursuits in a scientific and technological age. Percy Bysshe Shelley to the scene, “In Defense of Poetry.” And we’re off. In this two part series, as we celebrate a President’s Inauguration, a national holiday for Martin Luther King, and Oscar nominations for the box-office hit “Lincoln,” leadership is in the news. We hold these truths to be self-evident: poetry is not just relevant, it belongs at the table, inextricable to how these leaders came to be leaders in the first place, and how they practiced the art of leadership so successfully that they are re-elected president of the U.S., stamped onto our daily currency and considered lucky, used for wishing in fountains, and the topic of best-selling and prize-winning books and movies, and a whole national holiday is organized around them.
So our show today is on the role of poetry in leadership! We’ll hear about the role of poetry in the life of President Barack Obama, the role of poetry in the life of Abraham Lincoln, and the role of poetry in the work of Martin Luther King, and in other world leaders who have changed our world with the power of poetry—Vaclav Havel, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Pablo Neruda, Wangari Maathai, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy—and very much focused on civil rights, what each of these celebrated leaders have in common—and even our own Pacific Grove, a city with not only an official poet but official residence, the Poet’s Perch! What is the connection between leadership and the reading and writing of poetry, fancy language, focused language, a time out from the world’s fray and fraught strife and injuries to the spirit, from the daily commerce and agitations and stress, to listen to a skylark, to see the sky, behold a rainbow, respect a tree, consider the plight of a fellow human being, the fate of the human race, notions of right and wrong: with a certain form and rhythm, to make language music: what does this have to do with human rights and leadership?
So we’re going to hear about Lincoln’s favorite poems, some of which will surprise you (hint: “Nevermore”) and what he wrote, and did you know he knew Walt Whitman? We’ll hear Obama’s own poems and the poet he’s chosen for his Second Inaugural, poems from this poet, and the role of poetry in the development of Martin Luther King . . . and poetry in leadership in general, including but not limited to Dr. Seuss, that great leadership poem, Yertle the Turtle . . . .
So let’s get rolling!
Does Poetry Matter In Today’s World—How Could It Possibly? Do we need it? Should we heed it?
William Carlos Williams, a physician (OB-GYN) would go home from his day job bringing life to the world to what he considered his real job: saving lives—by writing poetry. What? Yes, he said, poetry is “despised and difficult,” yet, “my heart rouses to bring you news that concerns you and concerns many men. It is difficult to get the news (in such despised and difficult form) yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” That’s a pretty large claim for poetry: life and death! And in today’s economic times, isn’t poetry a luxury we can’t afford? Is poetry even relevant to us today? . . .
In today’s and next week’s show, we’ll hear the poets who got Lincoln through the day and night, what King had to say about Thoreau, what Gandhi had to say about Thoreau and King, what Lincoln and Kennedy and Havel have to say about poetry in civic culture, who Obama is reading, and, of course, our resident wise guy Dr. Seuss, as we investigate poetry and leadership. Thank you for being part of this foray into civic culture, and our exploration of what poetry means exactly to leadership, and in what ways poetry itself constitutes cultural leadership . . . .
© Barbara Mossberg 2013