“SURELY JOY IS THE CONDITION OF LIFE”—Henry David Thoreau
Welcome to our Poetry Slow Down, KRXA 540AM, think for yourself radio with Producer and icon Hal Ginsberg, whose vision of poetry on this show was excited by a poem about John Muir, and HIS excitement and joy in this June world, and I’m Professor Barbara Mossberg, “Dr. B,” your host and companion on this journey of ours, with the news we need, in William Carlos Williams’ words, yes, poetry is despised and difficult, he says, but “without which men die miserably every day” (“To Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”); for what we are about, slowing down together with poetry right now, is not dying miserably but living joyously, and celebrating what poetry has to do with our ability to do that. This is our annual show today that takes place as I am in Yosemite National Park, speaking at the Sierra Club Headquarters there with Curator Dr. Bonnie Gisel at the LeConte Memorial Lodge, named 100 years ago for Professor Joe, Joseph LeConte, one of the first natural sciences professors at the brand new University of California in the late 1860’s when John Muir had arrived in Yosemite and Professor Joe and his students hiked and rode up to Yosemite and met Muir and began a relationship of mutual enthusiasm and joy and rapture at being in such a glorious—as they called it—place. We’ll begin with our ritual reading of e.e. cummings poem “i thank You God for this amazing,” and as I read, imagine you and me (I do) around a campfire or sitting in this river-rock round building under the vaulted beamed ceiling of the Lodge, the fragrance of pine warmed by sun, woodsmoke, and slowing down to savor such a time. We’ll hear the official story of how Yosemite National Park came to me from the National Park website, which leaves out how “public pressure” and John Muir actually came to bear on resulting legislation and national leadership: the poetry! Fortunately, our Poetry Slow Down has the scoop, and we will hear the role of poetry in our National Parks, beginning with ideas about wilderness and wild nature prevalent in John Muir’s day. We will hear about John Muir’s day job as self-appointed and anointed PR guy for wilderness, interpreter, reader of nature’s “text,” “the only one” who can do justice to the case for preservation of wilderness when Western governors seek to erode embryonic legislation protecting forests. Talk about pressure! We’ll hear Muir rise to the occasion and strut his poetic moxie, looking at his work as a palimpsest of the writers in his backpack-mind: the Bible, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Thoreau (and Emerson, of course) (DON’T FORGET BOBBY BURNS, Dr. B). Thus when we come back after our break for our glorious sponsors who savor poetic language and moxie on behalf of civic joy, we’ll hear poetry that inspires our joy in creation, the world at hand, the possibilities of vision, keeping in mind what Wallace Stevens said about the greatest poverty being not to live in the physical world, and sometimes, perhaps, all we need is a walk around the lake, a concept developed by Sandra Simonds in “Poem with Lines from Pierre Reverdy,” a poem of the week selection from poets.org, the Academy of American Poets, and Reverdy’s poem on which her poem is based, “The Moment,” about saving the world by joy. We will continue to explore how John Muir, a botanist and geologist—that was the career written on his death certificate– learned a literary way of seeing joy—as well as seeing joyfully–through poetry. In our final section of this radio news campfire program, we will do an homage to rousing singing of You Are My Sunshine, because you know you are, as we beam across the airwaves today, reflecting with you on why and how it matters what poets say about our world, giving us a sense of the possibilities of joy in what we behold . . . so I will share with you some of the ways John Muir has inspired me to experience our world including the roaring hot poem I wrote covering John Muir, “John Muir Takes a Sauna With the Finnish Ladies of Kuopio” (John Muir High School, of which I am a loyal alum, should have its mascot be the “Sierra Heat”), invoking the passion in Muir’s rhetorical flow on nature. I share my (failed) efforts to save a willow from destruction, using my words, as we teach our kindergartners, using John Muir’s playbook, chapter and verse, spirit and letter. What kinds of words can save a life, an ecosystem, a world? Here is the poem inspired by Muir, using the concept of joy as irresistible as a value for wilderness.
WOULD YOU CUT DOWN THIS TREE IF YOU SAW THIS WEATHERPROOFED SIGN ON IT ENCIRCLED BY A CHAIN MY FATHER WRAPPED AROUND ITS TRUNK?
What law or words could protect a tree? How could words make us see a living being in such a way as not to slay it? As being worth more than a flat lawn or tree-less view? What words could ground a law to hold such tree in reverence? These words did not serve. But my father and I threw every rationale in the Book into this poem, beginning with the way that since Biblical times and through romantic poets like Wordsworth and botanists like John Muir we have called us to gaze with reverence and awe . . . this was our bald-faced strategy to save this tree when I sold our house in Vermont, and left it in the hands of fellow human beings. Every line was a call to see one’s way to preserve the life of this tree. What did we leave out?
The Good Luck Tree
Recipient of the John Muir Educator Society Award for
Promoting Love of Earth
A Vermont Treasure
Rare Magnificant Specimen Willow
This tree has inspired poetry
And dedication to the preservation of the earth.
All who live with this tree
Are protected by her strength; soil is bound
Preventing erosion and flood damage;
In life’s storms she provides comfort and joy
And gives courage to the spirit.
Known also as “The Blessing Tree,” in many hard times this
Tree has reawakened my sense of gratitude and wonder
For living on this earth and my commitment to teaching
About its beauties;
She has given me heart and seen me through;
Danced a hula, graceful as a ballerina in her tattered tutu;
As you come under her care, know
THIS TREE IS LOVED
And will love you too—
c 2001 Barbara Mossberg
RIP Great Willow, 104 South Cove Road, Burlington, VT 05401.
Published in John Muir, Family, Friends, and Adventures, eds. Sally Miller and Daryl Morrison, Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 2005.
As we wind down our time together today, around our campfire, we reflect on Sandra Simonds “maybe the world will not be saved,” at least, it won’t if we despair, so let us in the poetic footsteps of the Bible and Milton and Wordsworth and Thoreau and Shakespeare and all the poets you and I love, find joy in this world of ours . . .
Next week, Bloomsday, James Joyce’sUlysses, and all the ways we are inspired in our lives by Homer, with songs by Susie Joyce including Molly Blooms’ he asked me with his eyes to ask again yes yes I will yes I said yes, and that’s me asking you to say yes to poetry and this amazing day and your tremendous scene opened up by your eyes and ears that you have lent to us today, making my day, being my sunshine, for sure, I’m thanking you, yours truly, Professor Barbara Mossberg
© Barbara Mossberg 2013