“HEARING IN THE DARKNESS THE EVERLASTING SONG OF US” (from Chuck Tripi’s “Agencies of Grace”): POEMS AND FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, POEMS TO LIGHT US IN DARK DAYS AND FRIDAY NIGHTS, reflections about Emerson’s national recruiting calls for “The Poet” and the relation of American football and poetry and civic consciousness. Reflections on poetry and football, and plenty of Whitman, and the lights of Ezra Pound, Mark Strand, Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Martin Luther King, Jr., Plato, a little Dickinson (a power book that goes a long way), Leonard Cohen, a way lit with Jack Gilbert, James Wright, William Carlos Williams, Jane Hirshfield, Lucille Clifton, Pablo Neruda, Piere Joris, Bill Stafford, Pimone Triplett, Mary Oliver, Ander Monson!
Is it written on the heart,
The poet not creating, only
Shining out its light?
I sing the answer, yes,
. . . Yes, hearing in the darkness,
Yes, the everlasting song of us
How amazing to think it ends,
Important to think it doesn’t. (Chuck Tripi, “Agencies of Light’)
I want to begin, on this shining December 1, happy December 1, sharing with us this poem sent by YOU poet listeners after last week’s show on grace, “Agencies of Grace” by Chuck Tripi, author of Carlo and Sophia, Blake scholar, classics philosopher, and a founder of New Jersey’s Paulinskill Poetry Project promoting local poetry, like the burgeoning farmer’s market, where we celebrate community and support who’s here, who’s with us, right now, invested in this place, autochthonous, of the soil, of the HERE and now. That voice, in the words of the project, has a timber and resonance, and the glorious paradox is expressed by Ralph Waldo Emerson, calling for an urgently needed national Poet, without whom he felt we would never be a country—always a European wannabe cultural outlier pathetic imitator—and never know our native genius—he said, if you go into the deepest most private unique parts of your own experience and express that—you will speak for the maid with the pail, the man in the street—in other words most universally. So the local voice here speaks to and for and of the people—Emerson’s idea I think was that getting Americans to write poetry was a national priority—so local meant “over here,” American, and he was so passionate on the topic that he inspired a certain Walter Whitman, and Henry Thoreau, and Emily Dickinson, among others, to take up a pen and sing—yes, Chuck Tripi’s words here, hear hear!—on “singing out the answer,” “the everlasting song of us,” and Homer begins The Odyssey, this is Robert Fitzgerald’s translation, Sing in me, Muse, my favorite translation because of that, sing in me, but there is also Robert Fagles, Sing to me, Muse, the Muse comes to us in song, it is in song that we can speak most truly, and so Walt Whitman ending up a New Jersey boy—speaking of Chuck Tripi’s New Jersey scene–writes an epic called Song of Myself . . .
At this point in our show we hear some glorious Whitman, beginning with his singing, I celebrate myself, and sing myself, and what I assume you shall assume . .
And then he says, “And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.”
So Whitman takes up Emerson’s call for The Poet as local, the self, speaking for everyone, and when you read this poem, you believe he does mean everyone, so that it is one galactic community of belonging he invokes as poet—“ Now I will do nothing but listen,
To accrue what I hear into this song, to let sounds contribute toward it.”
And Emily Dickinson speaks of herself as the poet singing, chanting, in poem after poem, Bind me, I still can sing . . . chanting to paradise . . . ; why do they shut me out of heaven, did I sing too loud?–; her voice is song, even “opera.” And Thoreau, HIS persona as a poet, begins Walden “. . . as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up” –
So Emerson is calling in his The Poet project for this kind of local project Chuck Tripi and his community are doing to support local poets . . . and Tripi’s song begins us with our theme today, on this December day, of darkness, what shining comes out of it, the idea of singing, of yes, of grace . . . in Tripi’s words, “the poet shining out its light.” As if the light is in each of us, invoked when we read the poet, and I love this: do you remember that song, this little light of mine, I’m going to make it shine . . . when we read a poem, coming from the light of the poet, that miracle of expression as human beings, that separate solitary person’s light, becomes ours too, it literally lights us up in a way Ezra Pound describes: “Man reading should be man intensely alive. The book should be a ball of light in one’s hand.”
We hear Tripi’s poem again, which ends on the topic of crying in the dark and endings. Now Poetry Slow Down, I know when you first heard this poem you were thinking immediately of football, I know, Alabama, Oregon State, USC fans in the darkness crying, and these lines, “how amazing to think it ends, important to think it doesn’t.” Right? I have personally been reflecting about football and life and poetry, these past days, and now that I am thinking of Emerson’s call for a poet as a national project, that we’re never going to be up and running as a country until we have someone to sing us, who knows us, is of us, and for us, and with us, And it was a poet Emerson conceived to be needed to come to the rescue of all that is yet unsung.”
The final lines in the essay read as follows:
“Wherever snow falls or water flows or birds fly, wherever day and night meet in twilight, wherever the blue heaven is hung by clouds or sown with stars, wherever are forms with transparent boundaries, wherever are outlets into celestial space, wherever is danger, and awe, and love, there is Beauty, plenteous as rain, shed for thee, and though thou shouldest walk the world over, thou shalt not be able to find a condition inopportune or ignoble.” I am thinking of this now, because on Friday night, there I was, in a stadium filled to the brim with 58, 300 more or less people, the Autzen Stadium where it never rains, although it did a little, but there was nary an umbrella in sight, and people gathered to cheer for their football team in the rivalry between the University of Oregon, go Ducks! And Oregon State, the Beavers. I sat there completely overwhelmed with the magnitude of manifest community. There we were, all of us, gathered in a circle, for a common purpose, to peruse this patch of grass, and people running up and down playing with a ball. How ancient. The pageantry of it. The bands playing, flags waving, the cheering, the cheer, the bonhomie, the marching, and to feel part of something larger than oneself, part of something belonging to one’s community. And I wondered, you know what I am going to say, Poetry Slow Down, about poetry. Yep, that is what I was thinking about the whole time. Could we ever gather 60,000 or 90,000 people in a stadium to hear poetry? We do for singing! I was thinking about the meaning of football—a pleasure today since my teams had such a good day yesterday, Go Bruins, Go Ducks—in what ways it is like life and in what ways it is like poetry. And what if, America, we gathered, oh, 50 or 100 thousand of us, with millions watching from home, and listening to newsfeeds from reporters on line, and on the radio, to what’s going on with a poem. In some ways, is football is a lot like poetry? Do you recall William Carlos Williams in “To Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” saying—paraphrased here–My heart rouses, thinking to bring you news that concerns you and concerns many men? It is difficult to find it there in despised poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.– Of course you do, because I quote it every week. It’s the theme of our show, slowing down, from Simon and Garfunkle’s 59th Street Bridge Song, slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make the morning last . . . the idea that slowing down with and for and by poetry allows us, as in Yoga, to breathe differently, feel conscious, and honor the light in us, in each other . . . that “men die miserably every day” because of the lack of the kind of news we get, in a poem. Yet he says it is difficult, and poems are despised. And I was thinking about football, which to me is equally difficult and hardwon, not only to play but to watch, to read.
(At this point in the show, Professor Mossberg waxes and holds forth on a ramble relating football and poetry. –Stay tuned for a play-by-play on a poem, coming soon to a Poetry Slow Down near you.)
(All right Pablo, that’s a signature down to earth metaphor we see here, she’s playing with fire, ha ha, you’re right, Billy, oh look, this image is exploding, she’s done this before, she loved it in Ruth Stone—yeah, she got that metaphor from her reading of Merton, he was reading Whitman—wait, now, look what’s happened, she’s breaking free, she broke the line up . . .)
. . . The show considers poetry as football and football as poetry, including the read option; a touchdown in a poem might be that moment of insight that is reached, that moment of recognition, a way of seeing something, a sense of momentousness, about our lives, about what is possible to think, developed right before our eyes as we watch, but prepared in darkness and pain long before. . . . Sitting in the stadium, I kept thinking, what if we had public gatherings like this for poetry? On this scale? Of national importance? As if it mattered utterly? If the banner over the newspaper masthead and headline, Gary Snyder scores with new poem on earth, or Mary Oliver takes us to our knees to see a grasshopper, or Mark Doty eyes a green-shelled crab –Now there are Poetry Slams, where poets compete and get Olympic like judging, I did this a few weeks ago, at Tsunami books in Eugene, Oregon, but what is at stake in a national consciousness of poetry as if there is no end, not really, there is always another game, another season, another chance to win the day, to have our say, and to believe how it matters . . .
When we come back after our break, we’ll hear it for poetry that sings the light out of darkness, poetry that will make us live, enthralled, rapt, eager, and awake, in other words, slowed down, I’m Professor Barbara Mossberg with our Poetry Slow Down, KRXA 540AM
Parts Two and Three, poetry of light out of darkness, Robert Hayden, Neruda, Oliver, Plato, Shakespeare, James Wright, Jack Gilbert, Ander Monson, and more. These are wonderful, wonderful poems, full of light and surprise and conviction of what is possible in poetry. William Stafford reminds us that poetry is to speak, to write, with a little luck. The light that Emily Dickinson calls the genius of the poet will emerge. We hear “Detail of My Sort of Light,” by Monson, and more.
COMING EVENT! DECEMBER 15 2013
It’s almost Emily Dickinson’s birthday, this is her month, and her fame for talking about light, a certain slant of light on winter afternoons, like now, and we’re going to hear! Hear! Her, we’re going to pronounce her name, as she hoped . . . at the Pacific Grove Public Library, 5-7 pm, December 15, Happy Hour, with fresh homemade gingerbread, her recipe, my annual reading, and you are invited. I am sure if we gathered every person who loves Emily Dickinson’s poetry we could fill a stadium for sure, she is a wide receiver, For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –thank you for my team poetry, ah, your time, your light in me, listeners of our Poetry Slow Down, this is Professor Barbara Mossberg, singing the Muse, and in these darkest days of the year, in poetry our light shines—from Friday Night Lights, full hearts, clear eyes, can’t lose!
© Barbara Mossberg 2013