Lively Arts and Classical Poetry As Survival Schemes and Shenanigans . . .news from the Bard to Nietzsche to Dante to Star Trek, of the Clown, the Fool, The Witch, the Dodo—Us in the Poet’s Mind Writ Large and Personal.   

“We ponder what it is in a poet’s vision, as species extinction accelerates, and we wait for the other limb to drop, that not only is enduring, but necessary for each and all of us to endure, beyond survival, the reading of the daily news.”

Listen live at, Produced by Zappa Johns, podcast 24/7 at, with Professor Barbara Mossberg, Sunday Noon-1 pm PST

Hear! Hear! for The Poetry Slow Down, the news we need, the news we heed, the news “without which men die miserably every day” (William Carlos Williams)—aka poetry—a radio hour in which we ponder the daily news, aka the-news-which- makes-us-die-miserably-every-day. For example! News of a) the universe being half as bright as it once was, and getting dimmer (is this a comment on our species intelligence, or . . .aging?), b) the possibility we are in the Sixth Extinction, c) it’s true, our sun is set to explode and then shrink in five billion years, d) our population will explode exponentially by 2050, e) our universe will collide with a galaxy for sure, f) species die off and pay back (as in bears, sharks, oak trees, bats, and squirrels, and three of these four are in our national parks, I’m just sayin’) . . . Well, that set of headlines gets us started, anyway. Oh, yes, and the possibility of a weedy Bard, if you get my drift. And the crowning of this year’s city of Eugene Slug Queen Markalo Parkalo, aka Mark Roberts. I am thinking of this news as I am reading a book by Emily St.-John Mandel, Station Eleven, along with the entering class of the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon this Fall. In this book, the world has been brought to the edge of extinction—again. Humanity has a tiger by the tail as technology and human nature spiral cataclysmically into climate change, conflict, plague, and the usual mayhem. What’s a group of survivors to do? Brush up their Shakespeare, of course, specifically, King Lear. A gang of tattooed artists roams about the ruins of the Midwest countryside performing Lear as if the world’s fate depends on nothing less. At least that’s the premise of Station Eleven, and perhaps of most post-apocalyptic literature. As early as our first recorded epic poem, 2700 BC’s Gilgamesh, through prose works, Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, and diverse iconic works such as William Miller, Jr.’s Canticle for Liebowitz, Douglas Adams’ A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and So Long and Thanks For All the Fish, Becket’s Happy Days, and Star Trek, poetry is part of the plot as our human imagination investigates what is indestructible in humanity when all seems horribly lost and when we’re losing our way at greater and greater speeds.

So we slow down, breathe, and ask, Poetry Slow Down, and to symphonic music of Strauss, Star Wars, Hair, and Into the Woods, what is poetry’s role in human resilience? According to poets, philosophers, scientists, playwrights, and novelists, classical lively arts are key. A symphony orchestra and Shakespeare troupe can save the day in what’s left of the world? Station Eleven literally stages the idea that when humanity suffers, only the greatest art and literature will do: quoting Star Wars, mere “survival is insufficient.” Thus we ask: what is in King Lear, for example, that can matter to us when we have our hands full in literal existential crisis of how–and why–to go on? William Carlos Williams raises this question when he says in “To Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” that in “despised” poetry there is “news” we need: “it is difficult/ to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/ for lack/ of what is found there.” This is a pretty large claim for literature–life and death. What is the powerful and hopeful “news” and message in such art? What can get us through the daily news? Our show today looks at several daunting news stories from the lens of classical poetry, Homer, Dante Shakespeare, Tennyson, Blake, thinkers like Nietzsche, comic book and sci-fi cli-fi writers, and lyric visionaries like Emily Dickinson, and contemporary poets giving us heart, and we ponder the clown, the fool, the Dodo. We ponder what it is in a poet’s vision, as species extinction accelerates, and we wait for the other limb to drop, that not only is enduring, but necessary for each and all of us to endure, beyond survival, the reading of the daily news.

© Barbara Mossberg 2015

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