Words from Galileo to John Glenn, Archibald MacLeish to Einstein and Emily Dickinson, Ray Bradbury, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, WallaceStevens, William Cullen Bryant, John Brainard, and Lola Ridge from DUBlin, with music “I Will Survive,” “Happy Days,” “Starman,”“Woodstock,” “Oh Would You Like to Swing on a Star,” “Happy Together,” “Imagination,” “Pure Imagination,” “Just My Imagination,” and“Imagine,” from David Bowie to Crosby Stills Nash and Young to Bing Crosby and Gloria Gaynor to astronauts Buzz Aldrin (Snoop Dog),Chris Hadfield covering Bowie’s “Space Oddity” (get out your handkerchiefs), and the Temptations, Earth Wind and Fire, Turtles, and GeneWilder (we loved him in “Young Frankenstein” but did you know he could sing and dance? With a cane?), and . . . it seems like a stretchgoing from the imagination called for in The Martian by a stranded botanist astronaut trying to survive, but yes John Lennon . . . imagine! We do!
I do, I do, imagine you and me, and here we are, O Poetry Slow Down! Happy Day!
An age is called Dark, not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it. ― James A. Michener
The most beautiful thing in the world is, of course, the world itself.—Wallace Stevens
If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it—Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley
Oh, earth,you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every,every minute?—Emily, in Our Town, Thornton Wilder
That’s James Michener—remember Hawaii?—Wallace Stevens—“Emperor of Ice Cream,” a favorite of our poet Charles Tripi, ThorntonWilder, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley in “Imagination,” and hear you are with your Professor Barbara Mossberg, hear hear! with ourRadio Show Poetry Slow Down, radiomonterey.com, produced by Zappa Johns, our own Mr. Z, who does our podcast, atBarbaraMossberg.com, and earth’s on our mind this week, we’re looking up in the skies, or down at us from the vision of space, as weconsider our news this week, from the front pages to entertainment.
Hold your breath
Make a wish
Count to three
Come with me and you’ll be
In a world of pure imagination
Take a look and you’ll see
Into your imagination
We’ll begin with a spin
Traveling in the world of my creation
What we’ll see will defy explanation
If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it
Anything you want to, do it
Want to change the world?
There’s nothing to it
There is no life I know
To compare with pure imagination
Living there, you’ll be free
If you truly wish to be
–Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley (Gene Wilder in Willa Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)
The problem is, as Thornton Wilder’s Emily reflects with anguish in Our Town, Emily: “Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though youreally saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. I’m dead. You’re a grandmother, Mama! Wally’s dead, too. His appendix burst on acamping trip to North Conway. We felt just terrible about it – don’t you remember? But, just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama,just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s really look at one another!…I can’t. I can’t go on.It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at oneanother. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back — up the hill — to my grave. But first: Wait! One morelook. Good-bye , Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover’s Corners….Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking….and Mama’s sunflowers. Andfood and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths….and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth,you are too wonderful for anybody torealize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every,every minute?
Stage Manager: No. (pause) The saints and poets, maybe they do some.”
So HEAR’s our question O Poetry Slow Down: Do we notice what there is to see? I’m asking this because I’m thinking about the movie TheMartian. Have you seen it? I hope you get to see it on a big screen. For two and a half hours, you’ll get to imaginatively engage with beingon Mars. An astronaut is left there for a number of years—sol after sol as they count the days– as he works out solutions to oxygen, food,shelter, communicating with earth, and, yes, getting back to earth . . . . I found myself thinking of what it was in his spirit that made him soresilient, not think it was utterly hopeless, solve problem after problem and never give up. Hope seems to be nothing but imagination! Henever waxes into philosophy or poetry, as far as we know, but he writes in and records his journal, seeing himself as an artist, himself thehero of his story, as he imagines it, and he has a soundtrack left by the escaped astronaut crew, disco music—discs—we get the pun–including the Happy Days Theme.
If you could see the earth illuminated when you were in a place as dark as night, it would look to you more splendid than the moon.
— Galileo Galilei, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, 1632.
Now Galileo never was in space—at least in fact. But in his imagination—that human miracle . . . and he was a scientist writing like a poet;Archibald MacLeish, a poet, wrote like a scientist:
Never in all their history have men been able truly to conceive of the world as one: a single sphere, a globe, having the qualities of a globe,a round earth in which all the directions eventually meet, in which there is no center because every point, or none, is center — an equalearth which all men occupy as equals. The airman’s earth, if free men make it, will be truly round: a globe in practice, not in theory.
Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from the outside, is available, a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.
— attributed to Sir Fred Hoyle, 1948. Yes, perhaps, if we have the poet mind to help us with consciousness of every, every minute.
I realize that it may not seem intuitive to be talking about space flight on the week of the anniversary of the Challenger explosion tenyears ago, and this week almost fifty years ago astronauts Virgil Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee died in a flash fire in theirApollo spacecraft. And here’s this film imagining everything that can go wrong. But I’m thinking of the original Challenger mission, sendinga non-scientist, a teacher, up into space, and the ideas around this . . . We’ll hear how James Michener makes the case for someonebesides a MIT physicist to go up into space and write about it, and how a physicist does go up into space and writes about it as a poet,even getting a MFA in literature to shore up his literary moxie—the inimitable Story Musgrave. We’ll hear poems by astronauts frommultiple lands, and poems imagining being an astronaut long before even electricity was discovered. We’ll hear what Ray Bradbury in TheMartian Chronicles said about our capacity to see beauty. So this idea, that not seeing the beauty that is there, is a failure of imagination,which can see what truly is there—could be there—how amazing! And being amazed: scientists from Oxford Dean Charles Dodgson (LewisCarroll to us, for Alice in Wonderland, and Beyond the Looking Glass), to Einstein to Feynman credit that capacity of ours to be amazed toour survival, literally and spiritually, this combination of humility, excitement, exuberance, seriousness, to be knocked off our feet, to seethe beauty and wonder . . . which the poet does. We hear Lola Ridge’s 1918 Garden—this is Lola Ridge, from DUBlin,
. . . Lit only by the memories of stars
And the wide and luminous eyes
Of dead poets
That love me and that I love…
Where none may see—not even ye who gave—
About my soul your garden beautiful.
which is so moving—think of when she was writing this—the brutality of World War I and what the Irish experienced, their recent revolutiondestroying the city, their legacy of starving, losing a quarter of their population to emigration . . . and she sees this beauty . . . I love howStory Musgrave includes beauty in his lecture topics on vision, leadership, motivation, safety, quality, innovation, creativity, design,simplicity, and ecology. He describes his family, “ 7 beautiful children . . . 3 beautiful grandchildren, and a beautiful wife Amanda.” We hearhis emphasis on the beauty in his world; and it was his experience in space that made him want to have language to do justice to themarvelous vision of earth (one of his favorite books is Thomas Berry’s Dream of the Earth and he also communes with Emerson, Thoreau,“and especially Whitman.”
“When I go up, I give myself over to the space experience, surrender to it, let it touch me. I’m always saying to myself: ”Story, look around.Don’t just go out there and fix the Hubble, look around.”
“One of my own personal goals here, is to find ways to communicate the experience of space to people without their actually having beenthere.” We hear the transformed poetic words of Neil Armstrong trying to do justice to this vision, Scott Carpenter, Alan Shepard, TaylorWang, Roberta Bondar, James Irwin, Ulf Merbold, Alfred M. Wordan’s and Edgar Mitchell’s soaring lyrics (“Suddenly, from behind the rim ofthe Moon, in long, slow-motion moments of immense majesty, there emerges a sparkling blue and white jewel, a light, delicate sky-bluesphere laced with slowly swirling veils of white, rising gradually like a small pearl in a thick sea of black mystery. It takes more than amoment to fully realize this is Earth . . . home.”–Mitchell). We hear a word that comes up again and again– “majesty” (Loren Acton), earthas a “holy relic” (Aleksei Leonov). Buzz Aldrin sings “Rocket Experience” (Snoop Dogg) and Chris Hadfield sings “Space Oddity” (DavidBowie, “Hallo Spaceman”). Our poets John Brainard and William Cullen Bryant move us.
And then there is Ray Bradbury in The Martian Chronicles—
Science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle.”
How can we see beauty? Go back to our first quotes: we need our poets!
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
So let’s go back to earth, with fiercy joyous Annie Dillard being a pilgrim at Tinker Creek: “The world is wilder than that in all directions,more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoeswhen we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.
Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock-morethan a maple- a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. Youcan’t take it with you.”
Yes, we have to spend generously the time we have been given: we get on our knees with Mary Oliver on “The Summer Day” to spend our“one wild and precious life.”
How do we see beauty on earth as well as in the heavens?
Emily Dickinson writes “A little madness in the Spring” saying “But God be with the Clown–/Who ponders this tremendous scene–/Thiswhole Experiment of Green–/As if it were his own!” As we consider the song “Imagination” and how many have covered it, we hear ourTurtles “Happy Together” imagining you and me. I do, I do, our Poetry Slow Down, I do imagine you and me, imagination makes suchparadise, such surprise in our day, of what is possible, if we are like Emily Dickinson’s Clown, who ponder and see this scene astremendous, as if it were our own— a gift. I think of Annie Dillard asking us to spend generously of out time. I think of the word generous interms of what we are given here to see, how the word is rooted in the same word as genius, and in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8, we hear“Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of youshould give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Now I amreminded by Brian King, Pastor of Harvest Community Church, that the root of cheerful is hilarious. I think of our minds, O Poetry SlowDown, coming up with words and ideas about things. It seems to me if we look at our earth as a gift, given cheerfully, hilariously, thatcould be why Emily Dickinson says “But God be with the Clown.” To look at our earth as if it were a gift that we don’t own but that makesus rich, to see it as beautiful, as paradise, that is, well, perhaps hilarious, certainly a matter of cheer for us, on this day, as we behold eachother and this earth to which we were given, to make of it what we will: in our imagination, our poets, as Thornton Wilder say, they see itsbeauty and majesty and poignancy every every minute, and that’s a way to slow down, like the Clown, to ponder what we’ve got . . .Imagine . . . Thank you Producer Mr Z, radiomonterey.com, I’m Professor Dr. B, Barbara Mossberg, hear hear! We end for now with JohnLennon, “Imagine,” and never stop imaginating, slowing down for poetry and what there is to see.
c Barbara Mossberg 2016
THE POETRY SLOW DOWN
With Professor Barbara Mossberg
Produced by Zappa Johns
January 31, 2016
© Barbara Mossberg 2016