Poetry for a wild March, Hares and Coots, and plenty of leaping. This has been a wild week, Pi Day, Einstein’s birthday, Ides of March, St. Patrick’s Day, Ducks becoming number one seed, all having to do with the Poetry Slow Down, and in memory of John Updike, 85 ish today . . . speaking of hares . . . rabbits? Still alive for us as a writer, in this season of March Madness, about a basketball player, how about that?: “Ex-Basketball Player” (John Updike).
We like March, his shoes are purple, so says Emily Dickinson, and, Dear March, come in, she is the welcoming host to this panting month of roars, March coming in like a lion, say we people, and so say I, this windblown mid March, known to us in these days as March Madness, your welcoming host, this is Professor Barbara Mossberg, on this month of March, as we slow down, march it slow, march it wide and deep, with our purple shoes, and we’ll get back to whatever Emily Dickinson meant by that in the spirit of radiomonterey.com, on California’s Central Coast, Produced by Zappa Johns, Mr. Z, who produces our podcast, where you can get our show at any time at BarbaraMossberg.com.
Thank you and hello our poetry slow down community, we have safely skirted Ides of March, whew, March 15, a day we remember because of Shakespeare and his play Julius Caesar; he gives the immortal lines to the role of the poet, the soothsayer, the seer, ancient roles whose words mean sayer of the truth, the one who sees, sees the future, the wise: as I said, the poet . . . and who listens to the poet, eh? Ralph Waldo Emerson in “The Poet” envisions someone with this role as having to be perceived as a churl, a fool, ignored and unknown. As William Carlos Williams said, and you are quoting this right now to yourself, My heart rouses to bring you news that concerns you and concerns many men. It is difficult to get the news from despised poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there. And so, the poet tries to save Caesar’s life by giving some advice, beware the Ides of March, the Ides of March meaning March 15, by the Roman Calendar, ides being the middle of the month, oh, you don’t even want to know how complicated and impossible the ancient calendar was, I don’t know how anything got done, I refer you back to our radio show on the calendar, but anyhoosals, it was a mess. Nevertheless Caesar knew when the Ides of March were, and he was told, Beware the Ides of March, but you couldn’t tell him anything, he knew better, and so Shakespeare’s play has him in 44 BC on his way to the Senate, and snarky, passing the poet and jeering, ah, yeah, the Ides of March have come . . . but the poet says, aye, but not yet gone, and the rest as they say is history, Julius Caesar sashays off, shows up for work, and is stabbed 23 times. Now, in his defense, what would you do if someone shouts at you Beware the Ides of March when you’re getting into your car balancing your Peet’s or Starbucks or green tea in a mug, all righty then, when someone says Beware the Ides of March, what are you supposed to do with that? Beware isn’t even a verb, it’s a command, like, behold, or, look out, or, slow down! but unlike other command words, you don’t go about bewaring, I beware, you beware, he she it bewares, no, all it does is p—you off, annoy you, all it does it make you mad because what are you supposed to do with this, go about being wary of harm, that is too vague to be helpful, frankly, and all it does it is make him feisty and defiant and he’s already feisty and defiant. How do you heed advice from a poet? He’s not going to stay in bed all day, and besides, maybe if he did, the roof will cave in, as I used to hope would happen in graduate school when I had a paper due, and imagined various kinds of deus ex machina, malaria, tornado, and if that is his fate, what is he going to do? Do we learn our fates and leap to? So I was thinking about what William Carlos Williams calls news that concerns us, my heart rouses to tell you news, he wants to tell us as a poet, life and death news, fate, and how we learn our fates and what we then do, not only because of Caesar’s fate on the Ides of March, but because other things have called it to my attention this March month, and so our show today on all things March, taking the expressions, March comes in like a lion, march madness, march hare, and I’ll begin with what I wrote in my journal, as my husband was watching the nature channel, nature’s news, I won’t lie to you, there was a lot of noisey news of carnage and
the equivalent of 23 stabbings, and I was thinking of nature’s news, and Emily Dickinson’s lines came to me,
This is my letter to the World That never wrote to Me - The simple News that Nature told - With tender Majesty
Well, um, the simple news that nature told was not tender . . . One third of all wildebeests end up in the jaws of the lion; so my journal became this reflection:
Okay so I have to pause here a minute, slow down a minute and ask you, Poetry Slow Down, what do we do with this news? Is this a beware the Ides of March for the wildebeest crowd? What if Caesar heard some statistical analysis, 100% of ceasars will end up stabbed on the Ides of March, but more like, one out of three empire rulers will end up stabbed, does he do a risk analysis? But of course as soon as they said this, one third of all wildebeest’s end up in the jaws of the lion, the old mind pounces, rrrrrr, goes to work with imagery prey, hears this and makes a mental
image and the next thing you know, you’re in the jaws of the beast yourself, your mind is taking this image and running with it, this lion’s fangs are sticking in your ear, so I sat down and I reflected on this and wrote:
My Husband Watches the Nature Channel and Calls Out Nature’s News
One third of all wildebeests end up in the jaws of the lion.
So if you were the wildebeest, how would you go about your days in the grass?
Would you lie low and wary, in fear at this fate, one out of three of us inside a blood- fanged mouth? Or would you say, hey, two out of three of us are going to end up lying by some river under some tree in the sun, caressed by wind, sung to by loons? And leap and frolic
And rush through grass and mud like nobody’s business?
I did some later research on coots, and found this:
Since coots appear neither comical, vulnerable, nor inspirational, the public is often unsympathetic to their problems. American Coot flocks may number up to 1,500 individuals and the birds may readily attain pest status. In 1986, for example, employees at a California golf course shot 400 coots in an effort to keep them off the grass. Apparently their droppings accumulated on the putting greens and resulted in raised golf scores and tempers. But when coots disappear, they usually toll the bell for other species as well. In Hawaii, for example, where coot numbers were reduced to 1,500 by the mid-1970s and the island population was considered endangered, their decline was also an indicator of the rapid disappearance of island wetlands, an important habitat for many other Hawaiian species.
I also found info about You old coot!” and I’m quoting a blogsite, Landfill Bird Blog, is an expression used to describe a cranky, surly, or pesky old person. Coots got implicated in this negative expression because they are just so danged common and numerous. Duck hunters consider them pests and a distraction because of this commonness. Well there used to be passenger pigeons so numerous they would fill the sky and fly by for hours and days at a time, and now there are none, actually. And maybe if there were poems about coots, that made us see coots in a way that we emphathize with them and value them—this was John Muir’s strategy about wilderness—and he borrowed from Wordsworth ,for example, the way Wordsworth as a poet took images from his sister Dorothy’s journals, and said, my heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky . . . hearts leaping up is a mental model of how we could respond . . . we need a John Muir to write about coots that would inspire a public response, don’t shoot the coot! Well, I did find this one poem from a naturalist blog site, bold birds, by Mike. “So it should come as no surprise that I couldn’t resist sharing a coot poem I just discovered.”The Coot–Mary Howitt (1799-1888): “Oh Coot! oh bold, adventurous Coot, I pray thee tell to me, The perils of that stormy lime That bore thee to the sea! In fact, great poets have written about the coot, as in “The Brook” by Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892): I come from haunts of coot and hern–Tennyson, longest serving Poet Laureate of England from 1850 to 1892; and so coots were something of common knowledge; and I have found a website called Cantankerous Old Coots, “Sign up for our mailing list and you even get priceless lessons on how you can develop your Cootness.”
Well back to fate. What if the coots knew they were seen as pests by golf course owners, because that IS where we saw them and were so charmed and then they were run out of town and shot and it all seemed so mysterious to me, the world making real what we talk about in language, how language comes to our minds first, and is what gives us our sense of the world, so that when we encounter the world, we recognize it, re-cognize, cognition, to know, and re: to know again: language gives us the original way of knowing, knowledge, and then when the world appears before us, we re-cognize it, aha, a coot! And it’s exciting!
And so, March . . . when the wind blows, we think, March comes in like a lion, and we think of lions, and there have been lion sightings around these parts lately, literally, lions, that knocks me out, who was raised on Wizard of Oz, lions and tigers and bears oh no!
Throughout our time together, we consider March hares, and I know you love them Poetry Slow Down, every year we celebrate their leaping frolics, so we’ll leap about with some leaping poetry, speaking of my heart leaps up when I behold, and perhaps leaping from the jaws of a lion, saving our lives! And what that has to do with March madness, wild weather, with loyal Poetry Slow Down listeners to radiomonterey.com, right here and now, you know, because you are listening to poetry about badgers, hedgehogs, moles, coots, hares, lions, by Nancy Willard, Lewis Carroll, e.e. cummings, Walt Whitman, Paul Muldoon, and me, imagining being both nutritious and delicious, not quite as coho, but . . . wouldn’t it be nice?
© Barbara Mossberg 2016