“i who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun’s birthday, and this is the birthday of life, and of love and wings, and the gay great happening illimitably earth” –e.e. cummings WELCOME to our Poetry Slow Down . . .I’m your host Professor Barbara Mossberg, we’re produced by Zappa Johns, a fact for which we pause to acknowledge the immortal Frank Zappa, who died on this day, but, as a Mother of Invention, is alive again today, we’re slowing down to make the morning last . . . You know you move too fast!
This is your time now, your own time to cherish the moment–what is the expression now, “self care”–with the news we need, the news we heed, the news without which men die miserably every day, that’s our program’s topic: what is this news–and the person who plates this idea, who hands it off, poetry as the news without which men die miserably every day, is William Carlos Williams, you know, the cad who ate his soon-to-be ex-wife’s plums, and was sorry but not repentant, there is a difference, adding insult to injury by posting about it on the refrigerator door, this is just to say, he said, I have eaten the plums in the icebox, and if memory serves, he then went on to say, I know you were probably saving them for breakfast, forgive me, they were so delicious, so sweet, and so cold. I think that’s how it went, and that’s the thing about a poem you love, you take it in, and it becomes part of you, how you think, and you may not have it right, exactly, but it’s alive in you, and as a poet I have misgivings about words I write so carefully, lent me by the Muse, not heard in just this way, but the idea that something you would write would take root in someone’s mind and be part of someone else’s day, and way, that is amazing, and I know I misquote the poems Iove the most. So my point is, William Carlos Williams said, in the conclusion to a poem called “To Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” in which he begs his reader to listen to him, my heart rouses, thinking to bring you the 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. Now, that’s a large claim for a poet, even if we make an allowance for the fact that he’s a poet, life and death? Hmm. And yet, perhaps he knows, because his day job is a physician, he is dealing with life and death every day, he has literal blood on his hands, and at the end of the day he makes a house call to himself, he writes himself a prescription, on his prescription pad, literally, a poem; it is with poetry that he heals himself, keeps himself resilient, his spirit intact, his strength ebuillient. And that’s what you are bringing into yourself right now, poetry, a way of speaking that slows us down, because it’s a kind of language that our minds have to process, what’s here, because poetry messes with how we think about and experience our world, it disrespects common sense, and sometimes grammar, and oh yes, punctuation, and Shakespeare made up thousands of words, that didn’t even exist before, and e.e. cummings is so rule-breaking that you think he is off on his own in some poetic unform and then you realize he’s writing an actual sonnet, and poetry deals with imagination, invention, creation–what the mind can think that hasn’t been thought before, what the mind can see that hasn’t been seen before, and once it’s said, before our eyes, now it’s a reality in our world, it’s part of our own neuro-cellular grey matter, and we’re changed, and we’re complicated, and we’re more, and we are definitely slowed down, because we are entering terrain we don’t know, someone else’s way of seeing, having their way with us, their say with us. So I’m going to read us today some poems in a time of greater darkness, and cold, poems that take us into a way of seeing that looks at our lives in a way that may light us, light our world, poems written by people whose words actually have changed our worlds, inside and out—David Rivard, Pablo Neruda, Mary Oliver, Jane Hirshfield, Rilke, Czeslaw Milosz, Emily Dickinson (of course), e.e. cummings (of course), and in our homage today to Frank Zappa, we consider the fact that he is as beloved by scientists and civil rights and democracy activists around the world as musicians and poets. What is it about poetry and science and civic leadership and rights, about independence movements, that is inextricably connected? What a joy to explore this question with fantastic poems in plein air, on the ground, immersed in earth/universe/matter, eyes open in ecstasy, thrall, and thrill, and in love with words–and you!