Dr. Mossberg was recently a guest on Emerald Media’s recent Spotlight on Science episode. Listen at the below, or on Emerald Media’s podcast app feed.
From ancient drama to today’s poetry, lyric wisdom suggests (do or die –“miserably”) that our sense of success, “home” and other destinations, and goals need to be rethought. Living is fraught with perils and defeats—or are our “defeats” really something to be re-imagined , evidence of necessary and heroic struggle? Is it brave to have a goal? How do we judge ourselves, and think others are judging us? Yes, Poetry Slow Down, we are slowing down to consider plots from Oedipus to The Odyssey, and the ways ancient and modern poets portray our lives. In these weeks we are thinking of Wendell Berry, Joanne Penn Cooper, David Denby, Mary Oliver, T.S. Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Dante, Shakespeare, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Oscar Wilde, weighing in on our human predicaments—brave, foolish, earnest—of identity, what it means to be human, now, and apparently always? I’m your host Professor Barbara Mossberg, and we’re produced by Zappa Johns, so thank you for listening, as people always have, around some campfire, to poets and storytellers, sharing news of what it means to be us! Because, we live life from the inside out. We can’t see ourselves. We only see each other. Einstein—whom we consider a genius for saying e=mc2, and yes, it is a metaphor—says if you want to know about water, don’t ask a fish . . . But who else would we ask than the creature who swims in the water? Breeds, feeds, dies in it? But the fish doesn’t know water! Take it out of the water, however, and, gasping and flailing, it knows water. If we take ourselves out of our element, into the realm of other, out of ourselves, we can know ourselves. And that happens on the page, on the stage, in story for one another . . . and this is where our ancient wisdom begins, thousands of years ago, in the story of the Sphinx. So let’s slow down, you know you move too fast!
© Barbara Mossberg 2018
So Poetry Slow Down! You’re slowing down here (hear hear!) with me, your host Professor Barbara Mossberg, Dr. B, and our production team, Zappa Johns and Nico Moss: you know you move too fast! This is our time to slow down, for the news we need, the news we heed, the news without which men die every day—that idea, –that people can die miserably without the news of poetry, is by William Carlos Williams. But he’s a poet, Dr. B! Of course he thinks that! You’re right, of course, evolved listener, but he was also a physician, seeing patients during the day. He’d go home at night, with memory blood on his hands, and write poems on prescription pads, to save his life, and his patients’ lives—and all of our lives. Yes, he is the one who wrote, so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens. That’s the whole poem, and he’s claiming that things matter, that they are amazing, the view out the kitchen window, the weedy yard, and for that to happen, to see blaze in raindrops, there’s this eye and mind and heart: the truth that we’re each this cauldron of emotions, that in us is so much greatness of heart, of great feeling, magnitude of feeling, longing, emptiness, tragedy and pain, worry, a sense of importance of our lives, and the most innocent innocuous little things . . . well, there are no little things. Everything matters—as humans, we are triggered by anything, anything in this world, that invokes our ability to care. O, being human! What a piece of work we are! To quote the Bard–
This past week I was thinking about drama—our lives as drama, and what poetry and drama make of it . . . and I wanted to share with you what I was saying to our community, in the Insight Seminars at the University of Oregon, and Osher Institute of Lifelong Learning,
It can be that drama is the most natural of all literary arts—it’s just us, being ourselves. Think of a conversation, not even a conversation, just talking to someone, in person, on the phone—you may have had this morning, perhaps on the way here. What were those words? What happened? You’re going to say now that’s not drama, that’s not art, that’s just …normal life.
Now what happens if you imagine that exact scene, and us watching it? All of a sudden, moments that may have been charged, or maybe that seemed inconsequential, are full of portent, meaning, significance. Through the lens of our vision, they become art. Workaday language we use to order a latte or draft beer or kombucha or say goodbye to our partner or ask who’s seen your phone or to say debit card or I love you or it’s time to take out the garbage become, on stage, art. Drama–tragedy and comedy–provides stage directions for our experience of life’s stages. What did Oedipus learn from the Sphinx? We will engage fierce and funny lifesaving wisdom on aging as we read examples of bravery, foolery, and panache in these and other plays and stage monologues:
Author! Author! Who’s writing our lines? We live our lives from the inside out. Only on the stage page is our human experience visible if not also perceived as meaningful, noble, tragic, and yes, comic. Osher Lifelong Learning, yes: as we seek wisdom for sustainable life, we’re reading together a few fierce and funny famous plays that spotlight the most precious, challenging aspects of our human journey, and give us insight into the age-old wisdom of this dynamic literary form. Facing life’s drama, what is seen about our lives in Oedipus, the Salesman, Blanche, Cyrano, Quixote, Lettice Douffet? From T.S. Eliot to “Hair,” we’ll see drama making tragic and comic hay of our inner Hamlets (and secret Prufrocks).
So slow down, and we’ll stage right now for your ears how drama illuminates what’s to laugh, cry and sigh about when the worldgets you down–or, the Tragedy and Comedy of our Curtain Fates. Thank you for joining me in the wings, and I would love to hear (hear! Hear!) from you, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Yours truly, Dr. B
© Barbara Mossberg 2018
In fact it leads to heartwarming knowledge about our own humanity! And we need to hear this! Now! So we’ll slow down to take that windy path where goats go, lambs gambol. I’m your host Barbara Mossberg, with this ministry of sorts, to bring the words we use and think in and express love in and order coffee with, to appreciation of who we are, and what we’re doing on this life journey together on earth. We’re produced by Zappa Johns, who is on the Central Coast, and you, dear listener, are on a lake, on a ranch, in a loft, and we’re connected in this very moment by sound waves as in days of old, when we sat around campfires and told each other our stories.
Sheep, Goats, and Fellow Mortals
In our show today, as we slow down and savor texts that mean something encouraging in our lives, fire our conscience, light our consciousness about the gift of consciousness on this earth, we consider our age-old human love for sheep and goats—eating, yes, our Homer readers will remind us, but also as pets, and as fellow journey companions (think of the role of the shepherd in our human experience). In this lens, we will hear some of our greatest writers hold forth with compassion, with empathy, for what Robert Burns calls “our fellow mortals.” We’ll hear excerpts from John Muir’s “Stickeen,” one of the best dog (and glacier) stories ever written, and poetry of Mary Oliver, D.H. Lawrence, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Eugenio Del Andrade, Naomi Shihab Nye, Aaron Fogel, Robert Service, e.e. cummings, Jane Yolen, some folklore history, and two books out there that are companions to the great Gerald Durrell of My Family and Other Animalsfame, Carole George, The Lambs: My Father, a Farm, and the Gift of a Flock of Sheep, and Goat Songby Brad Kessler, books that started me on this goat path, and we end with Billy Collins, who reflects on the printing history alleging that one Gutenberg Bible requires 300 sheep skins. Yes, sheep skin—what we write on. It’s very complicated, this relationship we have with our fellow mortals (if we dare call them that after eating them and making them paper).
We begin with Barry Lopez’s “Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion,” and reflect on Emily Dickinson (of course) and her poem on the Clown beholding this earth as “tremendous” and “a whole Experiment of Green” even though he doesn’t own it. Let’s slow down now to follow this goat trail and consider how efforts as human beings to be compassionate and extend our imaginations to the idea that denizens on earth are fellow mortals. Happy morning to you—Yours truly, Barbara Mossberg
© Barbara Mossberg 2018
To eat or to be eaten, or both? That is the question. Life and death. What is our human fate and purpose? These are large questions, indeed, and poetry has some answers to get us slowed down in these hurtling days where we are going too fast to notice all that’s here, to sense the sensational, to pay attention, as Mary Oliver says, to be astonished. . .
“Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”
Welcome to the Poetry Slow Down, produced by Zappa Johns, I’m Dr. B, your Professor Barbara Mossberg, live at Oxford University, St. Edmund’s College, and we’re talking today about Percy Bysshe Shelley, shhhhhhh, we have revolutionary, post-sub-versive (if you get my drift) things to say about a young man (for so he shall ever be) who advocates for poetry as the force that will save the world. The most contemporary of all poets, on the level of physicists and the spiritual understandings of what the world needs now.
“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”―Thornton Wilder
“Wonderful to be here”—Walt Whitman
That’s Thornton Wilder and Walt Whitman, and this is Professor Barbara Mossberg, with Producer Zappa Johns, and you’re at
HERE FOR THE PRESENT, for the Poetry Slow Down, the news you need, the news you heed, the news without which men die miserably every day—a good shoe—if the show fits, hear it! :