you know it, don’t you know

I love you, he said. He was
   shaking. He said:
I love you. There’s an art
   to everything. What I’ve
   done with this life,

what I’d meant not to do,
 or would have meant, maybe, had I
understood, though I have
 no regrets.” That’s “Civilization” by Carl Phillips, and speaking of “that’s civilization,” thank you for joining me today, a holiday, a holy day, to listen for this hour to what people have made with their lives, how they have answered the question of purpose Mary Oliver’s beloved poem “A Summer Day” asks in the last lines, after telling us she has been spending the day in Whitmanesque loafing and taking her ease in the grass, “Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?” We hear Harryette Mullen “just as I am come/knee bent and body bowed” on how to “proceed with abandon” and we hear Phillips again with an Aubade assuring us “Yes. You will be saved.” Thomas Merton weighs in with his own Aubade, and we pause to reflect on the life of Merton, making something holy of his life through the practice and devotion of poetry, and advice on living a wise life from Jeni Olin (speaking of “weighing in”) and Frank O’Hara, another city voice, speaking to us of how we should and could be, not exactly the monk Merton was, or turned out to be, more like the punk avuncular voice (think, “Saturday Night At the Movies”). So as we hear advice from poets on this question of how to live, some from the wicked uncle, some from a wicked uncle turned monk, everyone with something urgent to say to us to make something of our lives, something beautiful, we think anew of John Keats “Endymion,” his 4,000 line poem beginning “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Can we sleep our lives away? Will a moon goddess make fifty daughters with us as we slumber, as we think, unproductively? We reflect on Keats’ short but productive life, pondering the critics’ response to him to give poetry up .  . . let us all remember this, how what we do, expressing the voice within us, may not be recognized at the moment, but do it anyway, despite, despite—and here we are, enjoying Keats “thing of beauty” as long as we live and read. That’s what Mark Doty is talking about, beauty in our earth—at whatever season—“fabulous.”


And more on how we give ourselves to experience to make something beautiful of us: Honor Moore has a tribute poem to Wallace Stevens, in gratitude for the role of poets in our lives to show us by their own example how to make something beautiful, and that’s behind I think, the work of David Brower, using his words to ensure that a thing of beauty, earth itself, lasts forever. We hear Brower’s “Credo for Earth,” inspired by poets themselves inspired by poets who loved earth (what poet does not?). And then, at last, on how we live a life of purpose to make beauty, the life of the poet to turn our attention towards the beauty and in the process, make something that does not die: we hear Brooklyn’s own, Maine’s beloved Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius. We remember Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s call to a renaissance of wonder: we believe in this, in our capacity to wonder which will save us and save our earth, and hear again Janet Loxley Lewis’s “The Wonder of the World,” lines from a Swedish gravestone,

The wonder of the world,

The beauty and the power,

The shapes of things,

Their colors, lights and shades,

These I saw.

Look ye also

While life lasts.


Earth, air and upper air,

Earth, air and water I knew,

And the sun on my face.

The voices of women and men,

The shouting of children,

These I knew.

Harken ye, also.

Drink while life lasts

The wine of astonishment.


So spoke the stone. (“The Wonder of the World” from Poems Old and New 1918-1978 by Janet Lewis. Published in 1981 by Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, Athens, Ohio (
So drinking this wine of astonishment, and hope for astonishment, in our daily acts, what about flying a kite? Isn’t that the activity that goes nowhere? Go fly a kite, the expression goes; go away. Surely this is a time to slow down, look up, and feel our way to something marvelous. We hear Seamus Heaney wish us on our way, with “A Kite for Aibhin.” So may you take off, Poetry Slow Down, today, productive living beauty in your life, lying in the grass, flying a kite, with a sense of wonder and hope for the new renaissance for poetry, which your listening is evidence is happening!  Thank you for joining me! Write me, at, and happy birthday John Muir, Shakespeare, Earth, Osa, Lorraine, Sophia, and “life, and love, and wings” (e.e. cummings), and until next week, thinking of you wild and precious, flying a kite gloriously.

© Barbara Mossberg 2011


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