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. You know who that is, Poetry Slow Down, That’s William Carlos Williams, Dr. Williams, your corner OB-GYN delivering babies by day and writing by night, and you know who this is, I’m Professor Barbara Mossberg, here at KRXA 540AM, with Producer Sara Hughes, at Think For Yourself Radio. Now Dr. Williams is making pretty large claims, isn’t he, for poetry—life and death? And not just death but miserable death? What is this news? And: what if we could not get this Rx? Those are the questions that my heart rouses to bring you news of today, that concerns you and concerns many men, so to speak, the issue of banned literature– including poetry. We just finished celebrating a week of Banned Books nationwide, with such groups as the American Library Association, are we a great country or what, we celebrate everything, like Walt Whitman, ourselves—we mark events we need to remember! I haven’t seen a Hallmark Card yet, but we could . . . Thinking of you during banned books week . . . My love for you is so intense it would be banned in Boston! If I told you how much I love you, there would be a federal case! I’d go to jail to tell you of my love. In fact, words of love did end up banned in Boston, in federal jurisdiction, and cause for jail. What? Yes, even the poets you love; yes, even the poets you were taught

in school; yes, even the poetry you taught; and yes, even the poetry you read to your children! I’m not kidding. Wait until you hear the list. We are going to have such a good time, because the topic of banned poetry is a platform, I admit it at the outset, of discussing just what it is about a work that makes it so powerful –the news that concerns us–that someone want to get it off our screens. So many works have been banned or challenged or panned or slammed that are considered great: We are talking about the guts of greatness. Of course, I think, Banned Books Week is precisely meant to have us ponder the magnitude of loss when a book is taken from us, when we no longer have access to these words. What would our world be

without them? That’s what I’m thinking about: the Banned Books week stirred and in some ways shook me — I discussed it with the great students at the Osher Institute of Lifelong Learning, aka OLLI,—it turned out to be so big we just grazed the topic, with six hours. What’s at stake, in our daily mind and grind, a kind of FlashMob in our quotidian day, and daze, we think it’s an ordinary moment and out pops Walt! You know he would—transforming our ordinary moment into something extraordinary, and bringing us into it . . . Of course, Walt was banned—banned early, banned often, banned late. So let’s get a move on, Poetry Slow down, what do you say? You are saying, Poetry Slow Down, banned? The Good Grey Poet, as he was called, O Captain, My Captain! When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed? The Walt Whitman whose words are inscribed in stone on Freedom Plaza—one of the places where Occupy Washington are taking place—and on the walls of the Metro Station at Dupont Circle—and a bridge on a turnpike—and the high school where our son went—isn’t he sort of patriotic? The list of banned books could be

confused with the curriculum of any middle or high school or college English class for required reading! There’s poetry banned by governments, poetry banned by school boards, poetry banned by cities, poetry banned by religions, poetry banned by parent groups. Poetry is taken out of libraries. It’s taken off school shelves. It’s not taught. It’s not bought or sold. Well, for example, what? We’ll hear an amazing list of works whose existence is anathema to various organizations and entities that want to silence their voices. (You can find some of these in the nursery and at your book club.) What it is about literature and poetry that gets itself in trouble and people want to disappear it? How dangerous is it, if people want to silence it? That’s the point, I think: it’s so powerful. Hearing or seeing words

moves and maybe moves around and jostles and ignites the way we think and feel—words can change our minds. They can change the day—we have FACTS about that—they can move mountains, or maybe save them. They can inspire courage, and conscience, and consciousness . . . . We’ll hear about John Avalos being inspired by (banned) Tolstoy, James Wright (“I have wasted my life”) on (banned) Mark Twain. So in this two-part series, we’ll hear about banned poems of empathy, compassion, peace, love, kindness, and joyousness, and examples of what would be lost to us if we did not have these poems, including a reading of epic responses to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s injunction to speak one’s genius, (banned-in-Boston) Walt Whitman, (banned) Nikki Giovanni, (banned) Allen Ginsberg, and also some of the good behavior of wild things (children and their parents) in the banned Shel Silverstein and Maurice Sendak, Paul Simon’s “Sounds of Silence,” E. Dickinson’s “They shut me up in Prose” excerpt—and a sweet love poem of (banned) Sappho. Next up: Shelley’s Defense of Poets, Milton, Yeats, and more: “the sounds of silence” unfurled. Thank you for joining me, and for your support of our program to have poetry in our civic life, our quotidian days and daze.

© Dr. Barbara Mossberg

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *