Radiomonterey.com podcast BarbaraMossberg.com
Founder and Host, Dr. Barbara Mossberg
Producer, Sara Hughes
November 23, 2014
© Barbara Mossberg 2014


My life has been the poem I would have writ/

But I could not both live and utter it.—Henry David Thoreau. But–wait—here he is, after all, uttering it, right now, before our very eyes–getting us to feel sorry for him, either sacrificing his life for art, or not doing art because he has to live. . . . But wait, hold on, hold on . . . . he’s writing the poem, right? While he’s living, breathing. Well, he’s got us interested: I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well, he would say. Fair enough: but writing about oneself writing the actual work we are reading–poems where the writing of the poem is the center of the poem, the dramatic plot itself–

is this an odd or eccentric or an outlier theme of the likes of our famous outlier Thoreau, marching to his different drummer in a work so strange its original publication ended up unsold and dumped unceremoniously on his front porch? Perhaps so, if we consider Gilgamesh, Homer, Dante, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Dr. Seuss, Pablo Neruda, Gary Snyder, Ted Hughes, Billy Collins, David Kirby, “Meena Muska,” Zarmina, and I, your team, your host, out and out outliers . . . and is this a side-show quirk of poetry? Do we see it in songs (“ . . . this song’s for you . .); do we see it in paintings? Self-portraits of painters painting as we watch? We see the focus on the struggle and joys of writing in writer’s journals, which are as literary, and poetic, moving, dramatic, deeply engaged in our human experience as anything written, and we’ll consider some. But what is it with the art itself, our attention drawn to the act and fact of making it before our eyes? This is more than a selfie moment. It is to be invited to dinner and then be taken by the host to the fields to watch the hoe and then the digging up of the onion and potato, milking the cow, churning the butter, making the cheese, buying pepper from the peddler at the door, stirring at the stove, and listening to our host’s reflections on this work, what it feels like to hold that soil in one’s hands, to sniff the rosemary, and then to sit down to eat, perhaps the saying of grace, of thanks for this food . . . . Or rather, to arrive and see our host in the kitchen, sweating profusely, hearing all about the drama, as it is happening . . . the swearing, the prayers, the kitchen witches and muse. It is the amuse bouche, the menu itself, or, as David Kirby says, this magic moment, or, as Ishmael Read says, Danger: Do Not Read This Poem: that’s how alive it is, the poem is so alive before our eyes, the poet breathes, it is all happening, this transpiration, magic, live, on the Poetry Slow Down, a way to live in this day, to make the morning last, or, as Cicero says in 48 BC, time stop, as poets live forever –and you are there. We’ll hear a slew—Mark Strand, Nikki Giovanni, Wallace Stevens, Wizlawa Symborska, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Charles Chigna, Karen Glenn, Galway Kinnel, Naoshi Koriyama, Eve Mirriam, Tess Galligher, Karen Swank-Fitch, and more–Here—as poets put their immortal work in the spotlight, reflect on themselves writing the poem, even eating it, and at this time of Thanksgiving, we see they are downright grateful for what it is that is to be partaken, and so are we, in Derek Walcott’s words, through this poetry, feasting on our life.

© Barbara Mossberg 2014

Tune in to Professor Barbara Mossberg Sunday November 23, 2014, Noon to 1 pm, radiomonterey.com, or listen whenever you’re ready to slow down at BarbaraMossberg.com, Produced by Sara Hughes.

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