When the President of the United States responds to a public massacre, an attack on America’s elected leaders and processes, calling for us to enlarge our moral imagination–question! What is moral imagination? Question! What is being called for, and how we are called upon? Question! Can we change the news of sorrow and disgrace? Question! Can a way of thinking and being change the heartbreak of the headline news? Question! Isn’t this something that the Sphinx was calling for—isn’t this what Einstein . . . what Shakespeare . . . what Gandhi . . . what King . . .  Ah . . . At our Poetry Slow Down at KRXA 540AM “(think for yourself”), we listen to poetry (which Dr. Williams claims may be despised and difficult but without which we will die miserably—and he was a doctor dealing with life and death every day so he should know) for insight into the moral imagination. Our music selections for our show give a clue to the genius and miracle of transformation, the power of the poetic mind to change our world: I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day . . . if somehow you could pack up your sorrows and give them all to me, you would lose them, I know how to use them, give them all to me . . . when you’re weary . . . when tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all, I’m on your side . . . like a bridge over troubled waters . . . you’ve got to give a little, you’ve got to live a little, that’s the story of, that’s the glory of love.” Who’s talking here? The poet, whose thinking can turn it all around. How so? “I turn to you,” O poet. So, we are going to talk about what kinds of thinking change our world, that we call genius. We frame our show with Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream,” an expression of moral imagination that is celebrated with a national holiday, and the role of poetry in King’s vision (we will hear Henry David Thoreau’s influence on the poetry of King’s mind and of the Civil Rights Movement). We begin with Poet Albert Einstein, and Poet Richard Feynmann, and other physicist poets, whose imagination of transformation calls for a moral sensibility at our most genius selves. We’ll talk about the Sphinx and the life and death stakes for community in having a moral imagination. We’ll talk about the relationship between genius and poetry, metaphor and moral imagination, and how it is that we have a President of the United States who is calling for this civic common genius. What is the role of poetry in President Obama’s vision of us and what is possible in our civic culture? We’ll hear from another President, as we think of upcoming Presidents’ Day, the role of poetry for President Abraham Lincoln, and for Barack Obama . . . we’ll hear some prophetic poetry by our president (pinch me!) on the moral imagination, the genius of empathy, of compassion, and a vision of how poetic thinking is what human wisdom, expressed in the Sphinx, called for so long ago, the essential knowledge we need to live in community, how we belong to each other and our earth. He’s a poet. I’m just sayin. This is Professor Barbara Mossberg, for the news we need. Write me your poetic thinking at, and stay tuned for the good-news-making high school sonnet project, “I’m Nobody: Turning It Around, the Genius in I, and You, and Us,” feeling Grovy, right here on The Poetry Slow Down.

© Barbara Mossberg 2011

Leave a Reply

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