Dante, Shakespeare, Elizabeth Bishop, T.S. Eliot, Rumi, Shakespeare, e.e. cummings, Thoreau, Ta-Nehesi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Alain de Botton’s The Architecture of Happiness, and Terry Eagleton’s The Meaning of Life, to the music of Simon and Garfunkle, Stevie Nicks, Aaron Hall, Jacques Brel, musicals Carousel, Mondo Cane, and My Fair Lady, Beatles:

Hello, our Poetry Slow Down community, Dr. B here, Professor Barbara Mossberg: our beloved evolved listening community for flights and lights, for whom poetry matters in the most serious of ways—yes, here you are, hear hear!, slowing down today, and heating things up, making time for poetry in your day, yes, MAKING time, what William Carlos Williams said is life and death, with, little poetry—he said it is difficult to get the news from despised poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there—big claims: true or false, as we say in this election year—and Dr. Williams walks the talk, as a physician dealing with life and death every day, writing poems on prescription pads, going home to give himself a house call as a poet, to save the day. I am thinking of you, this week as I am hearing from my students in my course on Revolutionary Imagination, and my students are writing me about their struggle to write a final paper, just panicking, anguish at 2 am, 3:30 am . . . on my phone, “called” to reply helpfully to a message for help, I find myself saying, first I am picking low fruit, starting with poetic clichés, yes, I own it, but remember, it’s 4:50 am and I’m trying to reply immediately to ward off despair and dismay, even fright, “when I think of you I think of the power of nature in your life, and its reflecting what you are and know. How the darkest hour is just before dawn. How the sun, never mind what didn’t happen yesterday, gets up and does it all over again. How the tree in winter looks all done, like nothing happening, leaves left, birds left, exposed, and yet—this is the time it needs to restore, re-store, when its roots are being nourished, the time when it is shoring up for that seeming burst where suddenly there’s bright new sturdy leaves and blossoms and fruit and birds singing. That all came out of this so-called nothing happening empty stalled fruitless time.


The time when it was actually happening.


So I began; we were on a three-week study abroad this summer, working essentially 24/7 on walking in the poetic footsteps of exemplar e.e. cummings praising the day and calling up a suitable response: “now the ears of my ears are awake and/now the eyes of my eyes are opened.” Awake and open to “now” requires a lot of energy in what cummings said is a “happening illimitably world.”  I wrote our student,

You drew forth this summer, in your exuberant openness to learning, yourself and your world, an exhilarating new world, impressions, ideas, experience, knowledge, and now you are processing it, in essential ways that seem like darkness, like nothing happening. But you are really listening to and hearing a generative happening in you and one that is always the case for new life, continued life. Cummings said the day is a birthday: “this is the sun’s birthday and this is the birthday of life and of love and wings,” and if every day is a birthday, then every day is a product of labor, perhaps even pain—giving forth . . . creation comes out of a lot of hoopla.


As I paused to think of what to say to the diligent student, paralyzed and demoralized, going through hell, I thought, as you are thinking right now, Poetry Slow Down, of The Inferno! So at 5:05 am I find myself writing,


Remember Dante. In the middle of our life I found myself in a dark wood where the path was lost and I did not know my way. And he finds himself blocked by the snarling beasts of who are you, the fangs of you’re nothing, you can’t do this.


At this point, Poetry Slow Down, I pause to reflect with you on this. Why is it, how is it, that at a moment of crisis, it’s Dante, in the 1400s, over 600 years ago, who comes to mind? Racing on poetic feet, urgent care doctor on call? And that it is lines of a poem offered up at a moment of crisis?

In our show today we explore the relevance of Dante’s lines, with notes of Thoreau, Elizabeth Bishop, T.S. Eliot, e.e. cummings, and Shakespeare, with three works of philosophy: Alain de Botton’s The Architecture of Happiness, Ta-Nehesi Coates’ Between the World and Me, and Terry Eagleton’s The Meaning of Life, about the role of imagination, creativity, conscience, and consciousness in creating a good life in a world of danger, in seeing beauty with “my beautiful eyes” in “humanity in all its terribleness.”

© Barbara Mossberg 2016


With Professor Barbara Mossberg

Produced by Zappa Johns

September 18, 2016

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