THE BEASTS OF POETRY: The Poetry of the Morning Report, A Series

From my journal:

TigersI read the paper, The San Francisco Chronicle, that Christer puts for me in the back room to savor and drink my first cup of coffee before the morning email. This day’s first page deals with a woman who hurtles through flames to drag a man to safety when his truck turned over on 101 in SF, and the story is not clear at all on what actually happened and what she actually did, but its point is that someone slowed down: literally stopped, at 5 am, in freeway speeds of 65 mph, that someone noticed something in their rearview mirror, with a one year old child in the backseat, saw a truck tip and topple, stopped, and tried to help. And no one else stopped. A 22 year old who works at a senior center. That is an inspiring story. What makes us slow down and disrupt our routine for others, in heroic ways, lifesaving ways, or not . . . as we hurry along on our paths. I need to talk to The Poetry Slow Down. Is writing a poem, or reading a poem, this kind of slow down, this kind of interruption, that can save each others’ lives. And I have been thinking of what my students did with Marcel Proust, as I assigned them de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life. Through the lens of their voices and visions, Proust’s ideas for how to live are so wise, the importance of taking time to appreciate things, how if you hurry through things you make them smaller and less momentous, when they could be so precious, and how to make the everyday revealed as extraordinary by making the moment last—and last—real—momentous (“you’ve got to make the morning last”). I want to talk about this. And what slowing down with poetry has to do with it.

I read about the crisis of drop outs in community colleges. To me, we all know what works. It takes time and individual attention and belief in each student, in their whole self. It cannot be a mass factory wholesale hurried -approach. Whole self, not wholesale. It must be education for the whole self, the Hokey Pokey—slow poke-pokey–approach, throw your whole self in, and shake it all about. That’s what it’s all about. Mix with Homer, Proust, Cyrano de Bergerac, Shakespeare, epic wisdom from the ages, myth, stories. In this lens is revelation. One’s own life becomes a story, a heroic, epic struggle, that has meaning, and hope. We find out who we are, what is at stake in our learning, through the writings of others. A magic mirror. What was Luis Rodriguez’s new book—you are the other me. We need to let our students discover their illimitable, indefatigable (they love this word), hungry for learning selves! Through literature and art—through “despised” and “difficult” poems!

Tiger in the JungleI also read about a man who had a private preserve of wild animals and in a fit of revenge against his community, set them loose, and killed himself. The animals, released from their cages and fences, were shot on sight, almost every one, except a few tigers, a grizzly bear, and two monkeys. All else killed, as a director of the Columbus Zoo said, a reverse Noah’s Ark, Noah’s Ark wrecked. This disaster. 18 rare Bengal tigers. Just saying tiger, I think of Blake, of what he would make of this. How do we honor the momentousness of this tragedy, of Blake’s vision? Once we read The Tyger, we are committed for the rest of our lives to that fearful symmetry. I want to include that too, in the show. And in each case, poetry on this topic, but also, poetry as a story in itself, how it matters, as a principle of slowing down, and appreciating life.

So Poetry Slow Down, you good ones, you are on my mind . . . And somehow, Marcel Proust got into the mix, with his advice, channeled through Alain de Botton, a philosopher, on the relation between the newspaper news and what the poet makes of it. So we’re going to hear marvelous poets and writers as we consider what the topic became:

The Beasts of Poetry: The Poetry of the Morning Report. This title is a little bit of an allusion to—speaking of wild things, lions and tigers and bears oh no—the clever and enduring Lion King, and The Morning Report!

First, saving lives! There are poems that actually save lives, famous ones like Invictus by William Ernest Henley, which saved Nelson Mandela, and possibly South Africa, and certainly Henley himself, and Ulysses by Tennyson, which Tennyson wrote to save himself from despair when his college friend died, and poems that may have saved YOU, Poetry Slow Down, and there are whole books of poems on this topic. One is called Saving Lives, by Albert Goldbarth. We’ll hear, in the next weeks, James Laughlin, W.S. Merwin, Marianne Moore, Theodore Roethke, Zbigniew Herbert, Edward Sanders, Galway Kinnell, Ted Hughes, Kenneth Rexroth, Delmore Schwarz, Timothy Liu, George Oppen, James Dickey, Elizabety Bishop, William Blake, Wallace Stevens, Sandra McPherson, Joan Houlihan, Edward Hirsch, Carl Sandburg, and me, and others, on poetry of slow down and saving the day, on lions and tigers and bears and the wild, in our world, in us, in poetry, in the poet in your neighborhood, in you. Our poems gather us in tribute and requiem and reflection: Cherish the wildness in you, the news of your heroic spirit invoked by Poetry, and slowing down!

Thank you, and write me at

© Barbara Mossberg 2011

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