THE BRAIN ON LOVE: LOVE POETRY FOR BRAINIACS

Welcome to our Poetry Slow Down, KRXA 540AM, from the Think for Yourself Radio Team, Hal Ginsberg and Producer Sara Hughes, I’m your host Professor Barbara Mossberg, and I love our radio community as we listen on air to poetry, brain waves! slowing down in our hurtling and stressed lives for a way of thinking and speaking about our lives from time immemorial, the news we need, Dr. William Carlos Williams says, difficult and despised though poetry may be, without which men die miserably every day . . . on this topic of love, it’s almost Valentine’s Day, and this is a time traditionally in which we let the people we love know how much we love them, in poetry. We consider poetry etched in clay from a twig from thousands of years ago, a Sanskrit love poem from 2025 BC. This word love, a way of connecting so powerfully something beyond ourselves, that says someone is part of us, inextricably part of our essence, who we are. . .  love makes you something larger and more complex and vulnerable. I thought about life’s plan for us—so tricky and ingenious: for example, if we have a baby, then, because we love this baby and want everything for this baby, and now this baby’s out in the world–now we have to care about and be responsible for this whole world where our baby is going to have to live—for its health and endurance . . . how smart of the universe . . . to get us to care about IT–the whole shebang and shenanigans—air, water, ground—lion and fly–so today, we’re going to explore what we humans love, and how it is expressed in poetry . . . all love poems!

Poems about life itself, and living, from a nonagenarian, poems about people, of course, and trees, and writing poetry! and eating lemon meringue pie, guilty!—and the ways people love. Now, I feel a little guilty about this, speaking of guilty, Poetry Slow Down, you know that last week we had a show on the Superbowl, our own poetry roster of players, Emily Dickinson as wide receiver, Emerson as our Coach, Tennyson as our QB, Fanny Howe as our cornerback, and yes I am a 49ers fan, including for its Duck elements, but you know I had to root for the Ravens, a team named for a poem, by Edgar Allen Poe, and their mascots are three ravens, Edgar, Allen, and Poe, and all our poetry energy was going into that game and so I am afraid that this energy was very powerful and they won, and how could I not root for Baltimore—the reason they named the team the Ravens is that the city had a contest and all the citizens could vote to the newspaper on what name they wanted, and over 55,000 people wrote that they wanted it named for the poem! Well, one of my own mother’s favorite poems, was a poem by Poe where he talks about love, and it is a sad poem, in some ways, but we’re going to figure this out . . . because people love this poem, about loving alone. So let’s begin there: what it means to be a human being, and to love . . . “Alone,” by Edgar Allen Poe.

And all I loved, I loved alone. That phrase is so haunting: is there any greater loneliness? But in some ways perhaps that is all of us, in our own skins, in our own brains. No one can see or feel just the way we can. And perhaps that invokes the artist in us, the moment when we understand something we express in a way that no one ever has before, a way we see differently, and yes, alone . . . and yet in the process, once we say it, give it language, we make our thoughts part of someone else’s neuro-reality, and we change them, what they know, what they see, how they see . . . and we become part of their vision of themselves and their world . . . . The paradox is that a poem about being alone can speak to another and be a way that we are part of a community and not alone, and we reading a poem, find expressed there what we felt alone, and no longer feel alone . . . it reminds me of Emily Dickinson’s I’m nobody, who are you, are you nobody too —when she says she’s nobody, there’s no one like her, she’s no one, but then she asks us if we are nobody too, and in that moment we may feel, yeah, I have felt that way, oh man! I have!~ then she says, then there’s a pair of us, so we’re part of the team she is creating on this page with just these symbols, and then she creates a conspiracy of silence between us, don’t tell, they’d advertise, you know! Well that’s just delicious, to be sneaking around on the sly with Emily Dickinson, on the down lo, being nobodies together like in some tree house robber pirate den of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer—That’s what poetry can do: connect us in a way that brings to consciousness our human community . . . how we belong to each other . . . and for Poe, it’s what he loves, that makes him achingly desire to express it to us . . . because he doesn’t just go to his room and love alone, no, he brings us in, he says, hey people, he writes this poem, he trusts us to be here, and to understand him, to literally “read him,” and it’s nice that his words made him so beloved, that a city a hundred years after he died would vote to have its official team be named after one of his poems. He belongs to this city, by his words, of love . . .

So how and what do poets love? We’ll hear (of course)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways  . . . e. e. cummings’ love sonnet, my poem to Christer . . .

But what else do we love?  We love our earth: let’s hear Mary Oliver! Wendell Berry!

PART TWO

Welcome to our Poetry Slow Down, KRXA 540AM, Think for yourself radio, I’m Professor Barbara Mossberg, and we’re talking about the poetry of love, love, the brainiest thing we can do, it’s totally for brainiacs! Neuroscience has it that our brain has three parts. The oldest part is our amygdala, where we feel fear and pain. But we evolve! We improve! The newest part, the neocortex, is where we feel appreciation, and love . . . and this part trumps the fear and pain center . . . our brains can’t feel appreciation and pain and fear at the same time. So if we can concentrate on appreciation, on love itself, that can help us with fear and pain . . . and what better to invoke the power of love in us than a poem, by Rumi! He was born in Afghanistan, and raised in Turkey, in the 13thcentury! Yet his voice speaks to us today, to the lovers in us. Now the principle of love: I think of all the ways poets love our earth, like, hedgehogs! Miraslav Holub has a grief-stricken poem about a dying hedgehog he tries to kill to put it out of its misery—it’s horrific—but redeeming of humanity, how much we care . . . this is a love poem. We hear “In Defense of Hedgehogs,” by Pam Ayres, Lucille Clifton, and of fleas! (Pablo Neruda), and so much more! So we get right down to it, and up to it, and slow down for it . . . our brain on poetry! Our lover brain!

© Barbara Mossberg 2013

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