Dr. Barbara Mossberg
Produced by Sara Hughes
March 23, 2014
c Barbara Mossberg 2014

“Be joyful because it is humanly possible.”
― Wendell Berry
ON FINDING OURSELVES IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR LIVES: DANTE AND THE ETHNOPOETRY OF REFLECTION WITH THE TUPELO 30-30 PROJECT, including poems by Dante, Mary Jo Bang, Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, Tupelo poets, Chrissy Williams, W.H. Davies, Rumi
“It may be that when we no longer know which way to go that we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
― Wendell Berry
Is there a lion standing in your path? Of course you’re thinking, Dr. B is talking metaphor, because there’s not really a lion in your path, although truly, listeners of The Poetry Slow Down, my fearless intrepid poet niece Emily Rose just told me yesterday of an encounter with a lion, a roaring lion, in Zimbabwe just last month, and where I live people encounter mountain lions and my own husband actually times his walks on the hope of such terrifying encounter. But you’re right, it’s a metaphor–: we’re in the middle of our lives, and when we slow down, to think, it appears we’re not on our path—we seem to be lost . . . and what’s worse on the path we find ourselves on, there’s a lion, yep, and so what do you do? Well, we fight fire with fire. The only way to get out of this predicament, this crisis of spirit, where am I in my life, where am I going, is with poetry. It takes a poet to help a poet. At least, that is the message that on this day, March 23, 1300, Dante Alighieri begins The Divine Comedy with the Inferno, with his predicament: in the middle of his life, he finds himself in a dark wood, lost, strayed from the path . . .
And ever since, we’ve read those lines and taken them to heart. Today, we’ll hear about his poem and what poetry has to do with it, and the whole idea of ethnopoetics, a term developed by Jerome Rothenberg in his Technicians of the Sacred. He was looking at oral poetry traditions in various cultures, but the idea is that the poem describes the circumstances of the poem, what has led to making it, because at the end of the day, to make of our lives, in Dante’s words, a divine comedy, going through hell, yes, and purgatory, but ending in Paradise, thanks to a poet, thanks to poetry—poetry is the deus ex machina, helping us transform whatever we’re experiencing and going through, to an understanding, an insight, often to gratitude, for this life, for whatever causes the need to slow down, and work it out with poetry. And so that is what we will talk about today, Poetry Slow Down, and you have noticed that in the past weeks our show has been rebroadcast from past shows, and I was listening along with you, because I have been dealing with things including but not limited to pneumonia and most recently pleurisy, and you know I am way too plump and robust to convincingly play this nineteenth century languishing poetess, so what did I do in the midst of this middle of my life, which I hoped earnestly was not the ending of my life, well, I was slowed down, so I turned to poetry, I had already committed to Tupelo Press to participate in its 30-30 project, in which I with four other poets posted a poem a day for a month, the whole month of February, these were poets from the Tupelo press anthology of erotic poetry, I know, I know, YOU, Dr. B? I probably am the oldest contributor—but the poem was about my husband, it was about FISHING, and hammers, appreciation for his carpentry and ways with a fly rod, anyway: yes: and I will share with you examples of these ethnopoetics, how the soil of our daily experience, no matter how seemingly trivial or traumatic or petty or difficult, and especially if we are stressed, yields a poem–wine itself from that straggly struggling vine: and so on this day, that Dante began his journey to paradise with the help of an epic poet, Virgil, and what Agatha Christy’s Inspector Poirot would call his “little grey cells,” we’ll talk about what to do when we find ourselves lost . . . that’s a kind of finding, right? A sign that we’re on our path, after all . . . that we can’t know where we are until we recognize that we’re lost . . . until, that is, we s l o w down, and poetry is the way.
Thank you for joining me–Barbara

© Barbara Mossberg 2014

Leave a Reply

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