Poet in Residence, Pacific Grove California
Poet in Residence, Pacific Grove California
ARE YOU TALKING TO ME? TREES TALKING TRASH AND GLORY, DISHING WISDOM, AND IT’S AN OLD STORY
Poetry Slow Down, our episode this week begins a series wherein we embark on ancient ships and rocky land routes to engage with trees, as people have always done, and I mean always. Since recorded history, our first forays into writing down what’s in our human brains have been records of talks with trees. Gilgamesh, Greek mythology, the Bible, Mohammed, Pliny the Elder, Caesar, Tolkien, King Arthur, Shakespeare, Alice Walker: the list is long, surprising, star-studded, and global. Now science is saying that trees do talk (for example, Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Fell, How They Communicate,a bestseller in many countries—and his wife told him to write it, I’m just sayin). And Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World, another best-seller. Yet poets have ever said so: how trees talk to us, not just to each other. We hear them in words. We hear them in poems. In our episode, we review the world over for the cases in which trees are recorded in history and literature of actually breaking into conversations, weeping when being left out, and needing to be consoled, and giving gritty and divine advice and healing love. We recall how in Steven Sondheim’s Into the WoodsCinderella “asks the tree” (whom her mother has become) for advice. In our next show, we’ll look at more of these stories about us talking to trees (Clint Eastwood “I Talk to the Trees”), and trees talking to us and what poets make of them, from Rilke and Alice Walker to John Muir and John Steinbeck, and the myths and religions that wrap around these events of tree-human relations. Then we’ll consider poets who wonder in what ways trees are human, and we are trees, and what happens to each of us when we’re cut down (Mars?). Trees, it seems, are inextricable from how we understand not only our human fate, but our actual humanity in the first place. Join me on this journey—you’ll be surprised (I am) and slowed down, way down—you know you move too fast!
Write me at Barbara.firstname.lastname@example.org for your own story of your encounter with a tree. What has a tree said to YOU? You’re not alone. We’ll all in this together!
© Barbara Mossberg 2019
DOWN WITH WASTING-TIME SHAMING: WASTING TIME FOR GLORY
CONFESSIONS OF KILLER OF CATERPILLARS, HEADS UP TO DEER (AND OTHERS) AT RISK, BEING RAPT, RAPTORMANIA, RAPTURE, AND RIPARIAN ECSTASY YOU HAVE TIME FOR IF YOU SLOW DOWN: Poems and Lyric Prose “On Life” and Utterly Necessary Living, Life, and Death. This just in, #PoetrySlowDown#saveyourlifenow, fresh from saving my lavender from The Very Hungry Caterpillar (apologies to Eric Carle who just.doesn’t.know—or does ) with white oozy sticky caterpillar remains and output on my hands, fresh from killing mindfully the white foam-containing fanged monsters, to talk to you lyrically with great sensitivity and empathy about our world and why and how to love it, for all our sakes, yes, tis moi, and all I’m going to say about that is this: if you love a gardener, and you should, you are at great risk of hating bonafide elements of our world and harboring murderous thoughts, and by the way, you know, you know you know, give it up– it’s hopeless. But fear not, because in our show this week, we uplift ourselves with Shelley, no less, “On Life,” and “Mutability,” Patricia Hampl’s The Art of the Wasted Day(along with our essential Mary Oliver and James Wright), Brian Doyle’s riffs on life from How the Light Gets In (you otter listen, and I’m not just badgering you), Doriann Laux’s “Life is Beautiful” (each getting us all misty about creatures that make us crawl and yelp—oh, wait—they crawl and yelp, and we, we shudder, we look for weaponized brooms: what happens when you love a gardener (if you learn you hate creatures what then becomes of you?). Well, poetry helps us figure it out, this age-old crisis of conscience, of being on two opposing sides at once, but only if we take time out, slow down—you know you move too fast– to live right. It’s true, perhaps, people could judge you, think you’re wasting your time right now, listening to poetry and its gab, but there’s a lot of evidence that what we call wasting our timeand being unproductive is actually supremely practical in getting done what needs to get done in this life—like being rapt, amazed, astonished, awed, grateful, humble, at all we can see and feel. Our show’s abiding spirit, William Carlos Williams, who felt that “so much depends upon a red wheel barrow” glistening in the rain next to which white chickens—yep, that’s it, but he said poetry is news that’s life and death—we die miserably without it—that’s pretty down to earth and practical as survival Rx. The drama and trauma of a garden is only part of it: we’re in this world and we’re not alone
© Barbara Mossberg
MOTHER’S DAY: confessions when a writer is a daughter!
Never mind the headlines, there’s plenty of drama in the kitchen . . . it’s a lot. A play in the making about a daughter raising her mother from the dead, an act of which her mother approves, although not the means, which is poetry and gets you nowhere . . . . Our show considers a poet’s writing about her mother and ultimately making her mother immortal in the process, and the role poetry can play in days of headline news (there may come a day in newspapers’ demise when that is going to be a quaint expression, only metaphor—) (let it not be so!), with framing poems by Dorianne Laux and Shakespeare, and music from “Hair” and Carol King and Judy Collins and “Que Sera Sera.” So I’m sharing with you my poems about my mother, as a tribute program to Mother’s Day, and some day, I will share my poems about being a mother, and what that has to do with poetry! Are you listening because you love mothers or because you love poetry? I will try to honor both kinds of listening! May the 4thand every day be with you. Yours sincerely, Professor Mossberg, aka Dr. B © Barbara Mossberg 2019
THE EYES HAVE IT: WHEN SO MUCH DEPENDS UPON A RED WHEELBARROW GLAZED WITH RAIN BESIDE THE WHITE CHICKENS. . . HMM . . . OBVIOUSLY SO MUCH DEPENDS UPON IT, BUT WHAT? WHAT IS POETRY’S NEWS ANYWAY? WHAT IS A WASTE OF TIME? WHO BROUGHT UP WASTE OF TIME? I
A consideration of what we consider slow news, and what’s at stake, for our own survival and for society at large. In which we take up the fate of earth and all life (including spiders—and you’ll be glad) (you truly will) in poems by Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Brian Doyle, Mary Oliver, James Wright, Theodore Roethke, Wendell Berry, Cynthia Wolloch, Elizabeth Bishop, Mark Doty, Robert Burns, Walt Whitman, Stanley Kunitz, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas Lux, Shakespeare, Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Leo Lionni, Maxfield Poizat-Newcomb, Caden O’Connell, and more. In such poems, so-called pests and weeds and other unloved creatures thrive by our own hand, thrive by our notice, thrive by our attention, thrive by our love, thrive by our gratitude: we’ll hear valentines to earth—love is still in the air! Yes, even Spiders and what not live, and we live! So what matters? So much. And thus we sort out the news we need, the news we heed, the news without which men die miserably every day( —thank you William Carlos Williams).
Let us go then, welcoming you to the Poetry Slow Down, you know you move too fast, we’re produced on the West Coast by Zappa Johns, I’m based here in Eugene, Oregon, Track Capital of the World, for poetic feet, podcast at barbaramossberg.com, and we’re taking time out from the headline news, late-breaking fast-breaking heart-breaking news, for the news you need, the news we heed, the news without which men die miserably every day. Well, what do I mean by this, exactly, as I invite you to slow down . . . these words are taken from a long poem by William Carlos Williams, who was featured in a feature film Paterson a few years ago, named for the epic poem he wrote about his home town. In “To Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” Williams says, my heart rouses . . . and he should know!
What’s in these poems, anyway? He claims it will save our life and make us happy. Then he writes a poem like “The Red Wheelbarrow.” What is he talking about? How can he say that? What depends? Let’s look at some poems that call on us to be happy and to save our life—not waste it . . .
© Barbara Mossberg 2019
THE USE OF POETRY: REVELATIONS AND OTHER LEARNING FROM MY STUDENTS—REVEALING THE I, U, US OF GENIUS
In which our show showcases poets’ love of teaching (their poems are proof of the pudding) and in which I learn from students’ questions to me about the role and use of poetry in our lives, and, in their own discoveries of what poetry means to them, I come to new consciousness about what it means to me: yes, it’s a pretty great life, this teaching poetry, this learning with students, this being taught by earnest learning. This is The Poetry Slow Down, with me, Professor Barbara Mossberg, your grateful host, and our Producer Zappa Johns, recording us from California’s Central Coast, while I’m in my studio up in Eugene, Oregon where I’m teaching eco literature and Emerson and Einstein as poets, at the University of Oregon. We’ll hear notes of Rumi, and poems by Mark Strand, Billy Collins, William Carlos Williams, Dorothea Lasky, Mary Oliver, e.e. cummings, Diane Wakowski, Howard Neverov, Lucilla Perillo, Elizabeth Alexander, Yvor Winters, W.D. Snodgrass, Kenneth Koch, D. H. Lawrence, Brian Doyle, and more. The questions that sent me on this journey were by a team of students interviewing me for Faculty Friday for the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon.
Here is what they asked—for a ten-minute interview:
we hear tell that you assign fairy tales in an Einstein genius course? What is up with that? What role does hope have to play in the creation of genius? “You do so many fun projects with your classes, which one is your favorite and why?” What is the importance of journaling and revolutionary imagination? What poem or poet do you live by? What role does poetry play in our lives?
In a way the first questions about fairy tales, genius, revolutionary imagination, journaling, set up the last two epic questions—what poem or poet do I live by, and what role poetry plays in our lives. I confess to you I had pause. Einstein said if you want to know about water don’t ask a fish—but why not? The fish swims, feeds, breeds, lives its whole life in this water—who else to ask? But the fish doesn’t know water! Take it OUT of water, and, gasping, flailing, in crisis, the fish knows water, waterness, waterhood, waterty—and fishity. We can take it for granted what poetry is in our lives, why poetry is, and having to try to explain—poet-splain—it in a few minutes brings to consciousness what we think. So I just went in there and hoped that the “water” would, in Emerson’s words, “sing itself”—that in the crisis of being outside of myself, and having to look in to see the poetry in my mind and heart, I would know, after all this time, what to say to such momentous questions. I will share this with you—the UP in what’s up with that?—poetry in our lives, of our lives, for our lives.
I want to start us off with a framework for these questions, a gift book of poems on my desk that I leaf through in my little slow down moments, Brian Doyle’s How the Light Gets In, and Other Headlong Epiphanies. And we’re off! Thank you for joining me on this journey. Please write to me at email@example.com, or Barbara.firstname.lastname@example.org.
c Barbara Mossberg 2019
CALLING ALL LOVERS: YOU NEED THE TREE—BUT THE TREE NEEDS YOU! THE POETRY OF THE EQUAL SIGN, AKA GENIUS, or what’s at stake in how we see and express our earth (clue: life and death–ours)
Hello, and happy new year, O friends, O ears, hear hear! You’re slowing down for the Poetry Slow Down—you know you move too fast! You know you are supposed to slow down for your health, and mind, and spirit, and poetry is an excellent way of doing that, because it’s . . . well, it’s beautiful, but it’s also strange, let’s be frank, and difficult, and despised even—this isn’t just me talking, it’s William Carlos Williams, who says, my heart rouses thinking to bring you news that concerns you and concerns many men. It is difficult to get the news from despised news yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there. –That’s what he said in To Asphodel, That Greeny Flower. That’s a lot. That’s life and death. Now you could say, well, Dr. B, of course he is saying that, he’s a poet. He is an interest in our reading poetry. But his day job is a doctor. It’s his business to save lives. He writes poems on prescription pads, at the end of his day saving lives, with blood on his hands. He should know whereof he speaks, when he speaks of life and death and what can save us.
So our show today, produced by our own Zappa-named for that Zappa –Johns, and hosted by me, your show’s creator, Professor Barbara Mossberg, the luckiest person, to be here with you—hear hear!—going on our 10thyear, this next week we’re coming on to our tenth anniversary of our show, produced every week, beginning with Talk Radio AM, and then internet radio, RadioMonterey, and now a podcast, produced on California’s Central Coast, and I’m broadcasting here in Eugene, Oregon, and you, listeners, are around the world, and it’s an honor and joy to be with you. Today, we’re talking about how we are needed in this world, our great brains, to behold what we see—and love it. Yes—to think of ourselves as lovers of this world, as our purpose! To think of our brains as evolved by earth to love it—Michael Pollen has written about how plants in fact evolve us, and the idea of akrogenesis, psychic plant manipulation of us—an intelligent universe creating in us something it desperately needs—a mirror, eyes, spirit of wonder and awe and amazement, because if we have this way of seeing earth, cherishing it, it is preserved. So it’s very practical, it’s very hard-nosed, this need of trees to be loved by us . . . and who are the PR agents of our earth? Poets come running to the rescue like Rumi’s 12thcentury description of hope for distracted people with life’s traumas (he himself was running from Genghis Khan for 2000 miles from Afghanistan to Turkey):
Be helpless, dumbfounded,
Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace
To gather us up.
We are too dull-eyed to see that beauty
If we say we can, we’re lying.
If we say No, we don’t see it,
That No will behead us
And shut tight our window onto spirit.
So let us rather not be sure of anything,
Besides ourselves, and only that, so
Miraculous beings come running to help.
Crazed, lying in a zero circle, mute,
We shall be saying finally,
With tremendous eloquence, Lead us.
When we have totally surrendered to that beauty,
We shall be a mighty kindness..
I’m thinking of this as news is coming in over my news feed about trees—the Archangel project, and cities planting trees, and the fate of our National Parks, right now, and I’m thinking that we can start our year right with poetry that turns our gaze on what is amazing, on awe, on what is shining, on what fills us with rapture. It could be anything, but it seems to me that we have evolved to be able to appreciate beauty, to love, to develop relationships and kinship with species, and that this may not be a coincidence, that we have humans going around overcome with our world and trying to capture it in words—yes, in words that require us to . . .slow down. So let’s begin wit