This program explores the vitality and diversity of contemporary poetry through intimate interviews and performance readings at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival—North America’s largest. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, Amiri Baraka, Stanley Kunitz, Coleman Barks, Lucille Clifton, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Paul Muldoon, Marge Piercy, Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Deborah Garrison, and other leading poets share the rhythm, spirit, and passion of their art through dazzling performances before an audience of thousands.
time is clocking us
from the edge like an only
our mothers stream before us,
cradling their breasts in their
oh pray that what we want
is worth this running,
pray that what we're running
is what we want.
(Galway Kinnell in main tent)
GALWAY KINNELL: "After Making Love We Hear Footsteps." Well maybe I don't have to read that one.
(Amiri Baraka in the small tent)
AMIRI BARAKA: This is called, "Monday in B Flat."
I can pray all day and God
but if I call 911, the devil be here in a minute.
(Deborah Garrison in Main Tent)
I'm never going to sleep with Martin Amis or anyone famous.
(Coleman Barks in Main Tent)
COLEMAN BARKS: There was a time when a man said poems and friendship grew visible.
(Montage of festival scenes)
COLEMAN BARKS: We have fallen into the place where everything is music. That's what this place feels like, we feel this vast interconnectedness. It's amazing that this many people can be really genuinely excited about fooling with words.
FOOLING WITH WORDS
(Montage of festival scenes)
BILL MOYERS (VO): It's the largest poetry festival in North America. Twelve thousand people mixing and mingling with scores of poets. Everywhere you turn there are words, music, movement. For four days during the Geraldine R Dodge Poetry Festival the restored 19th-century village of Waterloo, New Jersey, beats to the pounding heart of poetry.
KURTIS LAMKIN: That's the beautiful thing about being here. It's like- they call it a festival. It's like a carnival, you know, and you're the ride. You know- can be a roller-coaster if you want or whatever.
(Lamkin in the Main Tent)
KURTIS LAMKIN: "jump mama"
pretty summer day
grammama sittin on her porch
rockin a grandbaby in her wide lap
ol men sitting in their lincoln
tastin and talkin and talkin and tastin
young boys on the corner
milkin a yak yak wild hands baggy pants
young girls halfway up the block playin
jumpin that double dutch
singin their song
kenny kana paula
be on time
cause school begins
at a quarter to nine
jump one two three and aaaaaaaaah ...
round the corner comes
this young woman
dragging herself heavy home from work
she sees the young boys
sees the old men
but when she see the girls she just starts smilin
she says let me get a little bit of that
they said you can't jump
you too old
why they say that
o, why they say that
she said tanya you hold my work bag
chaniqua come over here girl i want you to hold my handbag
josie hold my grocery bags
kebe take my purse
then she starts bobbin her head, jackin her arms
tryin to catch the rhythm of the ropes
and then she jumps inside those turning loop
s the girls crowd her sing their song
kenny kana paula
be on time
cause school begins
at a quarter to nine
jump one two three and
she jumping around on one leg, they said aaaaaah.
she dances sassy saucy, say aaaaaah
jump for the girls mama
jump for the stars mam
jump for the young boys sayin
jump mama! jump mama!
jump for the old men saying jump mama!
jump for the old woman sayin -- aww, go head baby
and what the young girls say
what the young girls say
jump mama, jump mama, jump mama, jump mama.
STANLEY KUNITZ: The poem is on its way in search of people, towards complete fulfillment – it has to have an audience, it has to be in touch with other human beings.
(Hirshfield in the Main Tent)
She is working now, in a room
not unlike this one,
the one where I write, or you read.
Her table is covered with paper.
The light of the lamp would be
tempered by a shade, where the bulb's
single harshness might dissolve,
but it is not; she has taken it off.
Her poems? I will never know them,
though they are the ones I most need.
Even the alphabet she writes in
I cannot decipher. Her chair--
let us imagine whether it is leather
or canvas, vinyl or wicker. Let her
have a chair, her shadeless lamp,
the table. Let one or two she loves
be in the next room. Let the door
be closed, the sleeping ones healthy.
Let her have time, and silence,
enough paper to make mistakes and go on.
BILL MOYERS: Do you remember when you first started writing poetry, what you were doing?
JANE HIRSHFIELD: I took to writing as soon as I was taught to write. I wrote all through my childhood. I wrote for school. I wrote secretly in the middle of the night and hid it under my mattress. It was the field in which I developed the self that I became. I've always done it. And so I have no recollection of how it started.
BILL MOYERS: You're not the first poet to tell me that he or she started writing very early and wrote secretly and hid the poems away, put them up in the closet or under the mattress.
JANE HIRSHFIELD: That's right.
BILL MOYERS: Why do you suppose that is?
JANE HIRSHFIELD: Because it is such a private exploration, because it is so intimate. We write in order to find out who and what we are. And how can you do that if you feel exposed? How can you do that if you feel like you're performing? So it then becomes very strange that this activity, which begins in solitude and privacy and that- is still essential to me as a writer. I can't write in public. I need undisturbed private time in order to sit down to make the poems. And yet, I end up here saying them in public in front of all these people.
(Hirshfield in Main Tent)
One day in that room, a small rat. Two days later, a
snake. Who seeing me enter, whipped the long stripe of his body under
the bed, then curled like a docile house pet. I don't know how either it
came or left.
Later, the flashlight found nothing. For a year I've watched as
something, terror, grief entered and then left my body, not knowing
how it came in, not knowing how it went out. It hung where words
could not reach it. It slept where light could not go.
Its scent was neither snake nor rat, neither sensualist nor ascetic.
There are openings in our lives of which we know nothing. Through
them, the belled herds travel at will, long legged and thirsty -- covered
with foreign dust.
JANE HIRSHFIELD: Poetry is utterly metaphor. The speaking of everything through each other. All things speak together in metaphor. So that when a person writes a poem in which they even mention a fence, the mind of the writer and the mind of the reader actually inhabit fence life for an instant when that word comes in the poem. And so we get a much broader existence, because we get to exist with the stones and the weather and the houses, and the ideas as well, the abstract language too -- that poetry moves the mind and heart through so many different realms.
(Doty in the Main Tent)
MARK DOTY: A few years ago, our local choral society decided to mount a performance of Handel's "Messiah." This was very ambitious, and a number of us felt some trepidation about the possible results. The day of the performance I arrived about- just about sunset at the church where the concert was taking place, and there was the most extraordinarily beautiful sunset overhead. And it seemed ironic to leave the perfectly accomplished sunset behind and enter the chapel for a doubtful human achievement. There's a word in the poem which might not be familiar, the word is "melisma," and a melisma is when you're singing, and you hold a syllable over many notes as in "Glo-o oria" Right, that "o" bit is a melisma.
This is called "Messiah,
A little heat caught
in gleaming rags,
in shrouds a veil,
torn and sun-shot swaddlings:
over the Methodist roof
two clouds propose a Zion
of their own, blazing
(colors of tarnish on copper)
against the steely close
of a coastal afternoon, December,
while under the steeple
the Choral Society
prepares to perform
Messiah, pouring, in their best
blacks and whites, onto the raked stage.
Not steep, really,
but from here,
the first pew, they're a looming
cloud bank of familiar angels:
that neighbor who
with her girlfriend, for one,
and the friendly bearded clerk
from the post office
in the body of a baritone? Altos
from the A& P, soprano
from the T-shirt shop:
today they're all poise,
costume and purpose
conveying the right note
of distance and formality.
Silence in the hall,
anticipatory, as if we're all
about to open a gift we're not sure
how could they
compete with sunset's burnished
oratorio? Thoughts which vanish,
when the violins begin.
Who'd have thought
they'd be so good. Every valley,
proclaims the solo tenor,
(a sleek blonde)
I've seen somewhere before
– the liquor store?) shall be exalted,
and in his handsome mouth the word
is lifted and opened
into more syllables
than we could count, central ah
dilated in a baroque melisma,
liquefied, the pour
of voice seems
to make the unplaned landscape
the text predicts the Lord
will heighten and tame.
demonstrates what it claims:
glory shall be revealed. If art's
mustn't what lies
behind the world be at least
as beautiful as the human voice?
The tenors lack confidence,
and the soloists,
half of them anyway, don't
have the strength to found
the mighty kingdoms
these passages propose.
– but the chorus, all together,
equals my burning clouds
and seems itself to burn,
deeded to a larger centering claim.
These aren't anyone we know;
familiarity in an up-
pouring rush which will not
rest, will not, for a moment,
Aren't we enlarged
by the scale of what we're able
to desire? Everything,
the choir insists,
inside these wrappings
bums another, brighter life,
by song: hear how
it cascades, in overlapping,
lapidary waves of praise? Still time.
Still time to change.
(Church exterior. Lucille Clifton in church.)
LUCILLE CLIFTON: I'd like to read some poem sequences. We are in church, and so they are mostly in the Judeo-Christian tradition. I grew up in the Baptist church, Southern Baptist, and my grandmother was sanctified. It has something to do with- when your grandmother is getting happy and dancing around the aisle and speaking in tongues; it's very embarrassing when you're 12. And so, I spent a lot of my younger years poking her – poking my mother and saying, "Don't you shout!" Because my brother and I had to live in that town, and we didn't really think that was a good idea.
"Adam Thinking." He blamed the woman. They often do.
stolen from my bone
is it any wonder
i hunger to tunnel back
to reconnect the rib and clay
and to be whole again
some need is in me
struggling to roar through my
mouth into a name
this creation is so fierce
i would rather have been born
"it is wild country here
brothers and sisters coupling
claw and wing
groping one another
while the clay two-foot
rumbles in his chest
searching for language to
but he is slow
tonight as he sleeps
i will whisper into his mouth
Thank you very much.
MARK DOTY: People sometimes claim, you know, I write for myself, and there's a level upon which that's true. But if you really wrote for yourself, you'd just write in a notebook and put it away. There's no reason in the world to make sure that that language is beautiful and compelling, memorable, moving, if it's only for you. The act of making a poem implies that somebody is listening. So we're reaching towards, imaginatively, another consciousness, another listener.
(Doty in the Main Tent)
MARK DOTY: I want to read you two poems, which emerge from the illness and death of my partner of a dozen years whose name was Wally Roberts. And he died in January of 1994.
Jimi and Tony
can't keep Dino,
their cocker spaniel;
Tony's too sick,
the daily walks
one more obligation
that can't be met.
And though we already
have a dog, Wally
wants to adopt,
wants something small
and golden to sleep
next to him and
lick his face.
He's paralyzed now
from the waist down,
whatever's ruining him
moving upward, and
we don't know
how much longer
he'll be able to pet
a dog. How many men
want another attachment,
just as they're
leaving the world?
Wally sits up nights
and says, I'd like
some lizards, a talking bird,
some fish. A little rat.
So after I drive
to Jimi and Tony's
in the Village and they
meet me at the door and say,
We can't go through with it,
we can't give up our dog,
I drive to the shelter
– just to look – and there
is Beau: bounding and
one brass concatenation
of tongue and tail,
too big, wild,
perfect. He not only
licks Wally's face,
but bathes every
of his head, and though
Wally can no longer
feed himself he can lift
his hand, and bring it
to rest on the rough gilt
flanks when they are,
for a moment, still.
I have never seen a touch
It isn't about grasping;
the hand itself seems
almost blurred now,
because so much will
must be summoned,
such attention brought
to the work – which is all
he is now, this gesture
toward the restless splendor,
the unruly, the golden,
the animal, the new.
BILL MOYERS: How do you take something so deeply felt, so inaudible as grief, and work it, find the language that conveys it, that transmits it and communicates it?
MARK DOTY: This is the place where the poet's craft are love of the sheer physical pleasures of language -- its sonics, its textures, its rhythms -- is an enormous ally. Because I might write a poem which begins in raw and inchoate feeling. Most of my poems do begin that way. They come tumbling out of me. And then, that's not a poem. That's a cry. That's an utterance that is unshaped, and it feels completely for me.
BILL MOYERS: You put it down-
MARK DOTY: I put it down on paper-
BILL MOYERS: -you let the words flow, cascade?
MARK DOTY: -I let them flow, I let them come out wherever they will. When I come back to those words, it's easy to see that they're not capable of giving my feelings, a version of my experience, to someone else. It's that act of standing back from them and beginning to shape the language that makes the poem start to be available to another person.
(Doty in the Main Tent)
MARK DOTY: This is a poem which came about when I had been invited to contribute a poem to an anthology called, "Unleashed," and the rubric, the rule of this book, was that all the poems had to be in the voice of the writer's dog. And I thought, "No, no, that, that's just – it's not a poem I would ever write." And about a week later Beau and I were out for a walk in the woods, and I started to feel like I was, like, picking up these signals, you know? It was a kind of subtle, atmospheric transmission taking place. And he wrote a sonnet, you know? What—what can I say? He's very fond of puns, as you will hear. And his poem is called, :Golden Retrievals."
"Fetch? Balls and sticks capture my attention
seconds at a time. Catch? I don't think so.
Bunny, tumbling leaf, a squirrel who's – oh
Joy – actually scared. Sniff the wind, then
I'm off again: muck, pond, ditch, residue
of any thrillingly dead thing. And you?
Either you're sunk in the past, half our walk,
thinking of what you never can bring back,
or else you're off in some fog concerning
– tomorrow, is that what you all it? My work:
to unsnare time's warp (and woof!), retrieving,
my haze-headed friend, you. This shining bark,
a Zen master's bronzy gong calls you here,
entirely, now: bow-wow, bow-wow, bow-wow."
(Doty and Clifton in small tent)
MARK DOTY: Do you feel that being called a black poet or a black woman poet is- does that put you off in a subset in a way that you resent? Are there also good things about that?
LUCILLE CLIFTON: Well, the thing about it is that that's somebody else calling me it. Someone said what they call you is one thing; what you answer to is something else. I know people often say I'm a poet who happens to be black. I didn't happen to be black. My mother's black. My father's black. That's no accident.
(Clifton, Main Tent)
won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
ROBERT PINSKY: Poetry is the art of one human voice. And without denigrating art on a mass scale— I love my TV, love my computer and my VCR -- there's a craving and a satisfaction available in an art that in its nature is on an individual scale.
BILL MOYERS: How did you find your voice as a poet?
ROBERT PINSKY: I studied – like a musician listening to older musicians. I never felt I was going to be invaded by Yeats or Allan Ginsberg or Emily Dickinson. I felt that if I could, with my physical voice, say "Further in the summer than the birds, pathetic in the grass, a minor nation celebrates in some obtrusive mass"-- if I could say that in my New Jersey baritone and have it sound good to me, she wasn't invading me, she's showing me how I could find that my little noise that I make with my breath can be beautiful or elegant. Cause it's saying her words. And that's a step toward being able to say my own words.
BILL MOYERS: If it is physical, if it is sound, what am I to do as the listener?
ROBERT PINSKY: Just three words: Read. Iit. Aloud. Read it aloud, and don't worry about interpreting it or emulating Gielgud or- Just read it aloud to relish the consonants and vowels and the way the verbs and adjectives and nouns are set up.
(Pinsky, small tent)
Not a "window on the world"
But as we call you,
A box a tube
Terrarium of dreams and wonders.
Coffer of shades, ordained
Cotillion of phosphors
Or liquid crystal
Homey miracle, tub
Of acquiescence, vein of defiance.
Your patron in the pantheon would be Hermes
Quick one, little thief, escort
Of the dying and comfort of the sick,
In a blue glow my father and little sister sat
Snuggled in one chair watching you
Their wife and mother was sick in the head
I scorned you and them as I scorned so much
Now I like you best in a hotel room,
Before I have to face an audience: behind
The doors of the armoire, box
Inside a box – Tom & Jerry, or also brilliant
And reassuring, Oprah Winfrey.
Thank you, for I watched, I watched
Sid Caesar speaking French and Japanese not
Through knowledge but imagination,
His quickness, and Thank You, I watched live
Jackie Robinson stealing
Home, the image – O strung shell – enduring
Fleeter than light like these words we
Remember in, they too winged
At the helmet and ankles.
ROBERT PINSKY: The challenge for the artist is to find something that isn't already part of culture, poetic. I believe that before Beaudelaire made the city poetic, and Dickens made the city poetic, it wasn't as poetic -- the smoke, the dust, the scene of the winding streets. That's a process of human imagination taking in its surroundings and discovering how to make art that is related to those surroundings. If there's something in your experience that you think about a lot, that is present in your little world a lot, and it moves you – or has power for you – and you think, "Well, but it's not poetic" – that's your job, that's your challenge.
(Pinsky with students)
STUDENT: I wanted to ask you about the difficulty of the poems that you write. You know, a lot of people find them very very difficult to comprehend and understand. And I wanted to ask, do you intend for a specific audience? And how has your audience changed since you have become, you know, the Poet Laureate.
ROBERT PINSKY: The question is a very cruel question about the tremendous difficulty of some of my poems. I think the emphasis on comprehension and analysis should be tempered by a realization of what's primary in the art of poetry. What's primary in the art of poetry is the physical encounter with the poem. You must write.
(Montage of festival scenes)
BILL MOYERS (VO): The festival is a chance for students, teachers and the public to meet and hear the poets, to inquire about inspiration, techniques, the discipline of craft that produces the play of sound and spirit. There is time to reflect, to nurture the poet that hides in each of us.
In my Odyssey of dead end jobs,
cursed by whatever gods
do not console,
I end up
at a place that makes
fake Christmas trees:
some pink, some blue,
one that revolves ever so slowly
to the strains of 'Silent Night.'
Sometimes, out of sheer despair,
I rev up its Rpms
and send it spinning
wildly through space --
disguised as a Balsam fir.
JIM HABA: We are all poets ourselves. Almost everybody has at some time been afflicted with language which feels absolutely genuine, and most of us have scribbled it down. Sometimes we've actually put down something that we think might be a poem, and then often we've hidden it away out of fear or shame or the possibility that it might really be divine. And then what would we do?
"Bronx homies are craz-iest. It's true. Lined up with the fences lookin' down through the traffic crossing town, out past Bruckner to 95 North, from the house that Ruth built, baby, to the Yankee world of white clapboard and black shutters, and they do shut tight on the sights and the sounds from West farms and Hunts Point. Let me tell you, that they do shut tight on the sights and sound from West farms, the Bronx River Projects. The George Washington Bridge to America is all tied up. It's corrupt. And the toll is too high for too many. So they stay with El Bronx, El Bronx tattooed onto their arms. They stay with El Bronx tattooed onto their arms. And the shadow-canyoned
Cross-Bronx cleaves, leaves lungs scarred by exhaust and itchy, burning eyes that water for freedom. But, this is no land of the free. This is the Bronx. And the homies and hiberos be lined up at the fences looking down thinking, 'To what worlds are they bound?' To what worlds are they bound. Mmmm.
AMIRI BARAKA: The poets out of the Black Arts movement in the '60s, this is where rap comes from. Rap comes from- we are the old men of the rap age. When we started bringing the music and the poetry and stuff together, it was considered, "Wow," we say, "We want poetry that you can take out of these classrooms, that you can read in bars and taverns, that you can read in playgrounds, that you can read on the street." That's what we did in the '60s. That's what I used to tell my students. "You think your stuff is good? See those guys digging a hole in the street there? When they get a minute off to eat a sandwich, go read them a poem. See if you get hit in the head. If you don't get hit in the head, you've got a future."
(Baraka in the Main Tent)
Africa. Go back black see yourself, world, world, world, world, go back
black. Mighty ancient Africa. Africa go back black see yourself, know
yourself, touch yourself, be yourself, world, world. Mighty ancient
Africa. Creator of the human being. Of speech. Of music. Of the city
Go back black see yourself touch yourself, know yourself mighty
ancient beautiful Africa. But when you put your hand on your sister.
Made her a slave. When you put your hand on your brother, made
him a slave. Watch out Africa.
Watch out Africa. The ghosts are going to get you. When you put
your hand on your sister, made her a slave. When you put your hand
on your brother made him a slave. Watch out Africa.
The ghosts are going to get you. Watch out for the ghosts. aaaahhh.
How did I get here? On my back in the dark, with the wind and water
blowing through my ears. How did I get here? On my back in the
dark, with the wind and water blowing through my ears. Shango,
obatala, eesa, save me, allah, save me, save me, save me, save me.
How did I get here? On my back in the dark with the wind and water
blowing through my ears. My brother the king. My brother the king,
My brother the king sold me to the ghosts.
My brother the king sold me to the ghosts. You know my brother the
king? He worked for Budweiser, now my brother the king sold me to
AMIRI BARAKA: I believe that you have to be true to people, you know what I mean? You have to be writing something that people understand, but at the same time, that's profound enough to have some kind of meaning past, say, the six o'clock news, you know? Uh, hmmm. I think that was Williams that said that, you know, the news ain't in the poems, but there's people dying everyday for lack of what is found in poems. You know, so that's what I think. Poetry is as necessary as breath.
(Baraka in the Main Tent)
Ghosts! The nigger computers are bluely reporting. Ghosts ahead!
Ghosts ahead! The chains and dark, dark, and dark. If there was light
it meant ghosts. Rotting family we. Ghosts ate three of people
flattened and chained and bathed and degraded in their own hysterical
waste below. Beneath. Underneath. Deep down. Up under. Watch
out for the ghost. Watch out for the ghost.
Grave. Cave. Pit. Lower and deeper. Watch out for the ghost.
Weeping. Miles below sky scraper gutters. Watch out for the ghost.
Blue blood hole into its blueness is the terror. Massacre. Torture.
And original western holocaust. Blue blood hole into which blueness
is the terror. Massacre. Torture. An original western holocaust.
Slavery. We were slaves.
Slaves! We were slaves! Slave. We were slaves. Slave. We were s-
were slaves. We were slaves. Sl- we were slaves! We were slaves.
We were slaves. We were slaves. We were slaves. We were slaves.
Slaving. Slaving. Slaving through our lives.
Beneath the violent philosophy of primitive cannibals. Primitive.
Violent. Steam driven. Cannibals. It's my brother. My sister. At the
bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. There's a railroad made of human bones.
Black Ivory Black Ivory
[HUMS] Think of slavery as educational.
MARGE PIERCY: All readings, where you give readings, is the way that poetry being a performance art- it's the way you get the feedback. And the bigger the audience is the more feedback you get. And the more other poets are there, the more cross fertilization there is. You take a time in which poetry is alive and touching people and exciting people and you bring people to hear it, it's a marvelous occurrence. It's marvelous for the people, it's marvelous for poetry and it's marvelous for the poet.
(Piercy, reciting in the church)
"The chuppah." A chuppah is a canopy. It's the wedding canopy in
a Jewish wedding under which the bride and groom or two
brides or two grooms, as the case may be, stand.
"The chuppah stands on its four poles.
The home has its four corners.
The chuppah stands on four poles.
The marriage stands on four legs.
Four points lose the winds
that blow on the walls of the house,
the south wind that brings the warm rain,
the east wind that brings the cold rain,
the north wind that brings the cold sun
and the snow, the long west wind
bringing the weather off the far plains.
We have made a home together
open to the weather of our time.
We are mills that turn in the winds of struggle
converting fierce energy into bread.
The canopy is the cloth of our table
where we share fruit and vegetables
of our labor, where our care for the earth
comes back, and we take its body in ours.
The canopy is the cover of our bed
where our bodies open their portals wide,
where we eat and drink the blood
of our love, where the skin shines red
as a swallowed sunrise and we burn
in one furnace of joy molten as steel
and the dream is flesh and flower.
O my love O my love we dance
under the chuppah standing over us
like an animal on its four legs,
like a table on which we set our love
as a feast, like a tent
under which we work
not safe but no longer solitary
in the searing heat of our time.
JIM HABA: Stanley Kunitz is a poet who has lived through most of the 20th century, and he has won many of the prizes and distinctions that our nation is able to give to a poet. He recently became the first poet in the history of the English language to publish a new book of poems at the age of 90.
(Kunitz in the Main Tent)
This is a poem that celebrates, among other things, my garden on Cape Cod. It's called "The Round."
Light splashed this morning
on the shell-pink anemones
swaying on their tall stems;
down blue-spiked veronica
light flowed in rivulets
over the humps of the honeybees;
this morning I saw light kiss
the silk of the roses
in their second flowering,
my late bloomers
flushed with their brandy.
A curious gladness shook me.
So I have shut the doors of my house,
so I have trudged downstairs to my cell,
so I am sitting in semi-dark
hunched over my desk
with nothing for a view
to tempt me
but a bloated compost heap,
steamy old stinkpile,
under my window;
and I pick my notebook up
and I start to read aloud
the still-wet words I scribbled
on the blotted page:
"Light splashed ..."
I can scarcely wait till tomorrow
when a new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day.
STANLEY KUNITZ: The remarkable thing that I feel is that despite the aging of the body -- despite those aches and pains and all the rest of what happens to one at this stage of a life – the spirit remains young. It's the same spirit I remember living with during my childhood.
(Kunitz in the Main Tent)
STANLEY KUNITZ: Halley's Comet visited Wooster, Massachusetts, in 19 hundred and 10 when I was 5 years old, but I'll never forget it. It's called "Halley's Comet."
Miss Murphy in first grade
wrote its name in chalk
across the board and told us
it was roaring down the stormtracks
of the Milky Way at frightful speed
and if it wandered off its course
and smashed into the earth
there'd be no school tomorrow.
A red-bearded preacher from the hills
with a wild look in his eyes
stood in the public square
at the playground's edge
proclaiming he was sent by God
to save every one of us,
even the little children.
"Repent, ye sinners," he shouted,
waving his hand-lettered sign.
At supper I felt sad to think
that it was probably
the last meal I'd share
with my mother and my sisters;
but I felt excited too
and scarcely touched my plate.
So mother scolded me
and sent me early to my room.
The whole family is asleep
except for me. They never heard me steal
into the stairwell hall and climb
the ladder to the fresh night air.
Look for me, Father, on the roof
of the red brick building
at the foot of Green Street--
that's where we live, you know, on the top floor.
I'm the boy in the white flannel gown
sprawled on this coarse gravel bed
searching the starry sky,
waiting for the world to end.
STANLEY KUNITZ (with MOYERS):
Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that's late,
it is my song that's flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
and it's done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.
(Lamkin in the Main Tent)
KURTIS LAMKIN: So they call my daughter and her girlfriend the "crazy beach girls,"
because when they come down to the beach, anything is
"Little girl goes out in the water and says daddy, I'm a mermaid.
Okay, you're a mermaid. And she starts to say I'm going home. Okay,
you're going home. The next thing you know, she's actually going off
into the horizon. She's swimming away.
So these crazy beach girls, they leave orders for the sea. Full moon
comes up, you see this path of silver light on the water? It's not your
regular water. It's swollen. It has mink skin, skin on top of skin
without waves. And the movement of the water, it's like it's dancing.
All the sea is getting fresh with you, stepping up, stepping up,
stepping up. And you stepping back and she ease on back- and you
step up. And she say, how come you're not moving? Shake
something. Go ahead, shake something.
You say okay, shake your head, everybody shake your head like this.
Ah ha ha- I'm not gonna behave so you might as well get into it too.
But shake your shoulder. Everybody shake your shoulder like that.
Shake your arms, can you shake your arms without knocking anybody
All right. Now I want you to put your hands high up on your head
and wiggle them until they a blur. Don't it feel good? Now you're
doing it with the ocean. The ocean is dancing with you just like that.
And you moving your legs, you tum around with your legs.
Okay, you put it down, that's pretty, ooh, that's so pretty. Okay but
the oceans- that's what the ocean told me. Ocean say, ooh, that's so
pretty what you do with yourself when you shake. But sure ocean say
you ain't really shook until you shake one more thing.
Somebody out there under the full moon, water rolling up on me,
people up on the pier looking out. I got my kora in my hand playing
for the ocean. Ocean say shake your heinie, go ahead, shake your
heinie. All right, so on 3, don't break nothing now.
1, 2, 3, everybody shake your heinie, shaky. Oh you ain't git it, I ain't
seen nothing roll off the feet yet. So what happen to me is, I swear I
felt so good, I was shaking my heinie like that man. I felt so good that I
swore that when I got to be a old old man, oldest man in my
neighborhood I invite the mortuary, the actuary- come into my
sanctuary. Everybody come on down. I'm like almost 100 years old.
And Miss Sally over there looking at it, says what the hell's the man
gonna do. But I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna shake my heinie. Shake,
shake, shake, shake it, shake shake. Uh uh. So this is for you. Any
time you in trouble, go into the bathroom, go into a phone booth and
you all know what to do"
MARGE PIERCY: Poetry is very diverse. Different poets speak to different people. Different poets strike different chords. We all belong to a great endeavor and the more good poets there are, the more people will read poetry.
(Piercy in the Main Tent)
"What Are Big Girls Made Of"
The construction of a woman:
a woman is not made of flesh
of bone and sinew
belly and breasts, elbows and liver and toe.
She is manufactured like a sports sedan.
She is retooled, refitted and redesigned
Look at pictures in French fashion
magazines of the 18th century:
century of the ultimate lady
fantasy wrought of silk and corseting.
Paniers bring her hips out three feet
each way, while the waist is pinched under wood
and the belly flattened.
The breasts are stuffed up and out
offered like apples in a bowl.
The tiny foot is encased in a slipper
never meant for walking.
On top is a grandiose headache:
hair like a museum piece, daily
ornamented with ribbons, vases,
grottoes, mountains, frigates in full
sail, balloons, baboons, the fancy
of a hairdresser turned loose.
The hats were rococo wedding cakes
that would dim the Las Vegas strip.
Here is a woman forced into shape
rigid exoskeleton torturing flesh:
a woman made of pain.
MARGE PIERCY: When I first found poetry that spoke to me, a street kid from Detroit, from a poor family, it was validation that what I felt wasn't crazy. Wasn't bizarre. That I wasn't totally nutty. There were other people who felt the way I felt. There was validation for who I was. There was -- and I think that has to go on all of the time. The society tells you, for instance, if you're female if you're not 22, blonde and weigh about 92 pounds, you've had it. First of all, even if you are blonde, 22 and weigh 92 pounds, you're still gonna fail because you're gonna get older. And women aren't allowed to get older.
(Piercy in the Main Tent)
"... see the modern woman
thin as a blade of scissors.
She runs on a treadmill every morning,
fits herself into machines of weights
and pulleys to heave and grunt,
an image in her mind she can never
approximate, a body of rosy
glass that never wrinkles,
never grows, never fades. She
sits at the table closing her eyes to food
hungry, always hungry:
a woman made of pain.
If only we could like each other raw.
If only we could love ourselves
like healthy babies burbling in our arms.
If we were not programmed and reprogrammed
to need what is sold us.
Why should we want to live inside ads?
Why should we want to scourge our softness
to straight lines like a Mondrian painting?
Why should we punish each other with scorn
as if to have a large ass
were worse than being greedy or mean?
When will women not be compelled
to view their bodies as science projects,
gardens to be weeded,
dogs to be trained?
When will the woman cease
to be made of pain?
BILL MOYERS: You've credited your mother with making you a poet.
MARGE PIERCY: She made me very observant. For her it was absolutely important that you notice things. That you pay attention to things. That you not walk around, as she said, with your head in the clouds. Can't walk around with your head in the clouds. You have to pay attention. And she taught me to do that as a child.
BILL MOYERS: What kind of woman was she?
MARGE PIERCY: My mother was a woman who was not allowed to finish the 10th grade. She was sent to work. My mother had no skills. My mother could not leave a bad marriage. My mother could not support herself. She'd never done anything but be a chamber maid. She was strong in some ways and completely helpless in others. It was observing that contradiction that taught me a whole lot about women's lives.
(Piercy in the Main Tent)
A strong woman is a woman who craves love
like oxygen or she turns blue choking.
A strong woman is a woman who loves
strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly
terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong
in words, in action, in connection, in feeling;
She is not strong as a stone but like a wolf
suckling her young. Strength is not in her, but she
enacts it as the wind fills a sail.
What comforts her is others loving
her equally for the strength and for the weakness
from which it issues, lightning from a cloud.
Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.
Only water of connection remains,
flowing through us. Strong is what we make
each other. Until we are all strong together,
a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid."