BILL MOYERS: THE POWER OF THE WORD Air Date: September 15, 1989

Show #1 The Simple Acts of Life

BILL MOYERS: I'm Bill Moyers. When I tell you this series is about poetry, some of you are going to reach for the dial. Once upon a time, so would I. Poetry was something one could get through a whole life without. But then, I discovered that love is like a red, red rose, that our minds are haunted by the road not taken, and that it is wisdom to follow the heart. Poets told me about such things. They told me what they felt about falling in love, facing death, leaving home, losing faith, finding God, or seeing Magic Johnson ballet with a basketball. I'd have to admit to myself, "That's how I feel, too." I came to see that poets live the lives all of us live, with one big difference: they have the power of the word -- to create a world of thought and emotion that you and I can share. If only we learn to listen. Listening's the thing. The meaning of the poem is not in the words on the page but in our sharing of the experience of the poem itself.

Poetry, I learned from my friend Maya Angelou, is music written for the human voice. When we hear it, we say: "I know that, and didn't even know I knew it.." So the listener, as we shall see in this series, becomes a poet, too. We share the music of the words, because the music is life. You will meet in these programs new poets and old -- poets who perform in schools and in the boardroom, in prison and in church' poets who tell us about their everything is commonplace and everything is extraordinary. Listen, said the storytellers of old, listen and you shall hear.

WILLIAM STAFFORD: A poem is anything said in such a way, or put on the page in such a way, as to invite from the hearer or the reader a certain kind of attention.

SHARON OLDS: Poets are like steam valves, where feeling can escape and be shown.

GALWAY KINNELL: Poetry is a unique art. It's the only art in which one person says directly, without intermediaries of other characters, in words what is going on inside.

ROBERT BLY: Suppose you only knew 15 words. You could still make great poems out of that, if you really felt those words.

OCTAVIO PAZ: I think the mission of poetry is to establish the possibility of mankind to wonder, admiration, enthusiasm, the sense of mystery, the sense of the life as marvelous. When you say life is marvelous, you are saying a banality. But to make life a marvel, that is the role of poetry.

BILL MOYERS: {voice-over} Every two years the Geraldine R. Dodge poetry festival celebrates the wonder of language. Young people in particular are welcomed into the power of the word, poetry as an experience of life. It happens here in Waterloo, New Jersey. Several thousand people, including 2,000 high school students, gather for the music of the Paul Winter Consort and the creativity of some of America's leading poets. Robert Bly is a poet and translator. A winner of the National Book Award, he lives in Moose Lake, Minnesota.

BLY: {Sitting on stage playing a mandolin} So poetry is a matter of listening, I suppose. How many of you can hear this note? Can you hear that one? It's got some kind of sadness and grief in it. And where the poem is meant to go is into the heart and the chest. And after poetry was put down on the page, it tends to enter the brain. It's as if the eyes report to the brain, while the ears report here.

So when you're listening, try not to hear it with your brain. In other words, don't worry about what it means. You can worry about that later when you're about 45 years old. What is asked now is that you try to hear it with the ear you have in your chest, there's also an ear in your stomach, there's said to be an ear in the genitals, a very large ear. You can listen with that one if you wish.

Lord help me, Because my boat is so small And your sea is so immense.

That's a little poem. Can you feel it? That's the way you feel if you're 22 years old and you decide to write poetry. So poetry is for people who decide to go out into that sea. Generally the poets that I know, when they're 45 and 50, are much happier than any of the other people I know, because by that time they've swum away from so many overturned boats and lived. Usually in the oral tradition all poems are done twice at least, because the first time they go down to your neck, and the second time they get down below. So you know roughly where the poem is going now? Yes?

Lord help me, Because my boat is so small And your sea is so immense.

That has a little weight. Can you feel the weight in the poem? Musicians are very lucky in a way, because they can go directly into the heart. But when you use words, you're dealing with the whole history of the human race. Every word has hanging onto it thousands of dead bodies and old wagons and battlefields and do you understand how it's difficult to enter the heart with a word? Well, that's the problem in poetry. Because if the music does not remain so that you hear this {plays mandolin}, nothing has happened. You've just been writing prose. Prose is fine, but prose is not the same as poetry.

STAFFORD: This is called At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border.

This is the field where the battle did not happen, where the unknown soldier did not die. This is the field where grass joined hands, where no monument stands, and the only heroic thing is the sky. Birds fly here without any sound, unfolding their wings across the open. No people killed- or were killed- on this ground, hallowed by neglect and an air so tame that people celebrated by forgetting its name.

MOYERS: {voice-over} William Stafford grew up in the mid-west. For many years he has lived in Oregon where he taught at Lewis and Clark College.

STAFFORD: Writing is peculiarly susceptible to this wonderful resource, language. I didn't invent it, I don't control it; it just rolls on, it comes from everybody. It's not something that I learned from other writers by any means. It's not something I learned from critics by any means. It is a great river of possibilities swirling around us all the time. People talk to each other and come upon -- I guess I do it like a gull. Hear the way I'm talking? They come upon these great swoops of realization and vistas that veer off toward other formulations in language. And even the syllables have meaning.

{speaking to audience} I have many little, easy poems. They come, they just come. This is called 'The Little Girl By the Fence at School.'

Grass that was moving found all shades of brown, moved them along, flowed autumn away galloping southward where summer had gone. And that was the morning someone' s heart stopped And all became still. A girl said, "Forever?" And the grass: "Yes. Forever." While the sky- The sky- the sky- the sky.

In writing I don't know what my intention is. I don't want to be-- well, this may sound strange, but I want to be on guard against trying to write good poems. Most writers say, oh, excellence, you know, there's no use doing it if you don't do excellent things. And I don't feel that way at all. I feel that writing is an activity that bring all sorts of rewards, not just good poems. I mean, I'd rather-- I'd give up everything I've written for a new one, for a new writing experience. It feels so good to go that sort of trance-like way through a succession of realizations in language toward- what? It's an adventure, it's exploration, rather than crafting a predetermined object. Or that's the way I feel.

Some time when the river is ice ask me mistakes I have made. Ask me whether what I have done is my life. Others have come in their slow way into my thought, and some have tried to help or to hun: ask me what difference their strongest love or hate has made. I will listen 10 what you say. You and I can turn and look at the silent river and wait. We know the current is there, hidden, and there are comings and goings from miles away that hold that stillness exactly before us. What the river says, that is what I say.

OLDS: Topography.

After we flew across the country we got in bed, laid our bodies delicately together, like maps laid face to face, East to West, my San Francisco against your New York, your Fire Island against my Sonoma, my New Orleans deep in your Texas, your Idaho bright on my Great Lakes, my Kansas burning against your Kansas your Kansas burning against my Kansas your Eastern Standard Time pressing into my Pacific Time, my Mountain Time beating against your Central Time, your sun rising swiftly from the right my sun rising swiftly from the left your moon rising slowly from the left, my moon rising slowly from the right, until all four bodies of the sky burn above us, sealing us together, all our cities twin cities, all our states united, one nation, indivisible, With liberty and justice for all.

MOYERS: {voice-over} Sharon Olds is a native of San Francisco. She is now the head of the creative writing program at New York University.

OLDS: {to audience} So 'what can I say about this poem? I sure didn't see the ending when I started the beginning. I love to laugh, I love humor. It's also good for us, you know. Every time you laugh you add something like an hour to your life, something like that. Ha ha. Only kidding. Ho ho ho. There's two hours right there, two more hours.

When I first wrote, I wrote in private. I never thought I would show my work to anyone. Then I got to where I wanted to use a pseudonym, and I chose one, in fact: Sarah Roberts. That was years ago, 15 years ago. I would choose a different one now. Sarah Roberts. And then I decided, well, I'm not going to come out of this closet but under my own name. And then when I first gave readings, I had nightmares before the readings, because I felt that the hearers were my judges. I had nightmares where, you know, I was like way down there and you were all, you know, way up there behind the judge bench, and they were all going "to the lions." And I don't feel that way anymore.

"I go back to May 1937"

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges, I see my father strolling out under the ochre sandstone arch, the red tiles glinting like bent plates of blood behind his head, I see my mother with a few light books at her hip standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the wrought-iron gates still open behind her, its sword-tips black in the May air, they are about to graduate, they are about to get married, they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are innocent, they would never hurt anybody. I want to go up to them and say Stop, don't do it -- she's the wrong woman, he's the wrong man, you are going to do things you cannot imagine you would ever do, you are going to do bad things to children, you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of, you are going to want to die. I want to go up to them there in late May sunlight and say it, her hungry pretty blank face turning to me, her pitiful beautiful untouched body, his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me, his pitiful beautiful untouched body, but I don't do it. I want to live. I take them up like the male and female paper dolls and bang them together at the hips like chips of flint as if to strike sparks from them, I say Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

When I finished it I thought-- I knew that it was a kind of a manifesto in a way -- womanifesto in a way -- that I had said something that I hadn't said yet.

{to audience] I wanted to bring a poem today to read to you that I've never read before, because then I knew that I would be more nervous, more excited, and that I would learn something from hearing it. And I also brought this particular one, because I discovered that I was what I called a salvation addict. What that meant to me was, always wanting a poem to have a happy ending, that whatever bad stuff the poem went through, wanting it to have a happy ending.

I discovered this in a writing workshop at NYU, where I teach, and that I was often saying at the end of someone's poem, "I don't know, I don't-- there's something, l'm just not satisfied with the ending of it. I don't know why. And I finally realized that it didn't, like, lift up and say, all is really well, or could be, at the end. So I thought these were problems with people's poems. So then I said, Look out for me, this is my problem as a reader, I want something from your poem. I want hope and happiness from poetry. From the last line. You could do anything, you know, up until the last line. So then I wrote this poem.

'Letter To My Father From 40,000 Feet'

Dear dad, I saw your double today Through the curtain to First Class, Reddish face, oiled pitted -- the swelled, fruit-sucker skin cheeks lips of the alcoholic, still a businessman, not fired yet. He sat on the arm of his seat, chatting across the aisle, I saw your salesman's eyes, your gaze both open and canny, though this man was shrewder. Still, he had the shorn head, the black pupils, the shirt, the belt, I stared at him through the split in the seats between us, narrow abyss in the middle of the air, and I wanted-- I didn't want to sleep with him, I just wanted to put my long arms around him, smell the ironed cotton, feel the heat of his chest against my cheek, your big body free of cancer, fine sifted lumpless batter of your flesh. Well, that's it, really, I don't have much to say anymore, just checking in. Isn't it something the way I go on loving you, this long, deep, unearned love you made when you made me, for the rest of your life it beamed toward you, even when I'm dead I will be facing you here, my dark non-self ardent on the page, dark non-love pouring steadily toward you. I guess I'm saying I hate you, too, there's a way I want to take that first-class toper and throw him down in the dirt, arm-wrestle him and win, banging his forearm on the earth long after he cries out.

That's different. When I'm writing and I say "Narrow abyss in the middle of the air," I'm just describing. I didn't write this on the plane, but, I mean, as I'm remembering it, I'm just describing, I'm not really thinking "abyss," like go to hell. I'm not thinking that. But what I'm conscious of is not that remarkable in relation to what the poem is conscious of or the work itself or my unconscious or whatever is doing it. I guess what I'm saying is that some of us don't know what we're doing when we're doing it. And that certainly doesn't bother me. As long as it knows and it's doing it.

GALWAY KINNELL: A poem, if it's going to be any good, has a given quality to the words, a certain authority, some kind of sense, you know, that they weren't just made up by this slob or Joe Schmoe, but somehow came from heaven or something like that.

MOYERS: [voice-over] Galway Kinnell's selected poems won the Pulitzer Prize. Here he reads the first poem in his collection, a rhyming poem that he wrote when he was a very young man.

KINNELL: It's called First Song.

Then it was dusk in Illinois, the small boy After an afternoon of carting dung Hung on the rail fence, a sapped thing Weary to crying. Dark was growing tall And he began to hear the pond frogs all Calling at his ear with what seemed their joy. Soon their sound was pleasant for a boy Listening in the smoky dusk and the nightfall Of Illinois, and from the fields two small Boys came bearing cornstalk violins And they rubbed the cornstalk bows with resins, And the three sat there scraping up their joy. It was now fine music the frogs and the boys Did in the towering Illinois twilight make And into dark in spite of a shoulder's ache A boy's hunched body loved out of a stalk The first song of his happiness, and the song woke His heart to the darkness and into the sadness of joy.

[to audience] Well, even though I wrote that poem such a long time ago, I still sort of like it. But anyway, of course, I realize the poem has limits. For example, you know, it's a rhymed poem. You know, I remember writing down in the right-hand column, the right-hand margin of the page, when I was sitting up all night, all the rhyme words for, you know, blump, every sound that had-- every word that had blump in it in the language. And I write them all down, and then I'd try to write a line that would get ump, hump, flump in, any one of those words. As soon as I got one that made any sense at all, I'd put it in. And I wonder-- first of all, I wonder if hump was what I wanted to say at the end of that line. I don't think so. Like joy in the poem I talked about. And the other thing is, I spent a lot of time doing that. Is that a suitable adult activity, hump, bump, cump all night long? I don't think so. So maybe by rhyming these early poems, I kind of limited what I was doing.

There's two things. There's knowing, there's that experience and your understanding of that experience, and then there's the making and the shaping of that experience into something that will last. But the shaping isn't just technical in the sense of it's not just getting the rhythms right. The shaping is getting what is merely personal out of the poem and getting what is universal into the poem. It does happen, I think, at least in the contemporary poem. It happens that the more personal the poem is, the more truly personal it is, the more-- the deeper you go into yourself and your feelings, the more likely it is that it will be universal. That if you touch deep enough in yourself, you touch a level in the psyche in which we're all the same.

I wrote rhyming poems for about 10 years. All my poems -- most of them -- rhymed for 10 years. But I really felt I'd come to kind of a dead end. I found that I liked to rhyme just when I felt like it. It didn't have to be the end of the line. So while I gave up rhyme and meter, I continued to use rhyme and meter just whenever I felt like it, rather than according to a preset pattern. And I felt extremely liberated, I felt really exhilarated to be able to say everything and not have to worry about getting a rhyme sound at the end of every line.

"Blackberry Eating"

I love to go out in late September among the fat, icy, overripe, black blackberries to eat blackberries for breakfast, the stalks very prickly, a penalty they earn for knowing the black art of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries fall almost unbidden on my tongue, as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words like strengths or squinched, many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps which I squeeze, squinch open and splurge well in the silent, startled, icy, black language of blackberry-eating in late September.

Going back to that poem "First Song," instead of writing, you know, boy, joy, toy, loy, hoy, and coming up with the frogs sounded on my ear with what seemed their joy, one of the more useful things for somebody who wants to be a poet to do is to go listen to the sound of frogs, and just let the sound of frogs come in one and kind of be a frog, so to speak, you know. Sympathize with the frogs, feel-- if the theory of evolution means anything, it means that we're all cousins, all creatures are cousins on the earth, so that if you hear a frog speaking, you may not know its language, but there's something of what it's saying that speaks for you too. The more we become part of our world, the more we're able to write poetry. Poetry is a kind of singing of what it is to be on our planet. The highest moments are when one feels in harmony with the creation.

When one has lived a long time alone and the hermit thrush calls in the dark wood And there is an answer, and the bullfrog, sitting head half out of water, remembers the exact cantillations of all those springs ago, one knows they cry to bond and mate with their kind, just as after a life of solitude, after the many steps taken away from one's kind, toward the kingdom of strangers, the true prayer inside one's own singing is to come back, if one can, to one's own, a world almost lost, in the exile that deepens when one has lived a long time alone.

When one has lived a long time alone one needs to live again among men and women, where the new baby and the great grandmother gaze at each other and create all of time, and faces glow more sadly now in history' firelight, and tears come not seldom and run not slow, and song starts from miserable mouths, and lovers tell on lips blousy from kissing the words that kiss the soul, and like threshes at first light blether together the duet of earth and heaven until the sun has risen and they stand in the halo of being united: kingdom come, when one has lived a long time alone.

OLDS: {addressing students in workshop} There are things that each person around this circle knows that no one else around the circle knows. I mean, events we've seen, feelings we've had. And I think that our best writing comes out of knowledge, very close knowledge. And so now when people who raise children are starting to write poems about children, these are not poems that have been written over and over and over for the last, you know, 1,000 years, because people who raised the children weren't writing the poems; they were two completely different worlds. So I think our challenge in terms of confidence is to realize what you know that I don't know is what you can tell me sometime in your poem. I wouldn't presume to be able to tell any of you what your true poems might be, what they might be about, how they be shaped, anything about them. So I had a thought, that we could each first begin by writing down four or so adjectives, whatever comes into your head, descriptive words, whatever kind of word of description. Okay, now, four things, four nouns. And last, four verbs, four words of action. What I'm proposing that we do is, if each of us would write, would write a portrait, a portrait, a description, a portrait of our own hand and use all these words -- if you can. Most of them. See what happens when you think of using these while you're just writing a portrait, a description of your hand. I figured, you know, we had all brought one.

And take about 10 minutes and write that and see what happens. Okay?

Let the poem go where it wants to go. Once it finds its way, then go with it, let it be the stronger one between the two of you.

It was very interesting to me while I was doing this to notice how an actual poem came to me, which almost never happens when I'm doing an exercise like this, I mean, what I could tell was the seed of a real poem. And then once that had happened, there was this pull between these words that I wanted to put into it and the poem which wanted to go off in its own direction. So I didn't quite know what to do. I waffled with it there for a while, and then I stuck a few more in, and the I cheated and then the time was up.

Since dares go first, I'll go first. It's only fair. You can't ask people to do stuff and then, oh, there wasn't time for me.

My words were cold, wet, alive, and young. Jacket, pool, sweat, and albatross. {laughs} I don't know.

Verbs: take, kiss, swell, and alleviate. I'm very proud of that, alleviate; it's so abstract.

So what I came out with was this.

"My Hand."

It looks old to me, because I am with you. But it looks sweet. It does not look as if it has hit anyone. I do not think it has hit anyone ever, because it is my left hand. Whom have I hit? My right hand has hit my husband, never in real anger, like boyfriends in high school, "Oh, you." And my daughter the time she hit her baby brother one time too many. Cold, wet, alive, the grass is behind my hand, its blades wild as my hands wrinkles. I guess I write about it to say 'Take my hand, here, hold it in yours.'

Now, you can see the place where it just says 'I'm your poem, talk about who you've hit. You know, you may have written a poem about someone who's hit you, but you've never written one about who you've hit. Do something new, you know, take off from there.' And then I was, you know, struggling, struggling.

STAFFORD: This is the hand I dipped in the Missouri above Counsel Bluffs and found the springs. All through the days of my life I escort this hand. Where would the Missouri meet a kinder friend? On top of Fort Rock in the sun I spread these fingers to hold the world in the wind,· along that cliff in that old cave where men used to live, I grubbed in the dirt for those cool springs again. Summits in the Rockies received this diplomat. Brush that concealed the lost children yielded them to this hand. Even on that last morning when we all tremble and lose, I will reach carefully, eagerly through that rain, at the end- Toward whatever is there, with this loyal hand.

My parents were readers. They were not dutiful readers or culture vultures. They were hopelessly addicted to reading. There were just caught up in it, and they would go to the library and drag home books. And they didn't try to interest us in books, but if we wanted to get books we could too. But they were going to get them anyway. And at our house they would- sometimes we'd read aloud. And they were not trying to read to their children in order to be good for them; they just liked to read. In fact, my mother would get jealous if I would read something that she'd intended to read aloud.

This called "Our Kind."

Our mother knew our worth not much. To her, success was not being noticed at all. "If we can stay out of jail," she said, "God will be proud of us." "Not worth a row of pins," she said when we looked at the album: Grandpa? -Ridiculous. Her hearing was bad and that was good. "None of us ever says much." She sent us forth equipped for our kind of world, a world of our betters, in a nation so strong its greatest claim is no boast, its leaders telling us all, "Be proud"-- But over their shoulders, God and our mother signaling: "Ridiculous."

I can remember our family listening to my parents talk. They'd get excited, sometimes gossip, and they would laugh and be surprised at what they said. For instance, I remember my mother saying about someone, "Oh, he's so dull you get tired of him even when you don't see him." Well, you know, just little things like that. I mean, she was delighted when she said it. She didn't plan to say it, she just said it. And I was delighted too. And I just thought language is something that you play around with like this. And so someone treats it seriously -no, no, it's not serious, it's-- you try things out in language.


My father could hear a little animal step, or a moth in the dark against the screen, and every far sound called the listening out into places where the rest of us had never been. More spoke to him from the soft wild night than came to our porch for us on the wind; we would watch him look up and his face go keen til the walls of the world flared, widened. My father heard so much that we still stand inviting the quiet by turning the face, waiting for a time when something in the night will touch us too from that other place.

PAZ: I have a great idea of poetry, but I don't have a great idea of poets. Poets are the transmitters, they are the conducts. That's all. They are not better than the others. Poets are vain. We have many defects. We're human beings and we must be humble. That is not the question. The question is that poetry is very important, poets are not important.

MOYERS: The great Mexican poet Octavio Paz has also won international recognition as a teacher, an essayist and a diplomat. He is accompanied by his long-time friend and translator Elliot Weinberger.

PAZ: [Begins the reading in Spanish, then the English translation begins]

Sun through the day, Cold throughout the sun, Nobody on the streets Parked cars Still no snow, but wind wind, A red tree still burns in the chilled air. Talking to it I talk to you I am in a room abandoned by language You are in another identical room Or we both are on a street your glance has depopulated The world imperceptibly comes apart Memory decayed beneath our feet I am stopped in the middle of this unwritten line

PAZ: Poetry was the center of society in the past. And with modernity, poetry went to the outskirts of society. It has become more and more a marginal art. In this sense the situation of poetry, as seen in this country, is terrible, because poets are really outside of society. If has been a great loss for Americans. Especially if you think that your country, the United States, has given in the 20th century some of the greatest poets of the world. And it's an irony that they are not the center of the American society. That is sad. And I think the exile of poetry is also the exile of the best of mankind. Our society lacks this other dimension, the dimension of light and obscurity that is poetry. We live in a kind of electric light, but electric light, the light of electricity, the light of industry, and not all the light. And the primordial light and the primordial darkness belongs to mankind, and we have tried to hide these realities. The exile of poetry is the exile of the perfect part of mankind.

[through translator] Perhaps to love is to learn to walk through this world. To learn to be silent like the oak and the linden of the fable. To learn to see. Your glance scatters seeds. It planted a tree, I talk because you shake its leaves.

Poetry is not translatable, I've said many times. It's true and it's not true. Each poem is waiting, not only the translation to another language, but the translation to another sensibility. The reader is a poet also.

KINNELL: We did a little session on the life cycle from infancy all the way through to death two years ago. And we left out the moving force in the cycle: sex. So today we're going to do the same thing with sex. {laughs} What we've done is taken a lot of excerpts from mostly our own poems and sewed them together as if to make one seamless long poem on the subject, which we will read in alternation.

MOYERS: Galway Kinnell and Sharon Olds treat the audience to a conversation. They show how with the power of the word we can share with others our most intimate experience: the experience of love and communion.

OLDS: And when you were necking, the powerful brass bolts in boys' jeans, studs like engraved shields or their souls, the way they carried the longing of the species, you could not help but pity them as they set you on stunned fire. I remember my breasts like little seal snouts so thirsty for touch, and with hours of it I'd pass out, still awake, my body made of some other substance, my eyes open in the green dark as if we were on the moon. And in some other car, all this time, on some other spear or skirt of the mountain, some boy I really loved.

Meanwhile there were the stars and the boy's pants and my glasses, wings folded, stuck into a pocket. I remember the loud snap when we leaned on them and they broke, pair after pair woke us up and brought us down the hill, back to the families sex had made. The porch lamp blazed over my head, I'd slip my key in the lock and enter at the base of the blurred gem, it seemed endless then, the apprenticeship to the mortal.

KINNELL: Walking in cities, lignum vitae root painfully alive, I was amazed to think that between the thighs of every woman in those streets lies covered over the garden of earthly delight.

OLDS: Sex was still a crime then. I'd sign out of my college dorm to a false destination, sign into the flop house under a false name, go down the hall to the one bathroom and lock myself in. And I could not learn to get that diaphragm in --I'd decorate it like a cake with glistening spermicide and lean down, and it would leap from my fingers and sail into a corner to land in a concave depression like a rat's nest, I'd bend and pluck it out and wash it and wash it down to that fragile dome, I'd frost it again till it was shimmering and bend it into its little arc and it would fly through the air, rim humming like Saturn's ring, I would bow down and crawl to retrieve it.

KINNELL: On the Copacabana few women wear the bathing suit consisting of a string around the waist, to which a thong is tied which goes down over the places men love and comes up behind and attaches to the string again- leaving unclothed the perfect rounded creamy russet buttocks. Where are the yellow, brown, white, black, pink latex bathing suits that covered most of the bodies of the bathing women in my boyhood? What happened to the aphrodisiac of the sky? Where have the women of creamy russet buttocks gone to get out of the rain in Rio? What message passes back and forth through the corpus collussum between the two great round mounds of the bicameral brain?

OLDS: When I came to sex in full, not sex by fits and starts, but every day and every night, the trinity of eating and sleeping completed, when I first lived with him, I thought I'd go crazy with joy and fear. In Latin class my jaw would drop, scroll of my tongue unroll and pour across the floor when I'd remember the night or the morning, the in and out and in, the long shape of the man lowered and lifted and lowered, what I was born for.

KINNELL: but once in special, In thin array, after a pleasant guise, When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall, And she me caught in her arms long and small; And therewith all sweetly did me kiss, And softly said, "Dear heart, how like you this?"

OLDS: In the middle of the night, when we get up after making love, we look at each other in total friendship, we know so fully what the other has been doing. Bound to each other like soldiers coming out of a battle, bound with the tie of the birth-room, we wander down the hall to the bathroom, I can hardly walk, we weave through the dark soft air, I know where you are with my eyes closed, we are bound to each other with the huge invisible threads of sex, though our sexes themselves are muted, dark and exhausted and delicately crushed, the whole body is a sex-- surely this is the most blessed time of life, the children deep asleep in their beds like a vein of coal and a vein of gold not discovered yet.

KINNELL: For I can snore like a bullhorn or play loud music Or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman, and Fergus will only sink deeper into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash, but let there be that heavy breathing or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house and he will wrench himself awake and make for it on the run- as now, we lie together, after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies, familiar touch of the long-married, and he appears-- in his baseball pajamas, it happens, the neck opening so small he has to screw them on, which one day may make him wonder about the mental capacity of baseball players and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep, his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child. In the half darkness we look at each other and smile and touch arms across this little, startlingly muscled body this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making, sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake, this blessing love gives again into our arms.

Thank you.

Copyright (C) 1989 by Public Affairs Television, Inc.

The Simple Acts of Life

September 15, 1989

Poets Robert Bly, Galway Kinnell, Sharon Olds, Octavio Paz and William Stafford read their work and discuss their craft with Bill Moyers in this classic program.

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