BILL MOYERS: I'm Bill Moyers. We end this series as we began it — at a festival of poetry. I used to think of the poet as living a lonely life, waiting in solitude for the muse of inspiration to appear on beads of sweat coaxed from her secret chamber deep in the soul. That's true in part but it's not the whole truth. Poets love each other's company, and they love an audience. The poetry reading becomes a wonderful play of language between poet and public. It's fun, and informative. Where else would you hear someone ask a poet, "Is that a REAL poem, or did you just make it up?" It's real, all right, because it was just made up, from life, so that even those of us who are not poets know when we hear it that the language is true. What gives the word its power is both delight and revelation. Here then, our final program on The Power of the Word. We call it "Where the Soul Lives."

W.S. MERWIN: I think any work of art makes one very simple demand on anybody who genuinely wants to get in touch with it. And that is to stop. I mean, you've just got to stop what you're doing, what you're thinking, and what you're expecting and just be there with the poem for however long it takes.

LUCILLE CLIFTON: Poems are about questions, they're not about answers. When you write poems, you try to figure something out, you don't know. You know, we know very little.

ROBERT BLY: It's difficult to write poetry now, because the language is not being used as it was in the past by nomads or hunters whose entire life was inside every word.

BILL MOYERS: [voiceover] It's the largest single celebration of poetry in America. To the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in the historic town of Waterloo, New Jersey, on a chilly fall day come thousands of people. They're drawn by the chance to hear the Paul Winter Consort and some of America's leading poets read from their works.

ROBERT BLY: [playing mandolin] This is a little four-line love poem. It's a kind of a meditation on the sound er.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Robert Bly is a poet and translator, a winner of the National Dook Award. He lives in Moose Lake, Minnesota.

ROBERT BLY: "It was among ferns I learned about eternity." If you like a line you just repeat it when you're reciting it.

"It was among ferns I learned about eternity.
Below your belly there is a curly place.
Through you I learned to love the ferns on that bank,
And the curve that the deer's hoof leaves in sand." I'll do it for you once more, then you can clap. See, I come out of a Lutheran background in which they say that everything above the waist is good, everything below the waist is bad. And if you're writing love poems, you have to give that up. So this is a concerto in the key of er. Is that clear? If you listened for the meaning last time, listen for the sound this time.

"It was among ferns I learned about eternity.
Below your belly there is a curly place.
Through you I learned to love the ferns on that bank,
And the curve that the deer's hoof leaves in sand."

LUCILLE CLIFTON: One of the things that people forget when they're starting to write poetry is that poetry can be fun, that you can have fun with the language.

BILL MOYERS: [voiceover] Lucille Clifton was the poet laureate of Maryland. Now, she teaches and writes poetry at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

LUCILLE CLIFTON: I write a lot about body parts. She looked at her, "What?! Body parts? What?" Well, the reason for that is because I am thrilled with my body parts, you know. And people say men don't write about body parts that much. Well, they don't have the thrilling body parts that I have, that's why. I recite and all the women applaud. And also I live in a culture where age — where you're supposed to be 18 to 20, and I'm not. I know you guessed that, but it's true. You're supposed to not have gray hair, and I love my hair. It's white and I think it's wonderful. And you're supposed to weight about 125, and I was born weighing more than that. So I like to celebrate with the wonderfulness that I am. And this universal poem is called homage to my hips.

these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don't fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don't like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips;
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!

W.S. MERWIN: You don't have to get the whole of the poem when you listen. You may be able to if you're a wonderful listener, but it's unlikely. You're never going to — I mean, you aren't going to get the whole of it maybe for many, many times reading it, if you ever do. But if you get enough to respond the first time, that's all you need to do.

MOYERS: [voice-over] W.S. Merwin is a poet and translator. A Pulitzer Price winner, he makes his home in Hawaii.



Pain is in this dark room like many speakers
of a costly set though mute
as here the needle and the turning

the night lengthens it is winter
a new year.

what I live for I can seldom believe in
who I love I cannot go to
what I hope is always divided

but I say to myself you are not a child now
If the night is long remember your unimportance

then toward morning I dream of the first words
of books of voyages
sure tellings that did not start by justifying

yet at one time it seems
had taught me."


"There is unknown dust that is near us,
Waves breaking on shores just over the hill,
Trees full of birds that we have never seen,
Nets drawn down with dark fish.

The evening arrives; we look up and it is there.
It has come through the nets of the stars,
Through the tissues of the grass,
Walking quietly over the asylums of the water.

The day shall never end, we think;
We have hair that seems born for the daylight.
Bill, at last, the quiet waters of the night will rise,
And our skill shall see far off, as it does underwater."

The feeling of the ancients was that this whole daylight world is not where our souls are. Our souls live in a lower place, in a darker place, in a more nourishing place. I mean, the old tradition — one of the traditions is that Hades is not, the Greek Hades, is not full of fire, it's full of water, and it runs along parallel underneath this life. And it's moist down there and it's nourishing down there. And the aim of art is to drop you into that world. But what I'm saying there is that somehow what will happen when you go there is not that you will go into a permanent depression, and it's not that you'll die. It's that when you go there something will happen as when you are swimming as a boy and your whole body will seem to be able to see. What does it say at the end?

"But, at last, the quiet waters of the night will rise,
And our skin shall see far off, as it does underwater."

So I didn't know this tradition of Hades when I wrote that poem, but it's still that same thing, that everything — there's this alternation: are you going to live in this dry, well lit — remember Hemingway said "a clean well lit place"? — are you going to live in this clean, well lit place in which you make money — it's important to be there, it's important to make money, it's important to do all those things. But if your soul can't go down, then you will dry up.

That quality I like very much in poetry. That sense that you can go into poetry and you can sink down like this and come down into a place which is not depression; it's more like grief, if you follow me. Depression comes when you refuse to go down there and then a hand comes up and pulls you down. I've been in depression many times, and you get pulled down and you think you'll never get out, "This is the way it's going to be the rest of my life, I'm boring, I don't even want my friends to see me." And then all of a sudden one day it's gone.

But the soul is something different. That's when you decide to go down and you agree to try to feel where you really are.

So this poem by Antonio Machado, a Spanish poet who died in 1939, and I love him very much. And I went to see his grave in the little house where he lived in Spain. And he was very slow, Antonio, very slow. It took him 36 years to get his BA. And then he taught French at a little high school in Northern Spain, and it was a very, very poor place. And it occurred to him after he'd taught high school for about three years, it occurred to him his soul had died. Those of you who are high school teachers know what he was thinking about. Just being with the principal is dangerous to your soul. And this is a poem he wrote. Are you ready? Suppose — those of you who are 30 and over will know this feeling — after you get a job and you do all of those things, and you have to deal with your boss and all those things, it occurs to you that your soul may have died. This is what he wrote.

"'The wind one brilliant day called
to my soul with an odor of jasmine.'

And the wind said

'In return for the odor of my jasmine,
I'd like all the odor of your roses.'

And Machado said

'I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead.

And the wind said,
[as an aside:"The wind is easy to please, you know."] The wind said:

'Well, then I'll take
the withered petals and the yellow leaves.'

The wind left…and I wept. I said to myself,
'What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you.'"

Can you feel how you start to sink in this poem? The beautiful part of it is at the end, when he says, "And I wept and I said to myself, 'What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?'" And he doesn't try to wiggle out of it in some way, and say, "Well, I can always go to California, I can always get rolfed." You know, all of that's mental stuff. In your soul you try to feel where you are and not wiggle out of it.

LUCILLE CLIFTON: It's amazing to me that I am accepted, I think, among the company of poets, because I think I'm either the last of my breed or the first of my breed, in that I, for instance, am a full professor at the University of California and I didn't graduate from college. I think college teaches you techniques and skills, etc., and it teaches you something about the craft of writing. But art has to be alive, has to have life in it, and college does not teach you anything about that. It seems to me — I have a poem in one line. This is a poem — this is about one human heart. And it seems to me that poetry, to live, has to come out of lived human hearts.

When my first book came out, my children's ages were seven, five, four, three, two and one. I have six children, they're now 22, 23, and so forth. So I know that a lot of things are possible, a lot of things are possible that people don't think so. Now when I was growing up the only poets I ever saw were the poets that were — their portraits hung on the walls of the elementary school in Buffalo, New York. They were old, dead, white, men with beards and from New England. None of that applied to me. If I write out of my own life, I have to write out of the life of a black woman who is the child of slaves in America. I have to do that, because I am honest artistically. Some of my students say to me sometimes that they wish I didn't bring race, you know — I seem to talk about race a lot, and why couldn't we just talk about art, and art is beyond this sort of thing. Also, as a student told me, I'm so tired of hearing about race. Well, the student wasn't tireder than I am. I assure you, I'm tireder than that student, but this exists and I have to talk about it.

This is a poem with rhyme in it. I'm terrible at titles; it is called "Poem With Rhyme In It." And this poem exonerates black people from being the cause of the world's troubles. When I found out I had the power to do that I was really excited, so I did it. It is to black people.

"Poem With Rhyme In It"

"black people we live in the land
of ones who have cut off their own
two hands
and cannot pick up the strings
connecting them to their lives,
who cannot touch, whose things
have turned into planets more dangerous
than mars
but i have listened this long dark night
to the stars
black people and though the ground
be bitter as salt
they say it is not our fault."

Well, I consciously use a language that is called simple. I call it clear and direct. I don't do that because I don't know any other words, I do it because I wish these words to stand for all that they stand for, to not just mean their definition. Because words mean more than just their definition.

I was looking at the Olympics when they were held in Mexico City, and I noticed that the announcer was talking about Mexico. And the people who lived there were calling it "Mehico," and the announcer thought they were wrong, you know. And that seemed odd to me, because I was just beginning to hear about the fact that where I lived was called the inner city, and I thought I lived in my neighborhood, in my community, I lived at home. But people kept calling it the inner city. And so this poem tried to say something about one's own naming, calling oneself — having the right to name oneself, being validated from the inside rather than from the outside.

"in the inner city
like we call it
we think a lot about uptown
and the silent nights
and the houses straight as
dead men
and the pastel lights
and we hang on to our no place
happy to be alive
and in the inner city
like we call it

Everybody has this unexplainable thing inside which needs expression. Poets do it with words. Some people do it by walking down the street. You know, people do it in all kinds of ways. And ours is not better it just happens to be the one with words. In this society words are — printed words are valued. The oral tradition is not valued simply because it's not printed when the fact is that print is quite new in the human history, and you know and so we overvalue that. John Haynes, the poet, was saying, he came to my class once and he said that when people started being arrogant because they could read print many of them stopped learning how to read leaves. And of course, the reading of leaves is in many places extremely valuable, much more than the reading of print. I have a sister who — anyone who knows anything about me, and most people know all about me, knows that my father had three daughters by three different women, so I have a sister who is six months and two days younger than I am. And she is a singer, a wonderful singer, but she was never able to do much with her talent. But I wrote a poem for her to remind her that we're the same, we're the same. So this I'd like to read for my sister.

"Sisters." For Elaine Philip on her birthday.

me and you be sisters.
we be the same.
me and you
coming from the same place."
[as an aside: "This is a cultural poem."]
me and you
be greasing our legs
touching up our edges.
me and you
be scared a rats,
he stepping on roaches.
me and you
come running high down purdy street one time
and mama laugh and shake her head at
me and you
me and you
got babies
got thirty-five
got black
let our hair go back
be loving ourselves
be loving ourselves
be sisters.
only where you sing
i poet.

W.S. MERWIN: I think I'll read a family poem. This one is — actually my own family is in the background in this one, not the foreground. It's the poem called "Yesterday."

"My friend says I was not a good son
you understand.
I say yes I understand.

he says I did not go
to see my parents very often you know.
and I say yes I know

even when I was living in the same city he says
maybe I would go there once
a month or maybe even less
I say oh yes

he says the last time I went to see my father
I say the last time I saw my father

he says the last time I saw my father
he was asking me about my life
how 1 was making out and he
went into the next room
to get something to give me

oh I say
feeling again the cold
of my father's hand the last time

he says and my father turned
in the doorway and saw me
look at my wristwatch and he
said you know I would like you to stay
and talk with me

oh yes I say

he says my father
said maybe
you have important work you are doing
or maybe you should be seeing
somebody I don't want to keep you

I look out the window
my friend is older than I am
he says and I told my father it was so
and I got up and left him then
you know

though there was nowhere I had to go
and nothing I had to do"

Poetry differs from the other arts precisely because poetry uses the grubby, ordinary language that we use for everything else as its medium. We don't paint pictures to talk to each other and we don't compose music. I mean, I love painting and I love music, but they're different. Poetry uses the language of the newspapers, the advertisements, the lies, the prayers and everything else for its articulation. I want to read a poem to a poet who was a teacher of mine, a very early teacher of mine, I think a great poet, John Berryman. It's called "Berryman." I won't say anymore about that. I hope it — if it doesn't speak for itself, I can't speak for it.

"I will tell you what he told me
in the years just after the war
as we then called
the second world war

don't lose your arrogance yet he said
you can do that when you're older
lose it too soon and you may
merely replace it with vanity

just one time he suggested
changing the usual order
of the same words in a line of verse
why point out a thing twice

he suggested I pray to the Muse
get down on my knees and pray
right there in the comer and he
said he meant it literally

it was in the days before the beard
and the drink but he was deep
in tides of his own through which he sailed
chin sideways and head tilted like a tacking sloop.

he was far older than the dates allowed for
much older than I was he was in his thirties
he snapped down his nose with an accent
I think he had affected in England

as for publishing, he advised me
to paper my wall with rejection slips
his lips and the bones of his long fingers trembled
with the vehemence of his views about poetry

he said the great presence
that permitted everything and transmuted it
in poetry was passion
passion was genius and he praised movement and invention

I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can't

you can't you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don't write."


"Every breath taken in by the man
who loves, and the woman who loves,
goes to fill the water tank
where the spirit horses drink."

In college I was told if you want to be a poet, you have to be very ambitious and send poems to the New Yorker every two weeks. You read the Buddhists and they say, if you want to be a poet you've got to give up ambition, period. That's step number one. So I'd been reading that and I wrote this one.

"Watering The Horses"

"How strange to think of giving up all ambition!
Suddenly I see with such clear eyes
The white flake of snow
That has just fallen in the horse's mane!"
[as an aside:"So that's amazing, because I could feel my eyes follow the flake."] "How strange to think
Of giving up all ambition!
Suddenly I see with such clear eyes
The white flake of snow
That has just fallen in the horse's mane!"

I went to an eastern school and I was a mid-westerner. I learned a lot of different ways of talking. Most of it wasn't my language. I then decided to try to write poetry that way. It didn't work. Finally when I was about 28, I moved back to Minnesota to a little farm there, which I mentioned. And it turned out that I knew certain words. One of them was snow. I knew the meaning of the word snow. I knew the meaning of the word dust. I knew the meaning of the word box elder tree. I also knew the meaning of words like "sheep giving birth," or exhaustion, or sunset. Those words were still connected with the original childhood experiences. So for me going back to the place where I was born was tremendously helpful to me in getting a hold of words that were genuine and real to me. There are one word poems, you know, like seal. Seal is a one word poem. Whoever invented that, that's perfect for the seal. Elephant isn't bad either. Rhinoceros. That's a good poem. But more and more you have words like — well, give me some words. Virtue. Commitment: that's good. Relationship: what the hell does that mean? You mean love? No, we mean relationship. I'm into my fourth relationship. Pretty soon you try to write — and young kids try to write poetry with words like that and it doesn't work out.

It's difficult to write poetry now, because the language is not being used as it was in the past by nomads or hunters whose entire life was inside every word. So someone like Homer simply had to take the poem, the word and move it over into the line, get it in a metrical pattern and it was tremendously strong. Now you have language being used by professional liars, who are also called advertising men, and men who are not interested in the meaning of the word; they're interested in how to nudge you into buying something you don't want. And to some extent all the language used on television is this way it deliberately lies for capitalist or communist purposes. So you have a contaminated or tainted language, which is what the student starts with when they try to write poetry. I just want to say to you that in poetry you try to tell the truth. That's not what we do in daily life. You know what I mean? At least when I was in high school we lied automatically to whoever asked us a question. And my father was an alcoholic, so I had to — that causes a little tension in the family, you know, if one of your parents is alcoholic. I don't know if you've noticed that, causes a little tension. And it tends to make you distant. And, again, oftentimes as the child of an alcoholic family you're hired to lie about the family. Is this so? They'd say to me in high school, "How are — " "Oh, wonderful. We've got a nice place. We've got sheep and everything." That's not it. In fact that's not it at all.

So there's that tendency, I mean, you're very frail in high school and the sense of who you are is not established well. And so there's a tendency to lie about yourself or put a different side of yourself forward, hide other parts. Do you understand what I'm saying? Do you? Well, and college is not that much different. So therefore by the time you get out of college you're an accomplished liar. Well, one thing that says, then, you see, if you lie, then you're really in your head, because you've got to make up the lies in there. Do you understand what I'm saying? If you really try to tell the truth, like if I tried to tell the truth about what was going on in my family, it would have been — and I'd go [screams] And it would have been something coming not out of my head. So therefore we all get into the habit of being up here. And poetry is written here. So I'm just going back to that state, the problem I had when I got out of college and I wanted to write poetry. Is that clear to you? I had to get from here down to here. Almost all the poems in my first book — I didn't publish a book until I was 36, because I was backward by nature. Most of those poems written were by living alone in the woods, and I found out if I leaned up against a tree for like two hours, at the end of that time an honest feeling would come to me. And it might be simply, wow, this is a beautiful tree. That's a good way to begin a poem. I began lots of poems that way, wow — I mean, not exactly that way, but then you go on from there. But if you start in the position of lies, you'll never get through the poem. Are you hearing me? So that's one reason I think I didn't publish a book until I was 36, because it took me until about 32 to get down to that place where I could feel anything. If you have an alcoholic father or mother, there's a lot of trouble there and a lot of distance. And I didn't write — I didn't mention my father in my poems until I was 45 or so. I'm 61 now. And about five or six years ago I decided that this wasn't right, so I went back and tried to make some connection with my father. He was in an old people's home with my mother, and he was about 85 then. And this is the first poem that I wrote sitting by my father instead of sitting by a tree. Is that clear what I'm saying? It's the same exercise, only you're sitting next to him now. And so this is a poem I wrote.

"My Father At Eighty-Five"

His large ears hear
A hermit wakes
and sleeps
in a hut underneath
his gaunt cheek.
His eyes, blue, alert, dis-
appointed and suspicious
I do not bring him
the same sort of jokes
the nurses do.
He is a small bird
waiting to be fed,
mostly beak,
all eagle or a vulture,
or the Pharaoh's servant
just before death.
[as an aside: "Have you seen these photographs of the mummies?"]
or the Pharaoh's servant
just before death.
My arm on the bed
rests there,
relaxed, with new love.
All I know of the troubadours
I bring to this bed.
I do not want
or need
to be shamed
by him
any longer.
[as an aside: "That line surprised me.]
I do not want
or need
to be shamed
by him
any longer.
The general of shame
has discharged him
[as an aside:"That's a joke."] and left him in this
small provincial
Egyptian town.
If I do not wish
to shame him,
why not
love him?
His long hands,
large, veined, capable,
can still retain
hold of what he wanted.
But is that
what he desired?
[as an aside: "Alcoholics have a longing for the spirit, but they choose the wrong spirit. They choose the earth spirit. It's a mistake, any one of us could have made it."]
His long hands,
large, veined, capable,
can still retain
hold of what he wanted.
But is that
what he desired?
Some strong
river of desire
goes on flowing
through him.
He never put
into language
what he desired,
and I am
his son.

Well, people have asked me about the end of the poem, and they said, well, what does that mean, Robert, that you say, well, he didn't phrase and you're his son. Does that mean you won't phrase it either? I say, well, that's up to you to figure out.

LUCILLE CLIFTON: Female lives have not been considered valid for poetry. So that when people write about the lives of women, women who stay at home and work and cook, etc., that's considered trivial subject matter, and those things about women are considered not quite right for subject matter. And I think that's changing, because what art has to do is always expand itself and always stay firmly bent toward the truth, whatever the definitions, other people's definitions are. We don't have to buy other people's definitions. In America, with this polyglot of people, quality has to — is constantly redefining whether we like or not. It's going to happen anyway, you know. And it has to expand to include oral traditions, it has to expand to include voices whose primary language is not English, because that's what America is. And, you see, American literature has to reflect the American people. It has to. It doesn't — nothing else makes sense. I, a year ago, had a hysterectomy. And with the hysterectomy, the doctor said that this isn't so bad because with your age, you've had kids, you don't need it, you know, and, you know, I could get along without it. And what I was trying to get the doctor to understand was I know I didn't need it, but I wanted it, you know. It was mine and I wanted it. But anyway it had to happen, and so this is called "Poem to My Uterus."

you, uterus
you have been patient
as a sock
while I have slippered into you
my dead and living children.
they want to cut you out
stocking I will not need
where I am going.
where am I going
old girl
without you
my bloody print
my estrogen kitchen
my black hag of desire
where can I go
without you?
where can you go
without me?

And this is sort of the same kind of poem. It's called "To my Last Period."

well girl goodbye.
after thirtyeight years.
thirtyeight years and you
never arrived
splendid in your red dress
without trouble for me
somewhere, somehow.

now it is done,
and I feel just like
the grandmothers who,
after the hussy has gone,
sit holding her photograph
and sighing. wasn't she
beautiful? wasn't she beautiful?

Now, I think we are all so brave to read new poems in front of all these poets. Because there's always the danger that you wrote your last best thing, you know? But anyway. I think poetry can be a lot of fun. I was thinking about Sleeping Beauty — I mean, really, you know, she slept all this — anyway, I would be annoyed, I think.

"Sleeping Beauty"

when she woke up
she was terrible.
under his mouth her mouth
turned red and warm
then almost crimson as the coals
smothered and forgotten
in the grate.
she had been gone so long.
there was so much to unleam.
she opened her eyes.
he was the first thing she saw
and she blamed him.

W.S. MERWIN: I think that poems begin and end in hearing. The thing that any poet has to do is to hear something, and you hear by listening. And what you're listening for, of course, is the poem. But what you're really listening for is your poem, yourself. There was a great Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu who said, "When I say that someone is good at hearing, 1 do not mean that they are good at hearing anything else but that they are good at hearing themselves."

We have all grown up, more or less, and one of the things is — a child sees a leaf and he doesn't really know what it is. He may know that it's called a leaf, you know, but all he sees is what's there, you know. After a while you begin to look at things in terms of what use they are to you, and as you do that they begin — the color all goes out of them, and 1 don't mean the way the color goes out of the leaves. But they turn into something else. And a child, I mean, if you can go on looking at things the way the child does, you know, it doesn't matter whether it has any use to you; I mean, you're looking at the thing itself.

We can hear, we can really see. We don't just look, you know, we see. We don't just listen, we hear. And when you — don't you think when you really hear a poem that speaks to you, you've heard something that you always knew but it's completely new? I think that's true in all the arts, you know. I think that's true when you hear music and it's true when you see a painting. I mean, if you look at a painting, if you look at a really great painting, look at a Vermeer, what are you looking at? Two dimensions, no movement, no smell, no sound, and yet what the painting is saying is, I give up all those things and I can make out of what I see something which has a reality that is more intense and more revealing than what you would just look at, even if you were in the same room as him. You know, we could have been in the same room with that woman pouring that jug of milk, but the light would not have come out of it to us the way it does come out of that painting of Vermeer's. And what the painting is saying, I can make a reality which is clearer, more direct, more embracing than the immediate moment.

This is a very — this is a great kind of arrogation of the arts. It's different from the arrogation of greed, though, you know. It's not saying I own the whole world and I can do with it what 1 like. It's saying, we can make this kind of sense out of our senses, that we can make sense out of sensual, feeling/thinking existence. And when we see something or feel something or realize something that shows us that that connection is there, we weep. Don't we do it when we have tears of sympathy, you know. When we see a movie or a play or hear a poem which makes us feel the passion or the suffering or the joy of another being of any kind, we weep. I mean, it's the great relief of feeling we aren't alone, you know, this is something that we really share with other beings.

I was very shy for a long time about writing anything to do with — all my life I wanted to be an Indian. But I feel that one can't just appropriate the deep flowers of other cultures because one would like to collect them, or something like that. There has to be — you have to be sort of — you sort of have to be driven into it.

I want to read a poem that has do with, well, the subject is there in the first line. The poem is called "The Lost Originals." And one of the reasons I've — one of the things I was thinking of was, I've been haunted for many, many years and I think that this is a fact that you should know if you don't already know it — the concentration camps in Germany 50 years ago were modeled on originals that were invented by Americans to contain the plains Indians. They went from there to the Spanish-American war where they were first called concentration camps and to the Philippines where the Germans studied the accounts of how we did it. If there's any doubt about the complicity of racism of our society, we need to know a few more things about that. So I've been haunted for years by a picture of — a photograph of an Indian woman, young Indian woman, standing inside one of these about eight-foot high barbed wire enclosures with her hand up on the wire — utter bewilderment looking out at that world which she will never see as a free person again.

"The Lost Originals"

If only you had written our language
we would have remembered how you died

If you had wakened at our windows
we would have known who you were

we would have felt horror
at the pictures of you behind the barbed wire

from which you did not emerge
we would have returned to shots of you lying dead with your kin

we would have ached to hear of your freezing
and your hunger in the hands of our own kind

we would have suffered at the degradation of your women
we would have studied you reverently

we would have repeated the words of your children
we would have been afraid for you

you would have made us ashamed and indignant
and righteous

we would have been proud of you
we would have mourned you

you would have survived
us we do

we might have believed
in a homeland

I think that the thing that poetry has in common with all the arts is it's an expression of faith in the integrity of the senses and of the imagination. And these are what we have in common with the natural world. The animals have no doubt about the integrity of their senses, you know, they're essential to them. And whatever the animal imagination may be, we can imagine it as being connected with their senses. And ours is too. And our remaining connections with the natural world, with the whole of life — I don't mean, I don't even like using the word "natural world," because that makes a distinction. I don't think there is this distinction. I think that life is a whole and that we are a part of it, and we must never ever forget that. And the thing that comes out of that, the only things in many of our urban lives that still come out of that are our dreams, some of our erotic life, if we're lucky, and any sensual experience that we can still find faith in and we can still believe in. Our senses of smell for many of us is almost gone, almost gone. We've almost lost that smell. We're aware of smell only as an unpleasant sensation in cities. I mean, what do you smell in cities but things you don't want to smell? And a great many of the deodorants, as you know, have to do not with deodorizing things but with anesthetizing your olfactory nerves so that you can't smell things. You go into a supermarket and what do you have, you have artificial light, you have canned music, you have deodorant, everything's deodorized, everything's in boxes, out of — you can't touch it, you can't taste it, you can't smell it, you can't see it, and you can't hear anything except what they want you to hear. And no wonder everybody wanders around like a zombie, because your senses have been sort of taken away from you for a while, you know. And I think that's kind of an intensification of the society we live in. A supermarket is kind of, you know, the whole thing brought into a focus. That's what it's about, isn't it, selling you things? They're going to keep you surviving until you come back to buy some more. These things are there, they don't belong there, they didn't grow there. They're only there — they have a shelf life, which is being rented, so that you can buy them. This is a very strange kind of situation, but it's kind of typical of our lives.

And poetry, I think, like all the arts, is — not only reconnects us, it emanates from the connection that remains. When that connection's no longer there, there will be no arts, and we won't even know what we missed. But we really will be zombies. I mean, we'll be walking around, if we can walk around at all, in a sort of eternal supermarket.

"On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree

what for
not for the fruit

the tree that bears the fruit
is not the one that was planted

I want the tree that stands
in the earth for the first time

with the sun already
going down

and the water
touching its roots

in the earth full of the dead
and the clouds passing

one by one
over its leaves."

ROBERT BLY: This is a little Rumi poem in five lines.

"Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and scared.
Don't open the door of your study and begin reading.
Take down the dulcimer.

Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."

Where the Soul Lives

October 20, 1989

Poets Robert Bly, Lucille Clifton and W.S. Merwin discuss their works.

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