Bill Moyers has covered that revolution for a decade in a series of public television specials. In the fall of 1998 he returned to the Dodge Festival to record the performances of the poets and, in interviews with them, a dazzling array of sounds insights images, metaphors and emotions. His conversations with the poets take us behind the performance to explore the sources of creativity and imagination. Stanley Kunitz, now ninety-five years old, quietly captivates with his poems "Halley's Comet" and "Touch Me." Coleman Barks not only reads from his translations of Rumi but also shares the poems that he wrote in tribute to his "most beautiful granddaughter." Mark Doty talks with Moyers about "poetry's great power to preserve, its ability to take a moment in time and hold it forever." Jane Hirshfield talks about the influence on her poetry of the eight years she studied Zen.
About the Author
Bill Moyers's career as a television journalist has earned him more than thirty Emmy Awards. His reporting and interviews have been the basis for seven bestsellers. He is author of Genesis (Doubleday), The Language of Life (Main Street Books), and Healing and the Mind (Doubleday). He lives in New Jersey with his wife and creative collaborator, Judith Davidson Moyers.
Read an Excerpt
The Applause Beginsas Stanley Kunitz rises from the front row, makes his way up the steps, and strides across the stage toward the lectern, his arms swinging gaily at his sides. In his right hand he carries a collection of poems,which he places on the small podium while reaching with his other hand for the inside pocket of his lime green coat, fishing for his glasses. The applause has turned to cheers. He is a familiar and revered figure here. Now people are on their feet. Their hurrahs ricochet around the tent, and the noise of four thousand clapping hands sounds like rain on the canvas roof. Kunitz stands motionless at the microphone, his slight figure no more imposing than a sparrow. He is a shyman, and modest, and he isn't sure how to respond. Then a small smile creases his white mustache, he lifts a hand to acknowledge the reception, and opens the book of poems. Once again, the applause soars before the audience settles back to listen.
Out beyond the tent America is trapped in a media warp of Monicamania,where words are tipped in toxin and hurled like red-hot missiles in a rhetorical nuclear war. Here, inside this hushed sanctuary, Stanley Kunitz, acknowledging "the dark news emanating from the capital," reads a poem he had been moved to write during "the even darker days of Watergate." The poem--"The Lincoln Relics"--recalls an exhibit he once saw in Washington of the contents found in the pocket of the sixteenth president on the night of his assassination. The "watchfob and ivory pocket knife, / a handkerchief of Irishlinen, / a button severed from his sleeve," a five-dollar Confederate note, and the gold-rimmed spectacles "mended with a loop of string" made, for the poet, "a noble, dissolving music out of homely fife and drum." Addressing the slain president, whose innocence "was to trust / the better angels of our nature, / even when the Union cracked / and furious blood / ran north and south / along the lines of pillage," Kunitz asks, "in this Imperial City,/ awash in gossip and power, /... Has no one told you / how the slow blood leaks from your secret wound?"
There is not a sound in the tent, except for the quiet intensity of the poet's voice. He tells of taking a night walk along the Potomac, "searching for the prairie star, / westward scanning the horizon / for its eloquent and magnanimous light, / yearning to be touched by its fire:" The longing in the poem is palpable in the tent, and as this very young old man, age ninety-three, descends from the stage, the audience stands in a tumult of applause. In a rational world, I tell myself, Stanley Kunitz would heTime magazine's Man of the Century--not for armies commanded, cures discovered, or nations saved but because, through a discordant century of furious change, his voice--the poet's voice--speaks to what Lincoln himself called"the mystic chords of memory."Let's begin with a remembrance of long ago.
I was five years old when Halley's Comet visited Worcester, Massachusetts, the city of my birth, in 1910. When I was near ninety, the memory of that encounter,which had been simmering so long, finally emerged in the shape of a poem.
Miss Murphy in first gradeFooling With Words. Copyright © by Bill Moyers. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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's 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.