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March 6, 2009

BILL MOYERS: The moment John Lithgow spoke of the emotion, and music of language, I thought of the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in Waterloo Village, New Jersey.

LUCILLE CLIFTON: running and
time is clocking us

BILL MOYERS: Every two years for two decades poets gathered there to create gorgeous music and plumb a myriad of emotions. Here are some of the poets from our documentary FOOLING WITH WORDS.

LUCILLE CLIFTON: oh pray that what we want
is worth this running,
pray that what we're running
is what we want.

GALWAY KINNELL: After Making Love We Hear Footsteps.
Well maybe I don't have to read that one.

AMIRI BARAKA: This is called Monday in B Flat. I can pray all day and God won't come, but if I call 911, the devil be here in a minute.

DEBORAH GARRISON: I'm never going to sleep with Martin Amis or anyone famous.

COLEMAN BARKS: There was a time when a man said poems and friendship grew visible.

KURTIS LAMKIN: 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.

we do right
we do wrong
we do time overtime
we do what it takes to shake the snake
that coils around our humble lives
whatever we can do

we do lunch
we do meetings
we do fundraisers we do marches
we send a million men
to carry peace to the heart of a cold cold nation
some say we don't count
we do
we always do

suppose there's a god
who thinks that we are god
who loves us so deeply she followed us here
we work so hard every trick looks like a miracle
and then we name the trickster god
if there is a god
who thinks that we are god
do we hear her prayer
do we hear her prayer
do we? do we?

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.

SHARON OLDS: She was four, he was one. It was raining. We had colds. We had been in the apartment two weeks straight. I grabbed her to keep her from shoving him over on his face again. And when I had her wrist in my grasp, I compressed it fiercely, for a couple of seconds. To make an impression on her. To hurt her. Our beloved firstborn.

I even almost savored the stinging sensation of the squeezing: the expression into her of my anger -- never, never again, the righteous chant accompanying the clasp.

It happened very fast. Grab, crush, crush, crush, release. And at the first extra
force she swung her head as if checking who this was, and looked at me,
and saw me. Yes? This was her mom. Her mom was doing this.

Her dark deeply open eyes took me in. She knew me; in the shock of the moment
she learned me. This was her mother, one of the two whom she most loved, the two
who loved her most. Near the source of love was this.

W.S. MERWIN: 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 I 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

but if you are busy he said
I don't want you to feel that you
have to
just because I'm here

I say nothing

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

COLEMAN BARKS: Don't worry about saving these song, and if one of our instruments breaks, it doesn't matter. We have fallen into the place, where everything is music. Poems reach up like spin drift on the edge of driftwood along the beach, wanting. They derive from a slow and powerful route that we can't see.

BILL MOYERS: I used to want to know what a poem like that means, but I have to say as I've gotten older I don't care so much about the meaning of the poem anymore.
COLEMAN BARKS: Right, right. Or about rephrasing it in other words. But do you feel it?


COLEMAN BARKS: Yes. That's all he's after. He's trying to get you to us to feel the vastness of our true identities.
I see my beauty in you .
I see my beauty in you. I become a mirror that cannot close its eyes to your longing. My eyes wet with yours in the early light. My mind every moment giving birth, always conceiving, always in the ninth month, always the come-point. How do I stand this? We become these words we say. A wailing sound moving out into the air. These thousands of worlds that rise from nowhere. How does your face contain them?
I'm a fly in your honey. Then closer. A moth caught in flame's allure. Then empty sky,
stretched out in homage.

I see my beauty in you.

I see my beauty in you.

BILL MOYERS: From its beginning, the Dodge Poetry Festival was made possible by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, whose generosity touched thousands of poets and poetry lovers. We are grateful something so good lasted as long as it did. Unfortunately, the festival is one more casualty of the great collapse, and has been cancelled for 2010. You can still find the poets online at the Moyers site on

I'm Bill Moyers and I'll see you next week.

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