Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs


March 11, 2010

What's Your Favorite Poem?

Bill Moyers concluded the JOURNAL this week by mentioning his favorite poem, "Yes To Blue" by Jim Haba long-time director of the Dodge Poetry Festival. It's reproduced below:

"Yes to blue after trying
to separate green from yellow
and hoping that everything
will get simpler each time
you bring an idea closer
to the light which is always
changing always being
day after day
year after year
again and again

Explore more poetry from the Moyers Digital Archives.

Please share your favorite poem in the space below.

November 13, 2009

A Passion for Poetry

This week, the JOURNAL introduced viewers to Poets House in New York City, a space dedicated to celebrating the literary form that has been called “the queen of arts.”

At the grand reopening of the facility in a large new space in Manhattan, several writers shared their love of poetry. Lee Briccetti said:

“Language is central to our identity as human beings and poetry is central to language. Every culture has a poetry. And I believe that when people in the caves were blowing paint into the imprints of their hands, they were also chanting words to go with that. It goes very, very deep into the essence of what we are as human beings.”

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins said:

“Poetry fills me with joy and I rise like a feather in the wind. Poetry fills me with sorrow and I sink like a chain flung from a bridge. But mostly, poetry fills me with the urge to write poetry, to sit in the dark and wait for a little flame to appear at the tip of my pencil.”

Do you have a passion for poetry? Please share your thoughts and poems in the space below.

June 25, 2009

The Arts, Politics, and Political Art

(Photo by Robin Holland)

This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with poet W.S. Merwin, who recently won the Pulitzer Prize.

During the taping of the interview, Merwin argued that political poetry rarely makes for good art. He explained:

“Because you start by knowing too much. You have your mind made up, and you know that you’re right. And I think that always the moment you’re right, you’re wrong. Political poetry starts with the assumption, “This is the way it is, and I’m going to persuade you that this is the way it is.” You end up almost always writing propaganda. During the Vietnam war, many poets wrote poetry of protest against the war and poetry of anguish about the war. Most of it was just terrible... I think that poetry and the most valuable things in our life come out of what we don’t know.”

Some have argued that art must be political if it is to be honest. In 1964, Irwin Silber of the liberal folk music magazine SING OUT! wrote an open letter to Bob Dylan criticizing his transition from political songs to more ambiguous subject matter:

“You seem to be in a different kind of bag now, Bob -- and I'm worried about it... You said you weren't a writer of "protest" songs -- or any other category, for that matter -- but you just wrote songs. Well, okay, call it anything you want. But any songwriter who tries to deal honestly with reality in this world is bound to write "protest" songs. How can he help himself? Your new songs seem to be all inner-directed now, innerprobing, self- conscious -- maybe even a little maudlin or a little cruel on occasion... You seem to be relating to a handful of cronies behind the scenes now -- rather than to the rest of us out front. Now, that's all okay -- if that's the way you want it, Bob. But then you're a different Bob Dylan from the one we knew. The old one never wasted our precious time.”

What do you think?

  • Do you agree more with Merwin that political art is “almost always... propaganda,” or with Silber that any artist who “tries to deal honestly with reality in this world” is bound to be political? Why?

  • Can you name some examples illustrating either Merwin’s or Silber’s arguments?

  • March 6, 2009

    The Enduring Power of Poetry

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with actor and author John Lithgow about his work and the enduring power of great poetry. Lithgow, best known for starring in NBC's hit show 3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN as well as a wide array of other roles on stage and screen, said:

    “The magic of archaic language, I think, [is] it sort of takes us back in time. It’s the beauty of Shakespeare, it’s his turn of phrase in a language that’s 400 years old, and it’s like music. I’m an actor, I’m a performer and an entertainer. Almost everything I do in these areas is using words, and there are these three aspects to a turn of phrase: the meaning, the emotion, and the music... Shakespeare has the line “Ay, but to die, and go we know not where; to lie in cold obstruction and to rot.” That’s language of 400 years ago, but the music of that language and the emotion and the thought is just as compelling. It’s just a very different type of music – it’s like listening to Eric Satie and Bach.”

    What are your favorite poems?

    February 13, 2009

    Bicycles and Symbols

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In this week’s edition of the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers asked poet Nikki Giovanni why she chose to title her new collection BICYCLES. Giovanni said:

    “I just thought 'I've got to rethink it, and then I've got to find an object'... Well, tragedy and trauma are wheels. And they're always with us, aren't they? They're always spinning around. That’s the parameters of life, these tragedies. They just spin around and spin around. And so what you're trying to do is bring them together. And when you bring them together you've got the bar, so you have a vehicle, right? When I grew up you learned to ride a bicycle by getting on a bicycle, which means you're gonna fall off. And love and life and bicycles are about trust and balance. It's about riding it and believing that this thing, that doesn't make sense for you to be on, can move... We do that in our relationships. It's the same bike. We are continuing relationships through trust and balance.”

    What do you think?

  • Is the bicycle a good symbol for life? Why or why not?

  • What object would you choose to poetically symbolize life?

  • August 31, 2007

    The Power of Poetry

    In this week's JOURNAL, Robert Bly calls us to respect the work of the Muslim poets, saying that "if we're criticizing the Muslim world so much, we should be able to give thanks for the genius that is there”

    He then introduces us to some of the works of Rumi (born in 1204 in present-day Afghanistan) and Hafez (born in 1320 in present day Iran). We've posted a couple for your consideration:

    Continue reading "The Power of Poetry" »

    July 20, 2007

    Remembering Sekou Sundiata

    We have sad news to report this week. Poet, musician and historian Sekou Sundiata, featured in our series "The Language of Life" passed away on Wednesday, July 18, 2007 at 5:47am. We remember him and the music of his words here:

    For more information on the life and work of Sekou Sundiata, click here.

    July 19, 2007

    Poetry and Prejudice

    This week on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL, Bill Moyers talks with scholar and poet Martín Espada about the borders of racism facing the Latino community in America today, and how the news media sometimes perpetuates these issues:

    "We talk about borders all the time. In fact, for Latinos, the true borders of our experience have always been the borders of racism. Having said that, I also believe that we don't necessarily see the situations in which solidarity happens. We don't see the situation where somebody reaches out to somebody to someone else. Does that make the news? Do we hear about that?"

    Here is a poem by Martín Espada that speaks to the issues of race and borders entitled "Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100." You can more of Espada's poems here.

    Continue reading "Poetry and Prejudice" »

    May 24, 2007

    Poetry and War

    Tomorrow on The Journal, author Maxine Hong Kingston talks with Bill Moyers about poetry and war:

    "My hope is that through art, through telling their stories, by having people hear what they went through, it changes them again," Kingston tells Bill Moyers. "There's the coming home from war, being broken, feeling losses, but then there is a wholeness that takes place if the person were able to write their story, to write their poem, to have people hear them and listen and understand. Then they are changed again."

    For nearly 15 years Maxine Hong Kingston has led writing-and-meditation workshops for veterans and their families. This poem is one of the many works created by the veterans:

    Poem for Têt
    by Ted Sexauer, medic, 173rd Airborne

    Lang Cô village, Viêt Nam
    Lunar New Year, 31/1/1995

    This is the poem
    that will save my life
    this the line that will cure me
    this word, this, the word word the one

    this breath the one I am.

    (more from "Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace")

    Feel free to share your stories with the blog community below.

    A Companion Blog to Bill Moyers Journal

    Your Comments


    THE JOURNAL offers a free podcast and vodcast of all weekly episodes. (help)

    Click to subscribe in iTunes

    Subscribe with another reader

    Get the vodcast (help)

    For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

    © Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ