P.G.’s Poet-in-Residence Barbara Mossberg can’t stop thinking—or spreading—poetry.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Many poets find inspiration in their surroundings. But seldom is that setting the DMV.
While standing in a serpentine line at the Department of Motor Vehicles just the other day, Pacific Grove Poet-in-Residence Dr. Barbara Mossberg didn’t fidget or start a dramatic sigh marathon. She visualized what would be waiting for those who wait. From this sprung her poem “Loafing and Inviting My Ease: At the DMV, Imagining the Pond Waiting For Us While We Wait.”
Dishwashing is another dreary chore she transformed. In her 2011 “Washing the Lake,” Mossberg writes:
Washing the dishes outside here is a restoring of order,
Sensuous exploring of surface, shimmer of glitter and shine and suds.
My hands emerge with fork or cup. How many women have stood here so,
By some lake or river or sea, scrubbing the bowl that held porridge?
This is Egypt, this is Maine, this is History, this is Keats’ Truth and Beauty.
“I rejoice for any moment to write,” she says. It’s been that way for a while. She started at 6. Her parents, who were teachers, saved all of her poems.
Barbara Mossberg reads her poem "Washing the Lake".
Poet Barbara Mossberg
Pacific Grove poet-in-residence Barbara Mossberg reads one of her works entitled "Washing the Lake."
“I earned $2 for a poem on the Revolutionary War that was published in the newspaper in sixth grade,” she says.
Mossberg credits her folks for encouraging an optimistic – and poetic – perspective. When her mother passed away just a few weeks ago, that inheritance was as powerful as ever.
“Poetry was the way we knew each other,” says Mossberg, who, unsurprisingly, used verse to process the loss.
“I think I would characterize my poetry in this way: Each poem is a journey, a self-conscious journey about the poem itself, as a guide to gratitude,” she says. “Each is a fractal of defiance against all the things in life which would weigh us down.”
But the poet-in-residence post involves more than personal passion: It demands a gift for evangelizing that affection. Fortunately Mossberg loves sharing the craft.
In her “Problem Solving through Poetry” workshops held at the Pacific Grove Public Library, Mossberg emphasizes her belief that poetry is a positive way to work out difficulties.
“The optimism and hope that is achieved in these poems, before our eyes, is very much a result of the process of writing the poem itself,” she says. “The poem seems to invoke what is in us, our restorative capacity to see the larger and glorious picture, what e.e. cummings called ‘everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.’”
Poetry, she believes, can “save or make the day,” which is one aim of the unique poet program, which is sponsored by the City of Pacific Grove. The poet earns residence in a historic cottage called the Poet’s Perch for a reduced rent and in return organizes at least one monthly poetry event. Mossberg is the fourth person to occupy the position since its start in 2002.
Laura Emerson, member of the poet committee, is one of many who marvel at Mossberg’s eye for inspiration in unlikely places, including new poets.
“She can find the poet in everybody,” she says. “Some who have attended her workshops have never written a poem.”
Her skills at coaxing out poetry are furthered by her performances – “Barbara performs artistically through her readings,” Emerson says – helping making Mossberg, according to the selection committee, “more than qualified for the position in Pacific Grove.”
She’s been a distinguished Emily Dickinson scholar, won the Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Book of the Year and performed off Broadway. She has lectured around the world and currently teaches at CSU Monterey Bay, where she also oversees the Integrated Studies Program and first-year seminars. She has a local radio show called The Poetry Slow Down on KRXA 540AM.
“I have felt the radio show has been very important for me because the use of voice is the most ancient way people have communicated,” she says. “It’s the voice in the dark that continues long after the campfire has gone out.”
Still, she might also be as excited about what’s to come as she is about her current engagement. Onrushing events include a “Opening Lines That Made History” workshop on Saturday, April 16 – featuring works by Homer, Shakespeare, Poe, Dickinson, Goethe and T.S. Eliot – in sync with National Poetry Month.
Mossberg plans to provide a grand introduction to poetry, no waiting in DMV lines required.
831“Opening Lines” happens 9am-noon April 16 at P.G. Public Library, 550 Central Ave. $15. “Changing The World: A Tribute to the Power of Words” happens 5:30-7pm Tuesday, April 19, at Central Coast Writers monthly meeting at the Casa Munras Hotel, 700 Munras Ave., Monterey. Learn more at www.ci.pg.ca.us.