00:18 ALEXIS ADAMS, Editor and Publications Administrator: During challenging times, the written word can soothe our anxious minds and provide sustenance for our souls. It can connect us across space and time, and remind us to pause and really take in the goodness and beauty that surround us.
00:39 I’m Alexis Adams and this is the Tippet Rise podcast. This episode is the first of two dedicated to exploring poetry and prose during these uncertain times. It features works that are hope and resilience-inspiring: poems and essays by a wide variety of writers—from today’s U.S. Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo, to the early 20th century poet and novelist, Rainer (Reiner) Maria Rilke. The works were read by members of the Tippet Rise staff who, like many in the world these days, are at home, taking shelter.
01:17 Compared to other episodes of our podcast, this one is “low tech and low-fi,” made with the equipment our colleagues have on hand at home: cell phones, in most cases. This is all right with us—the sound reflects the fact that even though we have no physical connection for the time being, we’re still able to connect…with each other, and with you.
01:52 BETH KORTH, Art Education Coordinator and Visitor Center Manager:
HOW TO BE A POET
By Wendell Berry
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.
03:40 PETER HALSTEAD, Tippet Rise Co-Founder:
AND THIS OUR LIFE
By William Shakespeare, from As You Like It
Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we but the penalty of Adam,
The seasons’ difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,
Which, when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say
‘This is no flattery: these are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.’
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life exempt from public haunt
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good in every thing.
06:11 MELISSA MOORE, Communication and Administration Manager:
MORNING IN THE BACK YARD
By Tami Haaland
Lilacs bloom and I am taken again
By birdsong, likely among the first sounds
I heard alongside my parents’ voices, now
it surrounds me, a morning meditation.
When I walk this body to the back yard
I am seated mid-orchestra,
one song coming closer, then retreating.
Nothing in the lower range, all violins,
and woodsy oboes, in the distance
a pheasant’s percussive call.
I know how the starlings fly east
in a pack, their cranky squawk,
know the coo of the mourning dove,
the reclusive two-tone of the chickadee
and the persistent robin in one place,
one bird, its repetitive part. But who
are these others? Was it the owl
who-whoing or someone else, the doves
maybe, with a different motif
for a measure or two? I remember
a finale, once, in an open field,
early summer green before heat would
swelter us. The night hawks swooped
with their train-whistle call, dominant and
tonic, and then sound became dance too.
Boys who would not be small much longer
and who would grow up or not,
were backlit by sun, gnats floating
in that brightness, a whole note sustained,
until dusk echoed into darkness.
08:24 JIM RUBERTO, Assistant Audio Engineer and Technical Systems
HEART BUTTE, MONTANA
By Mandy Smoker Broaddus
The unsympathetic wind, how she has evaded me for years now,
leaving a guileless shell and no way to navigate. Once when I stood
on a plateau of earth just at the moment before the dangerous,
jutting peaks converged upon the lilting sway of grasslands, I almost
found a way back. There, the sky, quite possibly all the elements,
caused the rock and soil and vegetation to congregate. Their prayer
was not new and so faint I could hardly discern. Simple remembrances,
like a tiny, syncopated chorus calling everyone home: across
a thousand eastward miles, and what little wind was left at my back.
But I could not move. And then the music was gone.
All that was left were the spring time faces of mountains, gazing down,
their last patches of snow, luminous. I dreamed of becoming snow melt,
gliding down the slope and in to the valley. With the promise,
an assurance, that there is always a way to become bird, tree, water again.
10:03 PETER HALSTEAD, Tippet Rise Co-founder:
on Chopin’s Barcarolle
By Peter Halstead
In the grey light scudding on the reef
the tackle sags becalmed,
the sky comes down in sheets
to lie like fronds on a desert beach,
flags numbered by the quick prayers
on our shaking lips, fortune cookie rhymes
attached to branches, the colored names
of timid laundry flying on the line,
waves on waves that ring the ship
in idle coils. Shrouds of flame trees stir
above the sand and hang the scripts
of sunset in an alphabet of fire,
in semaphores of ebb and flow,
on booms that drape the wires
with distended pieces of the breeze and shape
the song of clouds at sea with air,
with distorted music of the gale,
the tide and rinse of grief that moves
the current into wastes and winds
that push the luff, the drift of jib,
the whine and howl of chords and sins
down empty cracks of dark and space,
foaming through the sieve of ribs
and rocking stays, the lap and roll
of night’s abyss, the surf and haze
of ocean’s drowning grace,
the crush and roar, the rip and glaze
of hollow space, the surge and fall
of bays that hurl and sweep across
the sails until the sway and rush
of human loss is tucked and furled
in blades of sun and liquid scales that bathe
the crests of breaking day in iridescent pearls.
14:44 PEDJA MUZIJEVIC, Artistic Advisor:
By Constantine Cavafy
As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
19:00 CHRISTOPHER CASTILLO, Facilities Operator:
By Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
21:21 JEANNE REID WHITE, Special Projects Advisor
LET THIS DARKNESS BE A BELL TOWER
By Rainer Maria Rilke
Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.
22:35 JAMES JOYCE, Filmmaker
FROM “THE CARRY HOME: LESSONS FROM THE AMERICAN WILDERNESS”
By Gary Ferguson
Twenty-five years ago, I was asked by a publisher in New York to gather a collection of nature myths from around the world—small, bite-sized stories about the making of earth’s wonders. I talked to storytellers. Listened to old recordings by anthropologists. I went again and again into the stacks of major university folklore collections, combing through more than a thousand tales from every continent. Three months into the research it dawned on me that without fail, every story was holding up one or more of three qualities essential to living well in the world.
The first of those qualities was a relationship with beauty. The sort of relationship that grows out of quiet, intensely focused moments. Not shutting out the rest of the world; instead, being present enough to see the world through the shine of whatever beautiful thing is in front of you. The stories suggest that, while beauty may be fleeting, there is great reliability to it—a reliability so unerring, in fact, that it can pull the imagination to higher callings, to the outer edges of the eternal. Beauty is the moon Neruda wrote about, “living in the lining of your skin.”
The second quality showing up in those stories was community—not just among humans, but with every aspect of creation. A sense of deep belonging—one that carries us out of the little room where loneliness lives into a wide world of ever-present embrace. Of sunlight in our bones and rivers in our blood.
The third had to do with the need to cultivate an appreciation for mystery, welcoming places or situations where the world seems utterly unfathomable. Not as some first step in figuring things out, but as the first step in giving up trying.
In the years since, I’ve turned to those stories over and over again. To a tale from Java called The Forest and the Tiger. To one from West Africa known as The Birds Find Their Homes. And also, to a story called Butterflies Teach Children to Walk, which was given to me by an old Ojibwa woman on the shore of Lake Superior.
After that elder passed her story to me, as I was getting ready to leave her house she put a wrinkled brown hand on my shoulder, and looked me in the eye.
“Our stories hold life’s lessons,” she said quietly. “Bad things always get worse when you forget the lessons.”
These days I find myself holding tight to those lessons. I go for long walks with beauty. At night I fall into bed grateful for the countless acts of community going on around the world. And every morning, I try my best to hold a space for mystery, to make some kind of peace with all the things I just can’t know.
26:05 LINDSEY HINMON, Co-Director
By Joy Harjo
To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear;
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
We pray that it will be done
27:50 BEN WYNTHEIN, Ranch Manager
By Wendell Berry
If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow-growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,
if we will make our seasons welcome here,
asking not too much of earth or heaven,
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
there, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides, fields and gardens
rich in the windows. The river will run
clear, as we will never know it,
and over it, birdsong like a canopy.
On the levels of the hills will be
green meadows, stock bells in noon shade.
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields.
In their voices they will hear a music
risen out of the ground. They will take
nothing from the ground they will not return,
whatever the grief at parting. Memory,
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its possibility.
30:12 ALEXIS ADAMS: Every work included in today’s episode was read with kind and generous permission from the author or the publisher or is in the public domain.
The episode began and ended with poetry by Wendell Berry. A farmer and environmentalist, Mr. Berry is also the author of more than 50 books of poetry, fiction, and essays.
Peter Halstead is the co-founder of Tippet Rise Art Center and a pianist, photographer and poet.
Tami Haaland was Montana’s Poet Laureate from 2013 until 2015 and is a professor of English at Montana State University in Billings, Montana.
Mandy Smoker Broaddus is a member of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation of northeastern Montana and is one of two of Montana’s presiding poet laureates.
Constantine Cavafy was widely considered to be the most important Greek poet of the 20th century, although he remained virtually unrecognized until late in his career.
Naomi Shihab Nye was born to a Palestinian father and an American mother; the author of more than 30 volumes of poetry, she is the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate.
Ranier Maria Rilke was born in 1875 in Prague and is considered one of the German language’s greatest 20th century poets.
Gary Ferguson lives and writes in Bozeman, Montana; a celebrated nature writer, he is the author of more than 25 books of nonfiction.
Joy Harjo is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation and the first Native American United States Poet Laureate.
This episode of the Tippet Rise Podcast is brought to you by Tippet Rise Art Center. Thank you so much for listening.