Poetry News

Bill Moyers on Jim Haba's Essential 'Starting With Black'

By Harriet Staff

Bill Moyers, television commentator and host of Moyers and Company, shares an essential poem to mark the end of 2016 and the start of a new year. Jim Haba's 'Starting With Black' is a "life-preserving rhythm for the long struggle that lies ahead." Haba, who is the founding director of the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, "created a venue where poets and poetry lovers, from all over the country, came together in the historic village of Waterloo, NJ, to celebrate, in a festive atmosphere, the verdant and vibrant language of life." More:

Jim grieved that poetry had been banished to the margins – “inside the schools, inside the universities,” as Adrienne Rich once put it. He wanted it back in the town square and that’s where he worked to bring it.

I collaborated closely with him in filming several of these gatherings for PBS, and all these years later I still remember the exhilarating moments when the play of language dazzled the ear as fireworks delight the eye on the Fourth of July. Jim finally retired, I moved on, and The Dodge Poetry Festival now thrives – praise be! — in the urban precincts of Newark just as lustily as it did in the tranquil groves of rural Waterloo.

Jim, who like Robert Frost considers poetry as “a momentary stay against confusion,” still writes poems that connect to the navel of human experience and every Christmas season I eagerly await his latest revelation. This year it arrived in a poem he calls “Starting With Black.”

When I read it, I realized that as he so often does, Jim is addressing the urgent political and moral crisis of the moment. I asked him if this were so — was my intuition correct? — and he answered: “The profound and expansive confusion that consumes us today requires much more than a momentary stay (even though any respite can help) and I cannot overestimate the danger of immediately grasping for the solace of normalization or simple denial. When the gravity of our current confusion somehow reminded me of Matisse’s remark that ‘black is also a color’ I began to see the necessity of squarely facing the darkness of our predicament. It seemed that only when we stop and give ourselves over to fully taking in this darkness can we begin to gauge its scope and scale. And then, paradoxically, we may discover within that very blackness the energy that will sustain our resistance, our struggle for clarity. Deeply inhabiting a work of art (letting ‘music/guide our every impulse’) strikes me as an important way to tune ourselves and to provide a life-preserving rhythm for the long struggle that lies ahead.”

Read Haba's poem at Moyers and Company.

Originally Published: January 3rd, 2017