The Marvelous Mary Oliver

Hello all my returning readers! I can assume some of you are returning now because I’ve actually made more than one post now. Ain’t I so  bright with my deductive reasoning skills? I’ll be sure to over-inflate my sense of self-worth accordingly. Since you’ve shown such grand devotion, I’ll reward you all by giving you some homework! You’re welcome.

You really should be thanking me though, because I was pretty damn delighted the first time I stumbled across Mary Oliver’s Work. This poem is from her newest published collection, so it wasn’t my first but I think it’s more than satisfactory enough to be yours. Vogue picked it up to release in anticipation of Blue Horses.

You like? Oliver is excellent for those easily intimidated for literary newbies intimidated by poetry. When I first mentioned my interest in her to my father, he congratulated me on becoming a fan of someone with  a “very easy to read” poetic style. Gee thanks dad. I try. I’ve actually learned plenty of big words between you reading me Good Night Gorilla before bed and now. I’m an English major, with honors, thinking about reading Ulysses or Gravity’s Rainbow at some point. I don’t need your patronizing nor your pity father, and neither would Mary Oliver, by the by, because she happened to nab the Pulitzer Prize for poetry back in ’83, (hence Vogue covering her new release.) You’ll notice the article said she was 79 years-old. So sure, the retirement age can be kind of late for career poets, but you don’t get to stick around  that long without some legitimate chops. I didn’t “meet” Mary Oliver so long ago, but her work left quite the impression on me.

I, probably like many readers, even English majors, couldn’t really describe myself as a poetry aficionado outside of what I was assigned in class. In my free time, I was a prose and novel gobbler. The dead people; Keats, Tennyson, Byron, were very pretty wordsmiths and all but contemporary poems always struck me as the literary equivalent of one of those paintings where the artist paints three lines of green paint then calls it a work of art. You know, I’m sure they put something like thought or effort into it, but I can’t stare at that sort of thing for more than five minutes without feeling like I’m enabling some self-indulgently cryptic artist in cranking out “masterpieces” that skirt around his or her utter lack of skill at drawing, say, hands, or buildings. Maybe a puppy. Keats could draw a fine-ass Grecian urn. Would it seriously spill too much of your cappuccino or overheat your black turtleneck and beret ensemble if you tried to make something out of your scribbles?!

Sorry, that venting was left over from sitting next to a certain morbid individual in my high school biology class who figured she could write such utterly draw dropping poetry, but in reality she’d just caught a bad case of puberty. Wait, that young lady might’ve been me, now that I think about it. Moving on.

Anyhow, I couldn’t claim to be an expert on poetry for longest time, (once the puberty wore off,) but all that changed when I ran into a relationship problem. Relationship problems with my books, that is.

You see, most of the books I’d been with preferred a monogamous relationship. I’d mull over their plot intently, fully exploring their rich cast of characters and so on, but it was never enough for me. I was always stumbling upon some new release or best seller in the book stores or library, then picking it up for just a quick look and falling maddeningly, hopelessly, into the story. Soon enough I’d come home late, mumbling excuses to my other book, acting distant and distracted. In one really bad case I forgot their protagonist’s name, swapping it with my secret tryst text’s main character, and God did we get into such a fight. This is probably why I never did much dating with humans for most of my teen-aged life; that copy of Huckleberry Finn must’ve spread the word around.

Anyhow, I needed a way to satiate my literary appetite without it seeping into my current committed relationship. Sure, they lasted about a week a piece with my average reading speed, but you know already what a monster I am. I started getting into graphic novels, even dipping my pinkie toe into the manga pool. These guys had pictures, were much shorter than novels, and I convince myself they were a different enough medium from a no-pictures grown-up novel that I could easily have one or two on the side and no one would be the wiser.

Except, I soon had a pile of ten or twenty graphic novels or comic books shadowing me day to day and it was just as bad as before. I needed another loophole, and fast. That’s when those fine, slim-figured poetry collections started catching my eyes. Poems, I knew, were short, and I’d enjoyed some Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein in my childhood. Maybe, if it meant finding yet another literary infidelity against that copy of Pride and Prejudice I kept putting off or those fifteen more issues of the Walking Dead I still had to get through, (an excellent combination of texts to find yourself reading really, but more on that in a future post.) I was no longer a teenager, if only just, and shouldn’t a young English major claim to be semi-well rounded in the realm of poetry?

Mary Oliver, as luck would have it, was one of the first poets I would pull off the shelf for a sample, and I fell in love. Her simple, straight-forward verses seemed, to me, to be a still pond. The surface may have been rather plain, but peer in closer and you’d see how such an utterly clear surface could show me the teeming life below. Dear Oliver even made me curious enough to start peering into the depths of other poets. Now there’s already a growing pile of poetry collections that I once swore looked so slim but are looking bigger and heavier everyday. I’m afraid my many literary relationships will soon be on the rocks again, but that’s an occupational hazard I’ve come to embrace by now.

For what it’s worth, those also struggling with multiple commitments might like to know Mary Oliver’s poems are all very open and zen-like about open relationships. I can go a-reading wherever I please then come back to her when I’m all tired and worn down to curl up for a wonderful sense of piece an clarity inspired by singular focus on the most modest of things; birds, trees, the woods on a winter’s night. It’s the sort of soul-feeding focus I can only find when reading good poetry.


4 thoughts on “The Marvelous Mary Oliver

  1. I want to start off by saying that I really love your writing style! It’s really fun and personable, and it catches the reader’s attention nicely! As an English major myself, I can completely relate to everything you’ve written. Poetry is often the bane of my existence in lit. classes. However, I agree with your thoughts on Mary Oliver’s poetry. Her writing style and word usage are noticeably easier to understand yet still very complex in meaning. I personally love the line “There is fire in the lashes of my eyes.” Very powerful! Overall, great post! Keep it up!

    Side note: I DEFINITELY recommend that you follow up with a post on The Walking Dead comics! FANTASTIC read and I’d really love to see what you have to say about them! 🙂


  2. Pingback: National Poetry Month | my life our books

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