I used to hate poetry, but now I write it. Sometimes …sparingly.
Some of it has been published on Spillwords.com, some of it remains in notebooks and journals. Most of it I wrote during college. My practice has been growingly irregular due to the need to write blog posts and PR copy. There are times when the news copy gets stale. During those times, I know I need to find some inspiration outside the box, beyond the magazine, newspaper, and blogs. I turn to poetry. Luckily, many of my favorite poets lives with me on my bookshelves. Robert Lowell, Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver, among others are all artists-in-residence in my home office.
So, it was not surprising that two or three weeks ago, I found myself using the words “incredible,” “amazing,” and even the much maligned “fascinated” came up a few more times than I was comfortable with. I grabbed a book off the shelf that I knew would galvanize the production of more descriptive words than the banal ones I kept overusing. (<—–Example…this sentence.) The book I chose was a collection of poems by the recently deceased Mary Oliver titled, “What Do We Know,” published in 2002. Little did I know she was in her last few weeks of life.
Oliver’s ability to choose the right words at the right moment is perfection. Each page is a meditation on the present moment. It is mindfulness. It is prayer. It is everything. She makes the abstract and complicated mysteries of the human condition, clear and concise through her description of the flora and fauna found in your backyard. The only catch: you have to look for it, examine the world, examine your mind, and examine the self. In other words, you MUST do the stuff that no one wants to do. You have to get out of your own away, press the button to take yourself off the modern day, auto-pilot existence, and look closely at the wonder of what lies before us in nature, in others, and in our selves.
None of this is comfortable or easy. It is hard but worthy work.
Oliver’s poetry motivates me to not only be a better writer, but also a better person. Not many can say they are capable of encouraging progress on both these lofty goals. One is usually blessed with one talent or the other, but rarely both. Since last week when I heard that Mary Oliver died it was clear to me that she had many of life’s mysteries figured out. We all have our flaws, but she was capable of managing them, leveraging them, through sharing them with the world in the form of her voice and words which will live on eternally.
To those bestowed with such precious gifts, so much is expected. Her legacy will forever live on and her soul will rest in the knowledge that she exceeded those expectations every step of the way. Thank you, Mary, you are home.
by Mary Oliver
When we are driving in the dark,
on the long road to Provincetown,
when we are weary,
when the buildings and the scrub pines lose their familiar look,
I imagine us rising from the speeding car.
I imagine us seeing everything from another place–
the top of one of the pale dunes, or the deep and nameless
fields of the sea.
And what we see is a world that cannot cherish us,
but which we cherish.
And what we see is our life moving like that
along the dark edges of everything,
headlights sweeping the blackness,
believing in a thousand fragile and unprovable things.
Looking out for sorrow,
slowing down for happiness,
making all the right turns
right down to the thumping barriers to the sea,
the swirling waves,
the narrow streets, the houses,
the past, the future,
the doorway that belongs
to you and me.