Posts Tagged ‘Mary Oliver’

Discover Ada Limón, the 24th U.S. Poet Laureate

October 25, 2022

I recently discovered Ada Limón. I found her refreshing and her poetry accessible. She is the author of six poetry collections and is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and the Kentucky Foundation for Women. This past summer she was selected as the 24th U.S. Poet Laureate for 2022-2023.

Here are 3 related sequential videos: a Library of Congress interview, followed by a PBS interview and announcement, and Ada Limón giving her inaugural reading as the 24th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress. I added a bonus video at the bottom, from 2019—Life of a Poet: Ada Limón.

1. July 12, 2022: Ada Limón: 24th Poet Laureate (19 min)

Ada Limón talks about her poetry and her appointment as U.S. Poet Laureate with Library of Congress Chief Communications Officer Roswell Encina, in the Library’s Poetry Room.

When asked how she writes, Ada explains that composing a poem is an all-body experience for her. She involves all her senses, not just her mind. She is asked what inspires her, and replies: “I find inspiration in so many different things. I always say the muse is, or my muse is the world. It’s everything.”

At 6:45, she expresses the essence of what it means to be a poet.

But I think I’m always amazed by how deep attention can turn into a poem, that deep looking is a way of loving. And it can transform the smallest thing into something of great importance. And no matter how many years I’ve been writing poems and no matter what I’ve done, that is the thing that brings me the most joy, that gives me shivers, the way that looking and attention and really giving your all to something can transform it.

I’m always amazed by how deep attention can turn into a poem, that deep looking is a way of loving…can transform the smallest thing into something of great importance…the thing that brings me the most joy, that gives me shivers, the way that looking and attention and really giving your all to something can transform it. (edited)

Ada Limón, 24th U.S. Poet Laureate

The other side of the equation, of course, is how the poet is also transformed by this process. It is obvious that Ada Limón was meant to be a poet, and now a poet laureate.

But what she said reminds me very much of what Rainer Maria Rilke wrote about this experience. I discovered it in Jane Hirshfield’s book, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, in the chapter on Poetry and the Mind of Indirection, pages 119-120. Rilke gets to the essence of what that deep attention, deep looking (and loving), can bring a devoted poet. Hirshfield writes:

Both readings of Novalis’s aphorism—that an awareness in the things we wish to observe and know, and that the way we come to them matters—enter into a letter from Rilke, sent in the winter of 1920 to Baladine Klossowska, a lover and fellow writer with whom he shared a passionate correspondence.

This next paragraph, translated by Stephen Mitchell, reveals that essential art of deep seeing, and its surprising hidden reward of spiritual transformation.

These Things whose essential life you want to express first ask you. “Are you free? Are you prepared to devote all your love to me . . . ?” And if the Thing sees that you are otherwise occupied with even a particle of your interest, it shuts itself off; it may perhaps give you some slight sign of friendship, or word or a nod, but it will never give you its heart, entrust you with its patient being, its sweet sidereal constancy, which makes it so like the constellations in the sky. In order for a Thing to speak to you, you must regard it for a certain time as the only one that exists, as the one and only phenomenon which, through your laborious and exclusive love, is now placed at the center of the universe, and which, in that incomparable place, is on that day attended by angels.

These Things whose essential life you want to express first ask you. “Are you free? Are you prepared to devote all your love to me . . . ?” … In order for a Thing to speak to you, you must regard it for a certain time as the only one that exists, as the one and only phenomenon which, through your laborious and exclusive love, is now placed at the center of the universe, and which, in that incomparable place, is on that day attended by angels. (edited)

Rainer Maria Rilke in a letter to Baladine Klossowska

Mary Oliver also reiterated this truth: “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” It was her essential message for living a full life. She emphasized: “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” She formularized it in this succinct 3-line poem, Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. / Be astonished. / Tell about it.

Even well-known Canadian actor Keanu Reeves said something similar: “The simple act of paying attention can take you a long way.

For John Keats, this experience of reverse deep seeing was to inhabit a state of being perceived outside himself. It involved negating his Self to become The Other, what he described as ‘negative capability’.

2. Jul 27, 2022: PBS NewsHour: Ada Limón on becoming the new U.S. poet laureate (6 min)

Ada Limón has been named the nation’s new poet laureate. Jeffrey Brown recently met with Limón to learn more about her life’s path, one that includes backyard groundhogs, Kentucky bluegrass, pokeweed and plenty of poetry. It’s part of our arts and culture series, “CANVAS.”

3. Sept 29, 2022: Live! at the Library: U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón Opening Reading (56 min)

Award-winning poet Ada Limón will give her inaugural reading as the 24th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress, with an introduction by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. The historic reading marks the beginning of Limón’s laureateship, and it traditionally launches the Library’s literary season.

4. January 30, 2019: Hill Center poetry series, The Library of Congress. (63 min)

Poet Ada Limón discussed her work with Ron Charles, book critic at the Washington Post. It was a rich interactive and intimate conversation, introducing and then commenting on her reading certain meaningful poems from her life. Enjoy Life of a Poet: Ada Limón.

PS: These posts share similar experiences described by Limón and Rilke: Being written—how some poems come through us and Karen Matheson sings ‘Crucán na bPáiste’ with a Gaelic band. Brendan Graham tells how the song chose him as a conduit. Truly beautiful and sad. Also see negative capability, reverse seeing, beauty & the desire for transcendence & unity in life & poetry.

In this post, New York poet laureate Marie Howe reads “Annunciation” to Krista Tippett On Being, she describes how the poem came through her. In another interview included there, she is asked if she thinks of writing as a spiritual act at its core, and answers:

“I do, because it involves a wonderful contradiction, which is, in order for it to happen, you have to be there, and you have to disappear. Both. You know, nothing feels as good as that. Being there and disappearing—being possessed by something else. Something happening through you, but you’re attending it. There are few other things in the world like that, but writing is pretty much a relief from the self—and yet the self has to be utterly there.”

New: What the Living Do—Marie Howe’s ‘letter’ to her brother—an elegy to loss and how she lives with it.

Mary Oliver reads a lovely poem about her dog

September 14, 2021

Renowned poet Mary Oliver reads “Little Dog’s Rhapsody in the Night” from her collection of new and favorite poems, Dog Songs, celebrating the dogs that have enriched her world.

Little Dog’s Rhapsody in the Night

He puts his cheek against mine
and makes small, expressive sounds.
And when I’m awake, or awake enough

he turns upside down, his four paws
in the air
and his eyes dark and fervent.

“Tell me you love me,” he says.

“Tell me again.”

Could there be a sweeter arrangement? Over and over
he gets to ask.
I get to tell.

Here are two other dog poems by Mary Oliver posted on Words for the Year: The Sweetness of Dogs and I Ask Percy How I Should Live My Life.

Read about Mary Oliver (1935-2019) and her astonishing poetry in this memorial acknowledgment to her poetic legacy. It contains links to articles, interviews, and poetry readings, as well as many of her favorite poems I’ve loved and posted over the years.

John O’Donohue’s 4 short lines say it all for poets

January 27, 2020

These 4 short lines by John O’Donohue describe how he lived his creative life—amazed by each revelatory moment, turning them into poems.

Fluent

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

— John O’Donohue

Enjoy 3 more of his lovely poems: A Blessing of Solitude (Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom); The Inner History of a Day and For a New Beginning (To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings).

Mary Oliver lived her life that way: “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work,” and put it into a 3-line poem, Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. / Be astonished. / Tell about it

William Stafford expressed the same notion in his talks and poems of being innocent, spontaneous, and responding creatively in the moment: A Course in Creative Writing, You and Art, and When I Met My Muse.

This poem my son wrote when he was in 6th grade epitomizes this idea: INSPIRATION, a poem by Nathanael Chawkin.

These poems I wrote on the process share in that same sentiment: Writing; Storytelling; and Sometimes Poetry Happens, which turned out to be a commentary on this revealed poem, ODE TO THE ARTIST: Sketching Lotus Pads at Round Prairie Park.

In our efforts to fluently express ourselves, writing, primarily, is a process of self-discovery. Burghild Nina Holzer says journal writing allows us to discover who we are and what we have to say.

Talking to paper is talking to the divine. Paper is infinitely patient. Each time you scratch on it, you trace part of yourself, and thus part of the world, and thus part of the grammar of the universe. It is a huge language, but each of us tracks his or her particular understanding of it.

WHO ARE YOU?, a poem in the film, Words and Pictures, invites us to write and discover who we are. There’s a fascinating story behind it.

In the words of Donald Hall, “Writing is the process of using language to discover meaning in experience and to communicate it.”

In this collection of Writers on Writing–What Writing Means To Writers, Hall also wrote:

A good writer uses words to discover, and to bring that discovery to other people. He rewrites so that his prose is a pleasure that carries knowledge with it. That pleasure-carrying knowledge comes from self-understanding, and creates understanding in the minds of other people.

In her poem, Mockingbirds, Mary Oliver teaches us how to listen, and be transformed by wonder

October 22, 2019

Our attention is the greatest gift we can give to someone, or something. It can transform our world. Mary Oliver’s poem, Mockingbirds, teaches us how to listen, and experience the wonders around us.

Mockingbirds

by Mary Oliver

This morning
two mockingbirds
in the green field
were spinning and tossing

the white ribbons
of their songs
into the air.
I had nothing

better to do
than listen.
I mean this
seriously.

In Greece,
a long time ago,
an old couple
opened their door

to two strangers
who were,
it soon appeared,
not men at all,

but gods.
It is my favorite story–
how the old couple
had almost nothing to give

but their willingness
to be attentive–
but for this alone
the gods loved them

and blessed them–
when they rose
out of their mortal bodies,
like a million particles of water

from a fountain,
the light
swept into all the corners
of the cottage,

and the old couple,
shaken with understanding,
bowed down–
but still they asked for nothing

but the difficult life
which they had already.
And the gods smiled, as they vanished,
clapping their great wings.

Wherever it was
I was supposed to be
this morning–
whatever it was I said

I would be doing–
I was standing
at the edge of the field–
I was hurrying

through my own soul,
opening its dark doors–
I was leaning out;
I was listening.

###

Mary Oliver left us at the beginning of this year. To learn more about this amazed poet and her amazing poetry, see: RIP: Mary Oliver. Thank you for sharing your poetic gifts with us. They are a national treasure!

Mary Oliver advises us to open up to joy and not hesitate if we suddenly and unexpectedly feel it

March 13, 2019

                    DON’T HESITATE

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

— Mary Oliver, Evidence (2009), Devotions (2017)

See this remembrance of Mary Oliver with links to more of her poems.

The nurturing effect of rainwater in Mary Oliver’s poems Lingering In Happiness At Blackwater Pond

March 13, 2019

These two poems by Mary Oliver describe the nurturing effect of rainwater in nature deep within the body of the earth and inside her own.

LINGERING IN HAPPINESS

After rain after many days without rain,
it stays cool, private and cleansed, under the trees,
and the dampness there, married now to gravity,
falls branch to branch, leaf to leaf, down to the ground

where it will disappear—but not, of course, vanish
except to our eyes. The roots of the oaks will have their share,
and the white threads of the grasses, and the cushion of moss;
a few drops, round as pearls, will enter the mole’s tunnel;

and soon so many small stones, buried for a thousand years,
will feel themselves being touched.

— Mary Oliver, Why I Wake Early (2004), Devotions (2017)

AT BLACKWATER POND

At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?

— Mary Oliver, At Blackwater Pond (2006), Devotions (2017)

See this remembrance of Mary Oliver with links to more of her poems.

Both of these poems remind me of this short poem by William Stafford.

B.C.

The seed that met water spoke a little name.

(Great sunflowers were lording the air that day;
this was before Jesus, before Rome; that other air
was readying our hundreds of years to say things
that rain has beat down on over broken stones
and heaped behind us in many slag lands.)

Quiet in the earth a drop of water came,
and the little seed spoke: “Sequoia is my name.”

Mary Oliver’s poem, The Loon, may leave you suspended, like the poet in the early morning

March 8, 2019

To get a feeling for what Mary Oliver heard and how it affected her, listen to this video, Voices: Common Loon, before reading her poem, The Loon.

                                   THE LOON

Not quite four a.m., when the rapture of being alive
strikes me from sleep, and I rise
from the comfortable bed and go
to another room, where my books are lined up
in their neat and colorful rows. How

magical they are! I choose one
and open it. Soon
I have wandered in over the waves of the words
to the temple of thought.

…………………………………And then I hear
outside, over the actual waves, the small,
perfect voice of the loon. He is also awake,
and with his heavy head uplifted he calls out
to the fading moon, to the pink flush
swelling in the east that, soon,
will become the long, reasonable day.

……………………………………………….Inside the house
it is still dark, except for the pool of lamplight
in which I am sitting.

……………………………I do not close the book.

Neither, for a long while, do I read on.

 

— Mary Oliver, What Do We Know (2002), Devotions (2017)

See this remembrance of Mary Oliver with links to more of her poems.

RIP: Mary Oliver. Thank you for sharing your poetic gifts with us. They are a national treasure!

January 17, 2019

maybe death
isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light
wrapping itself around us–

From White Owl Flies Into And Out Of The Field by Mary Oliver

Jan 17, 2019: I received news this morning that Mary Oliver had passed. I was shocked. Strange how just two days ago I had posted and sent out one of her beautiful, wise poems, Sunrise.

Later tonight I checked and the internet was flooded with the news. A friend forwarded this email from Suzanne Lawlor: RIP Mary Oliver. I am very sorry to share this sad news about Mary Oliver, one of my favorite poets. This is what was sent out today. (I added the dates.)

Mary Oliver, beloved poet and bard of the natural world, died on January 17 at home in Hobe Sound, Florida. She was 83. (Born: Sept 10, 1935)

mary oliver photo

Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

Oliver published her first book, No Voyage, in London in 1963, at the age of twenty-eight. The author of more than 20 collections, she was cherished by readers, and was the recipient of numerous awards, including the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for American Primitive, and the 1992 National Book Award for New and Selected Poems, Volume One. She led workshops and held residencies at various colleges and universities, including Bennington College, where she held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching until 2001. It was her work as an educator that encouraged her to write the guide to verse, A Poetry Handbook (1994), and she went on to publish many works of prose, including the New York Times bestselling essay collection, Upstream (2016). For her final work, Oliver created a personal lifetime collection, selecting poems from throughout her more than fifty-year career. Devotions was published by Penguin Press in 2017.

For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.

Her poetry developed in close communion with the landscapes she knew best, the rivers and creeks of her native Ohio, and, after 1964, the ponds, beech forests, and coastline of her chosen hometown, Provincetown. She spent her final years in Florida, a relocation that brought with it the appearance of mangroves. “I could not be a poet without the natural world,” she wrote. “Someone else could. But not me. For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.” In the words of the late Lucille Clifton, “She uses the natural world to illuminate the whole world.”

In her attention to the smallest of creatures, and the most fleeting of moments, Oliver’s work reveals the human experience at its most expansive and eternal.

In her attention to the smallest of creatures, and the most fleeting of moments, Oliver’s work reveals the human experience at its most expansive and eternal. She lived poetry as a faith and her singular, clear-eyed understanding of verse’s vitality of purpose began in childhood, and continued all her life. “For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.”

For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. 

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

###

In this poem, When Death Comes, Mary Oliver, who was seriously ill at the time, seemed to be contemplating her own mortality. Her perspectives on life and time were changing: “and I look upon time as no more than an idea, / and I consider eternity as another possibility,”. This reminds me what Maharishi said on the subject: “Time is a conception to measure eternity.”

I’ve posted a few of her astonishing poems: The Journey, Wild Geese, The Swan, PrayingVaranasi, The Summer Day (aka “The Grasshopper”), At the Lake, One, White Owl Flies Into And Out Of The FieldSunrise, The Loon, Blue Iris, When I Am Among The Trees, Lingering In Happiness, At Blackwater Pond, Don’t Hesitate, Mockingbirds, Messenger, Little Dog’s Rhapsody in the NightComing Home, and When Death Comes, which was included here in her obituary posted on Jan 17, 2019.

On January 21, 2019, Here & Now‘s Robin Young talked with author Ruth Franklin about award-winning poet Mary Oliver’s legacy: Remembering The ‘Ecstatic Poet’ Mary Oliver, Who Wrote About The Natural World. Ruth wrote a profile of Oliver for The New Yorker in 2017. Robin plays an excerpt of Oliver being interviewed by Krista Tippett: On Being, Mary Oliver Listening To The World.

I transcribed part of their discussion in this footnote to her poem, Messenger, where she says that attention is the beginning of devotion.

On October 18, 2016, Fresh Air’s Maureen Coorigan gave a wonderful book review of the poet’s New York Times essay collection: Mary Oliver Issues A Full-Throated Spiritual Autobiography In ‘Upstream’.

Today, on the day of her passing, the 92nd Street Y posted their Oct 15, 2012 recording of Mary Oliver reading from her new poetry book, A Thousand Mornings, as well as some of her other well-known poems.

On January 22, 2019, The Paris Review published an In Memoriam from Billy Collins. He wrote about a time (“one evening in October 2012”) when he and Mary Oliver shared the stage for a poetry reading “at an immense performing arts center in Bethesda, Maryland.” What he remembers “best was the book signing that followed. … I couldn’t help noticing how emotional many of Mary’s readers became in her presence. They gushed about how much her poems meant to them, how her poems had comforted them in dire times, how they had been saved by her work.” See his revealing conclusion to When Mary Oliver Signed Books. (PDF)

Quotefancy published TOP 20 Mary Oliver Quotes from her poems. Famous Poets and Poems lists 87 of Mary Oliver’s poems.

Mary Oliver’s essential message for living a full life

Mary Oliver said: “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” She elaborated it in this 3-line poem, Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. / Be astonished. / Tell about it. And did she ever! It’s how she lived her life, and told us all about it in the gift of her amazing poetry.

David Whyte’s poem, The Journey, describes a leaving as a new beginning, as did Mary Oliver

January 15, 2019

Having read The Journey by Mary Oliver, I found a poem by David Whyte with the same title. Oliver’s poem is about leaving her suffocating home to live her own life, breaking away from other voices to discover her own.

Whyte said he secretly wrote The Journey for a friend who’s life had come undone to give her hope for renewal. She was going through another kind of leaving, from a long-term marriage. He describes it in the introduction to this poem, which you can hear him read below.

Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again

Painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be
inscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

first, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes of your life.

You are not leaving.
Even as the light fades quickly now,
you are arriving.

From House of Belonging by David Whyte

I’ve posted two other poems of his: David Whyte describes the mysterious way a poem starts inside you with the lightest touch and What To Remember When Waking by David Whyte.

A white owl hunting in and out of the snow helps Mary Oliver see death as spiritual transformation

January 13, 2018

snowyowl-mandel

White Owl Flies Into And Out Of The Field

Coming down
out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel,
or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful
and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings–
five feet apart–and the grabbing
thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys
of the snow–

and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes,
to lurk there,
like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows–
so I thought:
maybe death
isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light
wrapping itself around us–

as soft as feathers–
that we are instantly weary
of looking, and looking, and shut our eyes,

not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river
that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light–scalding, aortal light–
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

House of Light, 1990 © Mary Oliver

See this remembrance of Mary Oliver with links to more of her poems.

The ideas and imagery of light and dark that Mary Oliver uses remind me of William Stafford’s poem, Rx Creative Writing: Identity, where he describes “then that bone light belongs inside of things. You touch or hear so much yourself there is no dark. You know so sure there burns a central vividness.”


%d bloggers like this: