Friday, January 4, 2008

Poetry Friday: Mary Oliver

Is Mary Oliver too much of a Mary Sunshine? Some say she is.

I have to agree that her poems, when read one right after the other like "ice cream sodas," can be too rich, but then, I don't like any work read that way. I prefer to unwrap my poetry slowly, and savor it over a period of days, like a jawbreaker. So even though my first book purchase of 2008 was Why I Wake Early, I'm not going to read the whole thing all at once. I might make it last for three months, like Violet Beauregarde's gum.

On the other hand, I'm preparing to read seven books of poetry in one month, as a judge for the Cybils. Look at this fabulous short list! How am I going to handle such a poetry splurge? Many thanks to Kelly Fineman and her nominating team for giving me and my fellow judges such richness in which to indulge.

What about you? How do you like to consume your poetry?

While you're thinking on that, here's a Mary Oliver poem that perfectly sums up why I don't like to rush anything, and especially not poetry.


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

The rest is here.

(Mary Oliver, from The Atlantic Monthly)

Poetry Friday is hosted this week by A Year of Reading


  1. Yeah. Not just to be there, but to listen. To have nothing better to do. Yeah.

  2. Oh, but I love that one. I don't think if the sunshine is genuine, you can ever have too much. It may not suit my mood at all times, but the simplicity and joy is genuine. Thanks for sharing that one.

  3. I thought about using this poem when I wrote my post on bird poetry, but I was selfish and didn't want to share. I wanted to savor it all by myself. Is that bad?

    Thank you for being good enough to share!

  4. My, but Ms. Manister is quite the cynic. I wouldn't want to bump into her before she's had her morning coffee.

    I love this poem and agree with Tadmack that if the sunshine's genuine, it's marvelous.

  5. I did love this poem! Like you, I like to savor my poems, little by little.

    I agree with Karen. Ms. Manister is entitled to her opinion, but slicing into the heart of someone's work that way seems unnecessarily spiteful.

  6. Call me Pollyanna but I adore Mary Oliver. I think she is a saving grace. I'm serious. She's who I give to friends who are divorcing or grieving or lost or confused. And often who I go to on those days myself. But I'm with you. Not the whole book. Never. A little taste. And then absorption...

  7. Wow. Who put the itching powder in Diane Manister's knickers and then gave them such a twist?

    I love the Mockingbirds poem, and many others of hers I've read. I disagree with Manister's contention that because we live in an industrial world where ugly things happen, we have to dwell on the ugly in our poems. Yeesh. And btw, ugly has always existed, only the technology to watch it hasn't always been there. And beauty and light and affirmation are always worth seeking. /rant

    I tend to savor poetry as well. Rushing brings loss of understanding and impact, usually. Which is why I still have more than 1500 Dickinson poems to go in the book I have, because I can only read 1 or 2 (or sometimes, as many as 4) in one sitting. There needs to be time to appreciate.

  8. I love Mary Oliver's poems. She is a great one to read when you are down in the dumps because she offers hope in her words.

  9. How do I take my poetry? in binges. I find an author I like and read everything I can find. Then I move on, only dropping in now and then for a nibble.

  10. Sara,

    I don't have any of Oliver's most recent books--but I do love many of her poems. I like the way she takes times to look at nature and to see things with her unique poet's wonder at the world.

    I like to savor my adult poetry. I don't think I'd ever want to read fifty or more poems in one sitting. There are certain poems I love that I return to again and again. They never lose there punch or meaning. They're poems that seem to get better with every reading.

  11. Okay, so I've been trying to read that interesting essay since this got posted, and my dear, dear girls are singing and playing all around me at this second attempt, so I might try yet again later. But, wow. "Only poetry that asserts the presence of goodness while acknowledging evil can bring comfort in a world where children sent to school may be taken hostage or shot." True dat, but I do think that there are plenty of Oliver poems that acknowledge that evil. I do. I'll have to go look them up if anyone wants some "proof," but all that's to say I don't think she's Little Miss Mary Sunshine or whatever Manister called her. Nor do I think her poetry is "banal." One of many indications of that? All the people so fervently standing up for her in these comments. My blogger peeps with eminently good taste. :)

    Jules, 7-Imp

  12. P.S. Kelly Fineman, I love you. I wish so many of you were my neighbors so that I could talk to you every morning over coffee about literature, but you, in particular, would make me snort my coffee back out through my nose, I think, with comments like "Who put the itching powder in Diane Manister's knickers and then gave them such a twist?"

    Jules, 7-Imp

  13. That Open ID thing has confused me ever since Blogger started it. Maybe I'll get it right from now on!

    I'd not read the Mary Oliver. Lovely. Thanks, Sara.

    Susan T.

  14. I'm with Jules on wishing all of you lived closer so we could hash this out over coffee, tea, whatever. I'd even provide the bibs for those coffee-snorting moments...

  15. Jules: You are such a sweetheart. I should note that my family does not find me particularly funny, so maybe it's best if I'm at a distance. But I would love to meet you and hang out in person, too. And Sara and Eisha and Susan and . . .

  16. Speaking as someone who has been called Mary Sunshine more than once, yay.

    And yay for Violet Beauregarde.

  17. I tend to live in high-speed, and I often read a number of poems at one sitting. But I'll read from an anthology or from several different books.

    A lot of times the poems have to sift and settle into my mind, and I might go back and look at one or two later in the day. But if I read a poem and then just try to sit and think about it, that doesn't work for me. My mind quickly wanders off to all the "productive" things I should be doing. But reading a bunch in a row and then letting them fade in and out throughout the day as I do other things (dishes, aqua class, writing work under contract, etc.) seems to be my way of absorbing them.

    BTW, the comments were almost as much fun to read as the actual post!

  18. I tried to leave a comment yesterday but must have clicked out too fast. I really loved all three of the poems on that page. I have a teacher friend that made a button with the phrase"You only have to let the soft animal of your body
    love what it loves. " from the Wild Geese poem on it because she loved it so much. I can't say I totally agree with that as a life philosophy, but there is something comforting about it...

    I think we need all the beauty and sunshine we can get. Ugliness will take care of itself.

    I have to take poems in small doses too. I get impatient with having to study too hard and I have a short attention span. The rewards are worth the work though!


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