Mary Oliver's incantatory poem “Night and the River,” first published in the 2008 collection Red Bird, is full of the mystery and natural wonder that have come to define Oliver’s unique vision, a vision that has, over her extraordinary fifty-year career, made her into one of the most beloved living poets we have. But there's something unexpectedly haunting, slightly frightening about this poem that makes it stand out even in her vast oeuvre. All the elements add up to an experience that's less ephiphanic than unforgettable: the moonlit silhouette, the predator's act of violent consumption, the narrator’s vulnerability and empathetic ambivalence, and the memory of it all that is at first predatory itself—intruding on the narrator's consciousness even after she has returned to the safety of home—and then transfiguring. It is a terrific example of what a poet can do when operating at the top of her faculties, and of the powerful compression of poetry itself, containing both destruction and creation, darkness as well as light.
When I was finishing up with Emerson College's Publishing and Writing program, I took a novel writing workshop by the novelist Kim McLarin. We were assigned to read several first novels of notable authors, but the one that stood out for me was James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain. My only previous experience with Baldwin had been with Giovanni’s Room, which moved me deeply, but for some reason I had not pursued his other works. After we discussed Baldwin’s work, we watched part of the PBS documentary James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket. I had never heard Baldwin speak before, but when I did, I knew that this eloquent voice not only unabashedly spoke the truth, but demanded you listen as well.
Although Beacon has not primarily been known to publish poetry, we have always had a select list of exceptional poets who reflect the values at the core of our mission, including, for many years, the premier poet of the natural world, Mary Oliver, and, of course, the inimitable Sonia Sanchez, who represents a vibrant tradition of oral interpretation that blends and bends the lines between verse and music. Sonia has famously performed with rap artists and memorably with Sweet Honey in the Rock and other artists, including Diana Ross. Sonia has been on a mission for decades of using poetry in public schools and she makes it a rule that wherever she’s invited to read for an adult audience, she also tries to visit a local school and read to and engage with the students. We are enormously proud of her work.
We are also proud to have on our backlist several books of Spanish-language poets in bilingual editions, including a wonderful volume of Lorca and Jimenez, and one of Neruda and Vallejo, both translated by Robert Bly.
On the left, previous editions of James Baldwin's Jimmy's Blues and Gypsy. On the right, Beacon's forthcoming edition of Jimmy's Blues and Other Poems
*This campaign is intended for parody only. Beacon Press does not endorse any one candidate, especially Tweet Laureate, since it doesn't exist. The book, however, is real, and you can win a copy!
In June 2011, much-loved novelist Elinor Lipman made a pledge to post one political tweet poem a day until the presidential election. For over a year, she has risen early to read the headlines and track the latest political debacles, then brought the tumult of the election season to the Twittersphere in the form of one 140-character rhyming poem every day.
Elinor Lipman's proven track record of providing a daily dose of much-needed humor in verse makes her the best (and, as far as we know, only) candidate for Tweet Laureate. Tweet your support and be entered to win a campaign button and a copy of Tweet Land of Liberty!
I support a funnier America! @ElinorLipman for #TweetLaureate: http://goo.gl/Bjnjp #TweetLandofLiberty
Lipman has already gathered endorsements (if not generous financial contributions to a shady Super PAC) from a wide range of supporters:
"First I laughed my way through Elinor Lipman's book of political tweets. Then I put my ear to the ground and listened to Molly Ivins guffawing from the grave. Lipman is a piquant poetic rock star! " —Wally Lamb
"This year, has there any better way to revel in the political process than to pour a cup of coffee, log into Twitter, and read one of Elinor Lipman's clever, catchy tweets about the race for the presidency? With humor, wit, and no small share of brilliance, Lipman has cataloged the 2012 election in delectable sound bytes that manage to capture what we're all secretly thinking—in rhyme, and in less than 140 characters." —Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Lone Wolf and Sing You Home
"If brevity be The soul of wit/ Then Elinor has A surefire hit." —Alex Beam
"Devilishly and deliciously witty. We could all use a laugh a day and Elinor Lipman has given me that." —Judy Blume
"It's nice to see that Lipman's wit has escaped the hell of Twitter and collected itself in a book." —Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom
"A devotion of fearless, sassy, sublime insights, that should be carried into the voting booth of our daily lives—each poem read again and again—before any lever is pulled." —Nikky Finney, winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Poetry
"So it has come to this! Of thee I zing. I love it." —Lois Lowry
"The only sane, smart and witty thing to come out of the Republican primaries." —Stephen McCauley
"Jon Stewart in 140 characters -- and in the morning. What could be better?" —Stacy Schiff
"Winsome, witty and winning! I don't know how she does it!! " —Anita Shreve
"Elinor Lipman tweets like a nightingale with an eagle eye." —Cathleen Schine
Happy Fourth of July from Beacon Press! To celebrate, Elinor Lipman has written a special Independence Day poetic tweet inspired by "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus. Lipman is over a year into her project to chronicle the 2012 election cycle in verse on Twitter. Retweet it and follow her @elinorlipman.
This poem, which many refer to as "The Grasshopper," is one of the best-known and often quoted of Mary Oliver's work. This recording of the poet reading her own work is from At Blackwater Pond, an audio CD of Mary Oliver reading forty of her poems.
Over the course of her long and illustrious career, Mary Oliver has received numerous awards. Her fourth book, American Primitive, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984. She has also received the Shelley Memorial Award; a Guggenheim Fellowship; an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Achievement Award; the Christopher Award and the L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award for House of Light; the National Book Award for New and Selected Poems; a Lannan Foundation Literary Award; and the New England Booksellers Association Award for Literary Excellence.
Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper, I mean— the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down— who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away. I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
Copyright @ 1990 by Mary Oliver. First published in House of Light, Beacon Press. Reprinted in The Truro Bear and Other Adventures: Poems and Essays, Beacon Press.
One winner will receive signed copies of New and Selected Poems, Volume Two; Thirst; and Swan; and a poster featuring a poem from Swan.
Three winners will receive a signed copy of Swan and a poster.
Five winners will receive a poster.
If you love Mary Oliver's poetry, then enter our drawing!
We'll take entries starting 9 a.m. EST April 12 and ending at 5 p.m. EST April 30, 2012. You may enter one time per day. Drawing is open to U.S. residents only. Winners will be chosen at random from all entries received and will be notified the week of April 30. TO ENTER, VISIT BEACON.ORG FOR MORE DETAILS. Good luck!
You can find Adrienne Rich in anthologies of Jewish American poetry, but most of her many admirers do not think of her first (if at all) as a Jewish poet: they think of her as a feminist poet, as a political poet, as a GLBT activist, as a talented artificer in traditional metrical forms (during the 1950s) as a maker of harshly original free verse (during the 1960s), as a woman who challenged herself to overcome "the fact of being separate" (as she put it in the early 1970s) in order to speak to and about other people's needs. Though Rich's father was Jewish (as was her late husband), she did not identify herself with any religion for most of her writing life: in high school, she recalled, "I am quite sure I was seen as Jewish (with a reassuringly gentile mother) in that double vision that bigotry allows." Her ambitious, assimilationist father, however, "did not give me the choice to be a Jew."
Rich's 1982 essay "Split at the Root," from which those sentences come, describes her long-delayed decision to call herself Jewish in print. If you read Rich's poem "Jerusalem" (1966) you will see her view religious heritage as an excuse for violence and a trap: "What I dream of the city," she writes, "is how hard it is to leave." An even earlier poem, "At the Jewish New Year," insisted on Rosh Hashanah that "this day is merely one/ Of thirty in September," and that "whatever we strain to forget/ Our memory must be long": "we" here means not Jews but assimilated Jews, Jews who want to distance themselves (but cannot distance themselves enough) from their shared religious past. [Ed's note: The New Yorker has unlocked this poem in their archives.]
Rich's later poems, by contrast, show her reclaiming Judaism as something to which she says she might want to belong. These poems often address the Baltimore family in which she grew up. "Grandmothers" (1980), for example, pays belated tribute to Hattie Rice Rich, the poet's father's mother, whose "sweetness of soul was a mystery to me," but in Rich's youth "a convenience for everyone": "you rose with the birds and children, boiled your own egg," "took the street-car downtown shopping/ endlessly for your son's whims, the whims of genius," and "All through World War Two the forbidden word/ Jewish was barely uttered in your son's house."
Rich is a poet of confrontation, one whose imagination flares at shows of defiant strength, and in this poem she can defy her Jewish father by acknowledging, as he did not want to acknowledge, the hard and quiet work done by her grandmother in bringing him up, work that Arnold Rich (in his daughter's telling) overlooked. Rich has two grandmothers, but "Grandmothers" has three parts: one part for her maternal grandmother, who "married straight out of the convent school," one part for Hattie Rice Rich, Arnold's mother, and one part for Adrienne herself, entitled "Granddaughter," in which she describes herself as "born a white woman, Jewish or of curious mind," and newly interested in "'blood,' the all-powerful awful theme."
By "blood" Rich means, here, not the shedding of blood (as she did in "Jerusalem") but the lines of descent, the passing down of habits and beliefs (accompanied, in this instance, by passed-down genes), which enable Rich, the daughter of a Jew and a non-Jew, to call herself Jewish, and to explore, in middle age, the aspects of Judaism that said the most to her. And that is what she did in the book she wrote after finishing "Grandmothers," the book she would call Your Native Land, Your Life. That book includes Rich's most accomplished poem on a Jewish theme, "Yom Kippur 1984," named for the day of fasting, self-examination and repentance that occurs near, but not at, the start of each Jewish year.
"Yom Kippur, 1984" explores the twinned Jewish obligations—especially relevant on Yom Kippur— to consider one's own life, to reflect on one's actions inwardly, as an individual, and the obligation—for observant Jews, a matter of Jewish law; for Rich, perhaps, a matter of ethics—to be with other Jews at certain times (Jewish law requires a minyan, at least ten Jews praying together, before certain prayers can be said). "Yom Kippur, 1984" begins:
What is a Jew in solitude? What would it mean not to feel lonely or afraid far from your own or those you have called your own? What is a woman in solitude: a queer woman or man? In the empty street, on the empty beach, in the desert what in this world as it is can solitude mean?
Rich sees Jewish affiliation, the decision to call oneself a Jew, as one example among many of protective solidarity: "the Jew on the icy, rutted road on Christmas Eve prays for another Jew/ the woman in the ungainly twisting shadows of the street: Make those be/ a woman's footsteps; as if she could believe in a woman's god." She then admits, vexing herself, that "I also love separateness." Like almost all poets, she needs some time alone, unhindered by what other people expect her to say, whether in a synagogue or at a dinner table. Can she identify herself with a group—with Jews, for example—and still preserve the solitude, the distance from expectations, which all poets need? The poem ends not by answering but by repeating the question, and asking what it would mean in a just world, a world in which we no longer wanted group identifications—religions, nations, labels of many kinds—for mutual protection, and could no longer use them to keep other people away.
Not coincidentally Rich uses very long, end-stopped lines for this poem: she has said that she associates these lines not just with the poetry of the Hebrew Bible but with Walt Whitman, that great poet of connections among Americans, and with Robinson Jeffers, the Californian poet of American misanthropy and solitude. Neither Whitman nor Jeffers were Jewish, but Rich, here, says that she is: she takes a Jewish occasion to reconsider the choices she has made—about where to live, how to spend her time and energy, how to write—and in doing so identifies her own poetic practice with a kind of ethically oriented self-examination we might think of as Jewish too. On Yom Kippur Jews are asked to consider the previous year as a series of acts and decisions taken or declined; the Kol Nidre prayer, in which we ask divine forgiveness for obligations that we could not have carried out, is part of the service, but so too is the reminder that if we owe something to another human being, we must fulfill our obligation to that human being, not to a divine substitute.
Rich has used her Jewish material here to think both about family and about herself alone, to think both about solitude and about obligation. She will choose solitary reflection over participation in rituals and social occasions that seem to her false or oppressive (that's one reason she famously refused to accept the National Medal for the Arts). And yet her temperament has always drawn her also to shared tasks, to the ways in which people can work together to improve their lot. That is the Jewish mitzvah of tikkun olam, often and rightly invoked as a religious justification for political activism, and it is one of the ways that Rich, "split at the root" and alert to her contradictions, finds herself, still, writing Jewish books.
Today's post, a poem written in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is from poet, activist, and scholar Sonia Sanchez. Sanchez, one of the most important writers of the Black Arts Movement, is Laura Carnell Professor of English and Women's Studies at Temple University. She is the author of thirteen books, including Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems, where this poem appears.
On December 29, 2011, Philadelphia selected Sonia Sanchez as the city’s first Poet Laureate. A proud resident of Philadelphia since 1976, Mayor Michael Nutter called her the “conscience of the city.” As Philadelphia’s Poet Laureate, she is responsible for selecting and mentoring a Youth Poet Laureate, participating in spoken word and poetry events at City Hall and the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Sanchez is now collecting haikus about peace from fellow writers and the public for a mural in South Philadelphia, which will be unveiled in June 2012. Her most recent book of poetry, Morning Haiku, is available from Beacon Press. Read some selections from the book on SoniaSanchez.net. For a complete list of works by Sonia Sanchez, visit her website. Read more about her selection as Philadelphia’s Poet Laureate here, or visit Poetry Foundation.
Photo Credit: April 4, 1968: Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., just before making his final public appearance to address striking Memphis sanitation workers. King was assassinated later that day outside his motel room. (AP/Wide World Photos)
Morning Song and Evening Walk
Tonite in need of you and God I move imperfect through this ancient city.
Quiet. No one hears No one feels the tears of multitudes.
The silence thickens I have lost the shore of your kind seasons who will hear my voice nasal against distinguished actors.
O I am tired of voices without sound I will rest on this ground full of mass hymns.
You have been here since I can remember Martin from Selma to Montgomery from Watts to Chicago from Nobel Peace Prize to Memphis, Tennessee. Unmoved along the angles and corners of aristocratic confusion.
It was a time to be born forced forward a time to wander inside drums the good times with eyes like stars and soldiers without medals or weapons but honor, yes.
And you told us: the storm is rising against the privileged minority of the earth, from which there is no shelter in isolation or armament and you told us: the storm will not abate until a just distribution of the fruits of the earth enables men (and women) everywhere to live in dignity and human decency.
All summerlong it has rained and the water rises in our throats and all that we sing is rumored forgotten. Whom shall we call when this song comes of age?
And they came into the city carrying their fastings in their eyes and the young 9-year-old Sudanese boy said, "I want something to eat at nite a place to sleep." And they came into the city hands salivating guns, and the young 9-year-old words snapped red with vowels: Mama mama Auntie auntie I dead I dead I deaddddd.
In our city of lost alphabets where only our eyes strengthen the children you spoke like Peter like John you fisherman of tongues untangling our wings you inaugurated iron for our masks exiled no one with your touch and we felt the thunder in your hands.
We are soldiers in the army we have to fight, although we have to cry. We have to hold up the freedom banners we have to hold it up until we die.
And you said we must keep going and we became small miracles, pushed the wind down, entered the slow bloodstream of America surrounded streets and "reconcentradas," tuned our legs against Olympic politicians elaborate cadavers growing fat underneath western hats. And we scraped the rust from old laws went floor by floor window by window and clean faces rose from the dust became new brides and bridegrooms among change men and women coming for their inheritance. And you challenged us to catch up with our own breaths to breathe in Latinos Asians Native Americans Whites Blacks Gays Lesbians Muslims and Jews, to gather up our rainbow-colored skins in peace and racial justice as we try to answer your long-ago question: Is there a nonviolent peacemaking army that can shut down the Pentagon?
And you challenged us to breathe in Bernard Haring's words: the materialistic growth--mania for more and more production and more and more markets for selling unnecessary and even damaging products is a sin against the generation to come what shall we leave to them: rubbish, atomic weapons numerous enough to make the earth uninhabitable, a poisoned atmosphere, polluted water?
"Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams," said a Russian writer. Now I know at great cost Martin that as we burn something moves out of the flames (call it spirit or apparition) till no fire or body or ash remain we breathe out and smell the world again Aye-Aye-Aye Ayo-Ayo-Ayo Ayeee-Ayeee-Ayeee Amen men men men Awoman woman woman woman Men men men Woman woman woman Men men Woman woman Men Woman Womanmen.
Joan Murray is a poet, writer, and playwright. She is the editor of The Pushcart Book of Poetry and the anthologies Poems to Live By in Uncertain Times and Poems to Live By in Troubling Times. A repeat guest on NPR's Morning Edition, she is also a National Poetry Series Winner, a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship Winner, a Wesleyan New Poets Series Winner, and Winner of Poetry Society of America's Gordon Barber Award.
Four days after the terror attacks I was traveling on an Amtrak train. Like most Americans, I was gripped by sorrow, fear, and uncertainty about the future. I went to the café car for coffee, and noticed a group of men there—they were wearing shorts and jeans, but they were carrying themselves erect, with a sense of mission. It dawned on me they must be firemen. Yes, they were firemen, they told me when I asked them, and they were going to New York “to dig.” They reminded me of the men and women of my parents’ generation: ordinary people who stepped forward to do very difficult things. I told them, “I hope you find some survivors,” and I went back to my seat and wrote “Survivors—Found.” It shot out of me in ballad rhyme—something I’ve never used before or since.
Because I’d been on NPR’s Morning Edition before, I faxed the poem there, and so, eight days after the attacks, I read “Survivors—Found” on the air, and thousands of people from all over the world contacted NPR for copies. I was invited to read the poem at the official New York State Memorial Observance; at a Fallen Brothers Foundation firefighters fundraiser; and at a stadium unveiling of the 9/11 stamp. Boston-based ABC Affiliate NECN-TV taped me for a 9/11 video using “Survivors—Found” as the voiceover. People seemed to need the poem because it paid tribute to our better natures and gave us something to weigh against the horrors and sorrows of that day.
I was also approached by publishers who invited me to edit an anthology as a response to the attacks. Since I’d published with Beacon Press before, I knew they’d do something respectful (no flaming towers on the cover!), and so I began assembling an anthology from poems in my own home library—the same poems that I’d been turning to myself in those sad, anxious days. I called the book: Poems To Live By in Uncertain Times. And the whole time I was choosing its poems, my Beacon editor and her assistant were moving mountains to obtain permissions and bring the book forward. The designers, copyeditors and publicists were working at record speed too. I don’t think any of us slept for weeks, but we had the book in hand 11/11/01—exactly two months after the attacks.
Poems to Live By in Uncertain Times became a Beacon Bestseller—and it continues to sell well today, probably because it’s not a book of 9/11 poems; rather, it’s a book of timeless poems by noted contemporary poets that can guide us through our own difficult times—whatever times we face that require solace or encouragement. I hadn’t wanted to include “Survivors—Found” in the book, but my editor insisted it be there, and I’m very glad she did. “Survivors—Found” has become an anthem for 9/11—and, ten years later, it still reminds us of what we gained in the midst of all that terrible loss. Coming forward with generosity and courage, we discovered ourselves as a nation.
In honor of Poetry Month, Beacon Press will give away five posters featuring a poem from Sonia Sanchez's Morning Haiku, now available in paperback. Enter once a day before noon EST Friday, April 29. The poster features the poem:
4 haiku (for Nubia)
Telephone wires sang her voice over soft sister laughter
you held us with summer stained smiles of hope
i hold your breath today...you sail home across the ocean
i see you Nubia walking your Mississippi walk God in your hands.
At the end of January, Mary Oliver gave a reading at Emory University. For those among us who had the great joy of seeing her, and for the rest of us who were unable to be there, here is a video of her reading three poems at that event: "Tom Dance's Gift of a White Bark Pinecone," "Wild Geese," and "Peonies."
In honor of National Poetry Month, Beacon Press will give away five signed copies of Mary Oliver's Swan: Poems and Prose Poems.
For details and to read a poem from the book, visit MaryOliver.Beacon.org. You can enter once a day between now and Friday, April 15, at noon EST.
Beacon Press is giving away five signed copies of Mary Oliver's Swan: Poems and Prose Poems.
For details and to read a poem from the book, visit MaryOliver.Beacon.org. You can enter once a day between now and Friday, April 15, at noon EST.
All our lives, at least seasonally, the redbird sings, and the oriole and the wren, and in April the ponds are reliably loud with the singing of frogs, and on long winter afternoons the snow-heavy wind whistles in the pines. But our own voices, the particular voices of those who are dear or important to us-- or both-- vanish utterly at the end of the season of life. And how thoroughly also are the sounds of a certain place gone when we visit it no more, though visual joys, sometimes with great clarity, may remain in the mind.
In Rajastan, in India, a man, a woman, and a child were singing outside a restaurant; I can still see them in their vibrant gypsy clothes, the man holding a stringed instrument somewhat like a guitar, but smaller and shaped differently, rather like a gourd. But I cannot hear anymore their loud brisk, joyful singing, a strange and powerful performance. How can this be, that the eyes can keep so many pictures, and the ears have no such reliable and comforting memory? It was perhaps the most exciting music I had ever heard; I think I might have followed it anywhere; but we drove on to the next town, and now in my ears there is nothing.
Of course, the ears are not always quite so empty as I describe them in this story. One can remember voices and almost hear them again a little, especially the intonation of a familiar voice at some pitch of emotion, angry, or frightened, or tender. But for me, at least, it's a few syllables thrust into the air, and they are hard to hold onto.
Many years ago a friend and I used to go to the Old Met in New York, two or three nights a week sometimes. We would stand in the lobby and wait, and sure enough some svelte couple would come dashing out at the end of Act One, to a dinner or a party perhaps, and we-- poor but audacious-- would ask them to give us their ticket stubs. We were never refused, and invariably they were good seats: first floor, down front. Tebaldi, Tucker, Warren, De los Angeles! And then Tebaldi and the others sang at the Met no more, sang no more anywhere.
Well, the truth is that I wish I could live those years again, and enter into the presence of those live performances that meant so much to me. But I do not need to suffer the absence of their voices: technology, while it has invented some horrendous things, can claim much good magic also. So I can hear Tebaldi again. I can hear Dylan Thomas telling in his wondrous voice about a long-ago Christmas day. I can hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaiming that he had seen the promised land. What if that voice had vanished irretrievably-- I think we would feel by that much less the long struggle up the mountain. As in history, as in art, so in life. Oh, what if one had no kept record of the voice of someone loved and now gone? What an extra dish of sorrow that would be.
For there is something heard in the actual voice that cannot be accrued from the printed page, though we read with care and excitement, even with a real falling-into-it passion. There is simply no "connect" as there is between listener and speaker. That, at its best, is almost touch. Nuances unfelt on the page hang in the air. So. Though I am an old-fashioned sort of person, who knows only the kind of blackberries that grow on bushes (for which my friends berate me), I can't deny my own joy and appreciation at the salvation of voices otherwise vanished into the unknowable darkness.
Therefore, this second CD. I join the world. And ponder this fantasy sometimes-- that one day technology will find a place in the dark air and bring back to us the voices of Keats, Shelley, Whitman, Emerson, Li Po, Rumi, Homer-- anyone anyone wants to hear. Who knows. . .
Maria Shriver is guest editor of O Magazine's April Issue, a special Poetry Month edition of the magazine, which features a rare interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver. Shriver has long admired Oliver's work, and writes, "I was overjoyed when—after politely declining my invitations for six straight years—Mary finally agreed to read at my annual Women's Conference in California last fall, joining speakers like Michelle Obama and Eve Ensler."
In the interview, Oliver talks about writing, reading, the loss of her life partner Molly Malone Cook, and finding the courage to speak about personal trauma. Here's a short excerpt from this revealing and delightful discussion:
Maria Shriver: One line of yours I often quote is, "What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"* What do you think you have done with your one wild and precious life? Mary Oliver: I used up a lot of pencils.
Maria Shriver: [Laughs.] Mary Oliver: What I have done is learn to love and learn to be loved. That didn't come easy. And I learned to consider my life an amazing gift. Those are the things.
Maria Shriver: You have lived a very unique life, a life really individual and fearless. Mary Oliver: Well, it was never a temptation to be swayed from what I wanted to do and how I wanted to live. Even when Molly got ill, I knew what to do. They wanted to take her off to a nursing home, and I said, "Absolutely not." I took her home. That kind of thing is not easy. I used to go out at night with a flashlight and sit on a little bench right outside the house to scribble poems, because I was too busy taking care of her during the day to walk in the woods.
“Joy is not made to be a crumb,” writes Mary Oliver, and certainly joy abounds in her new book of poetry and prose poems. Swan, her twentieth volume, shows us that, though we may be “made out of the dust of stars,” we are of the world she captures here so vividly: the acorn that hides within it an entire tree; the wings of the swan like the stretching light of the river; the frogs singing in the shallows; the mockingbird dancing in air. Swan is Oliver’s tribute to “the mortal way” of desiring and living in the world, to which the poet is renowned for having always been “totally loyal.”
Inspired by the familiar lines from William Wordsworth, “To me the meanest flower that blows can give / Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears,” Evidence is a collection of forty-seven new poems on all of Mary Oliver’s classic themes. She writes perceptively about grief and mortality, love and nature, and the spiritual sustenance she draws from their gifts. Ever grateful for the bounty that is offered to us daily by the natural world, Oliver is attentive to the mysteries it imparts. The arresting beauty she finds in rivers and stones, willows and field corn, the mockingbird’s “embellishments” or the last hours of darkness permeates her poems. Her newest volume is imbued through and through with that power of nature to, in Oliver’s words, “excite the viewers toward sublime thought.”
When New and Selected Poems, Volume One was originally published in 1992, Mary Oliver was awarded the National Book Award. In the years since its initial appearance it has become one of the best-selling volumes of poetry in the country. This collection features thirty poems published for the first time in this volume, as well as selections from the poet’s first eight books.
New and Selected Poems, Volume Two, an anthology of forty-two new poems—an entire volume in itself—and sixty-nine poems hand-picked by Mary Oliver from six of her last eight books, is a major addition to a career in poetry that has spanned nearly five decades. Now recognized as an unparalleled poet of the natural world, Mary Oliver writes with unmatched dexterity and a profound appreciation for the divergence and convergence of all living things.