January 17, 2019
Please Note: The article below was originally written and posted on a former version of this site. This article from 2012 has been edited and re-published in honor of Dr. Mary Oliver, who died earlier today.
Before you read the following article that I wrote after meeting Mary Oliver back in 2012, I would like to say a couple of things about her now, for today. Some of her childhood consisted of neglect, sexual abuse, and loneliness. Her life as a poet was the truest self she could be in this life, and the best. When young and throughout life, she found comfort, life, and what is sacred out in nature and with animals. She was a contemplative poet, with a naturalist’s passion for nature and simplicity. Every part of that encapsulation of her has given me hope and saved, affirmed, and encouraged me—as a survivor, poet, human, and naturalist soul. I send her well wishes on her soul journeys that begin today, and so much love and gratitude for all she shared with us. Shine on, dear Mary Oliver, holy voice for this earth—and what is so precious in this life.
Nov. 13th, 2012
Did you happen to feel a big bliss vibe yesterday? It could have been from me. I got to meet my favorite poet of our time, an inspirational goddess of poetry–Mary Oliver–yesterday. Because of this, I have residual Mary Oliver bliss that I know must be radiating out into the rest of this place. *big smile* Read on to learn what it was like to: see her, listen to her read her own poetry, get writing advice from her via the Q & A, how it was to meet her, and what it all meant to me.
I went to Marquette University with some of the best poetry loving friends, in order to witness Mary Oliver receive an honorary doctorate there. Mary Oliver’s smile, in reaction to the donning of the Doctorate robe, was such a revelation to me! In general she has a serious and drawn face. And quite suddenly, it burst open like a shimmering flower of tropical sunshine. It was a jolt–an amazing joy to behold. We then listened to Dr. Oliver read her poetry to us. It was an hour, which passed like a few minutes. After, there was a Q & A, and then a line formed for book signing. My best poetry buddy, Marci, and I got to speak with her briefly together, when our turn approached for signing—more on that later.
The main and briefly summarized impression I had from the poetry reading itself was of: Mary Oliver’s affinity and compassion for nature, her dog, and for the real connections of this life that she expresses in ways that soothe, affirm, and stir my soul. This is why she is beloved–her poetry is transpersonal and deep, yet accessible. The whole experience was holy.
In person, Mary Oliver is small, and she is older now, so she has a cane and white hair. She was very much like a fairy-godmother presence, especially while delighting in choosing which poems to read to us. She seemed to me to be mostly: witty, cute, wild, rebellious, tender, open-hearted, bold, wise and magical. Also, Mary Oliver’s heart and mind seem to have beams of focused energy, clear and strong, that are able to shine out upon the world–wherever she may be sitting, standing, or speaking in the moment. There is an air of serious concentration about her. And, it is clear, she adores the natural world, and has a passion for it beyond simple observation—she is in deep relationship. It is also clear, she deeply cares about people, no matter how humble, shy, and introverted she is. She made a tremendous effort to transmit her love and appreciation to us with grace, humor and oomph.
During the Q & A, a fiery passion came forth as she responded to a question, giving advice about how to be a successful poet. I can’t quote her word for word, but it was something I can paraphrase as this:
Forget about being successful! Spend every day caring about your writing. In this economy, forget about the nice car and nice apartment. Focus on doing the best you can, writing every day!
She did answer my question, which was something like, “Does poetry flow from you in the same way it did 10-20 years ago?” She revealed, in not these exact words, that inspiration doesn’t hit as hard as it did once; that things have slowed. And yet, there was a new book in front of her and she mentioned another was on the way. She told us that she never had trouble with writer’s block. That if there was a little of it, she knew the answer was always connecting with the earth and being grateful, and it would come back, and flow. She also mentioned that, if anything, she wrote too much. I could tell that having inspiration leave her would be like an athlete suddenly becoming immobile with no hope of future mobility. It would be devastating. But I don’t really think that will happen. Her very being has become poetry, just as Whitman had described.
Her eyes are full beams of mystical presence…they struck me as powerful, yet gentle–a concentrated energy that I really haven’t ever seen in someone before. Her eyes are full, with presence–that is it—fiery, grounded, watery, elemental. Her life has been a discipline of not only presence, but deep relationship with all presence.
Speaking of those poetic goddess-like eyes, I had a chance to look right into them, across a table, at the book signing. I was feeling extremely shy and in awe, but I managed to say awkwardly, but honestly, “Thank you Dr. Oliver. I love you.” There was a significantly silent pause as she looked down at the book I had given her, before she wrote in my copy of Swan, then she said quite slowly and deliberately, “Well…I don’t know you, but…I love you too.” Then, she looked up and gave me the gift of presence, looking intently into my eyes–really looking. All I could do was smile at her with love and gratitude. It. was. awesome.
What I have always known, since I was 12 years old—was presented to me in the flesh yesterday, as pure and utter gift: A great poet speaks for and to the soul, as much as to the person. She is voice for the soul, for presence. She is also the medicine.
”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.” ~ Mary Oliver
Those words of Mary Oliver’s came to me as we all listened raptly to her, reading her poetry to us.
I felt, indeed, that I was hungry and cold, and maybe even a bit lost, and that she was feeding me (us) and my deeper self–like a mother bird feeds her babies. Yes, I felt that yesterday with Dr. Mary Oliver, and it was bliss.
CS Sherin, WildClover.org 2012, 2019©