Thursday, September 10, 2009

Happy Birthday Mary Oliver


by Mary Oliver

I wish I was twenty and in love with life
and still full of beans.

Onward, old legs!
There are the long, pale dunes; on the other side
the roses are blooming and finding their labor
no adversity to the spirit.

Upward, old legs! There are the roses, and there is the sea
shining like a song, like a body
I want to touch

though I'm not twenty
and won't be again but ah! seventy. And still
in love with life. And still
full of beans.

"Self-Portrait" by Mary Oliver, from Red Bird. © Beacon Press, 2008.

It's the birthday of poet Mary Oliver, (books by this author) born in Maple Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland (1935). She won the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for her collection American Primitive (1983) and the 1992 National Book Award for New and Selected Poems (1992).

She's one of the best-selling poets in America, and she's also a very private person, giving relatively few interviews or details about her personal life. She taught in Bennington, Vermont, throughout the 1990s and currently lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts. She once wrote in an introduction to a poetry collection, "I have felt all my life that I was wise, and tasteful, too, to speak very little about myself — to deflect the curiosity in the personal self that descends upon writers, especially in this country and at this time, from both casual and avid readers."

But her recent collection Thirst (2006), which was written after her partner of 40 years passed away, contains many lines that address her personal experiences of grieving.

Oliver also wrote a lively sequence of poems about their dog, Percy. In "News of Percy (Five)" she writes: "We named him for the poet, who died young, in the blue waters off Italy. / Maybe we should have named him William, since Wordsworth almost never died."

Her books of poems include No Voyage (1963), The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems (1972), Twelve Moons (1978), The Leaf and the Cloud (2000), Owls and Other Fantasies (2003), and Red Bird (2008). Her most recent collection, Evidence, came out in April of this year.

She's also written some books of prose, including A Poetry Handbook (1994), Blue Pastures (1995), and Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse (1998).

Mary Oliver wrote: "Every day I walk out into the world / to be dazzled, then to be reflective."

And she wrote:

"My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
Keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished."

—from "Messenger" in Thirst (2006), first appeared in Nature and Spirituality

image lifted from here
text lifted from The Writer's Almanac

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