Mary Mary

Yesterday my day was filled with poetry. Normally, I bring my love of words wherever I go, but I found poetry at work. At our college all-staff meeting, a faculty member/published poet read her wonderful work. We connected afterwards. It was just nice seeing poetry presented before a large, non-literary crowd. And it was the perfect way to ease into attending the Mary Oliver reading.

If I ever doubted the Boston-area poetry community, they were put to rest as I stood in a line of what seemed like 400 people waiting to get into the art-deco theater. The crowd, made up mostly of women, waited patiently, and I eavesdropped on every conversation I could. Heard lots of banter like,” We must recreate the universe!” and “I’ll wonder if she’ll read her Percy dog poems.”

As it turns out, she did read a few Percy poems, as well as many older ones and some from her new book, Thirst. She read a good 20 poems for about 45 minutes.

Here are some random things that I learned about Mary Oliver:

  1. Every photo of Mary that I’ve seen is in black and white, so I though she was much older, maybe even frail. In fact, she’s quite the opposite—spry and healthy as a horse.
  2. Her voice is clear and seasoned, and she likes to talk between poems; though, I wanted to hear more tidbits. I always like to know how poets feel about their works over time. I did get some of that but not as much as I had hoped. Still, when she reads, her voice resonates, like she has lived with the words for a long time.
  3. Every time Mary finished reading a poem, the audience groaned in affirmation. Also, lots of head nodding.
  4. Mary made a list of poems to read, and yet she couldn’t seem to locate any of them quickly from book to book. And she veered off the list to read a few new, unpublished poems.
  5. She has nine poems about her four-year old dog, Percy.
  6. Someone brought a baby to the reading. As the mother of two kids under four, it’s difficult to expect a child to stay quiet in such a venue. So after a few playful squeals from the back, Mary said, “That’s the best sound in the world, a baby’s voice.”
  7. When the reading ended, the book signing was held at the Brookline Booksmith bookstore, just down the street from the theater. Somehow I ended up walking alongside of her (didn’t speak with her) and noticed that her escort was a priest! At the very least, he was a man of the cloth. That, somehow, was comforting to see. With the signing held at the bookstore, the line to buy books was outrageously long, so I left in frustration.
  8. Jumping back to the beginning, the host from Brookline Booksmith quoted and spoke about the first line of Mary’s poem “Messenger.” I thought that would be a great way to end this post for Poetry Thursday.


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
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

I felt privy to sit back and be astonished by Mary Oliver’s work. Happy Poetry Thursday everyone!


claireylove said…
'Still, when she reads, her voice resonates, like she has lived with the words for a long time.'

I love that observation January - glad you had a great poetry day!
Susannah Conway said…
oh, i have poetry-reading envy now :-) thank you for sharing these observations... if i'd have been walking by her i probably would have touched her to make sure she was real ;-) x
I'm so glad you shared about the reading--I was waiting to see what you had to say about it. Mary's words are so luminous...just hearing that exhaled breath is a gift. Thank you for the vicarious joy!
Unknown said…
Thank you so much for posting this. I got the Mary reading vicariously through you. In the rooms I walk in, we having a saying about someone like Mary Oliver: "She has what I want." And that poem you posted says exactly what that is.

paris parfait said…
Thanks for sharing your experience of the poetry reading - and the poem. What a special evening! But if I'd been walking next to her, I would have spoken (it's the reporter in me; I can't help it). :)
Jon said…
I'm happy to be able to say, honestly, that I have very little envy in my life, but I must confess that I have to second susannah's comment: after reading this, I have a little poetry-reading envy myself.

Thanks so much for sharing this experience.
ren powell said…
I feel lucky that you took the time to share this with us in great detail. Thank you!
Emily said…
This sounds magical. I love Mary Oliver. I always think she looks kind of frail in her pictures too. Thanks for sharing this experience.
la vie en rose said…
and did you cry??? i think i would have cried...
January said…
No, I did not cry. But I did feel the event had its own magic. I felt like I was part of something special.

What gives me the most joy is being able to share this experience with all of you.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for getting back to us on this -- you are SO lucky! All best, Nic
wendy said…
How did she walk...Did she talk with her hands? Was she witty or her comments or both. I say head hung in shame, because I have never attended a reading...I know, I tell me did she look you in the eye after she read....

I am so happy that you are a warrior on the front lines of face to face poetry!bravo!!
Anonymous said…
Look at you, doing the optional idea from last week. Yay!

I saw her read about 10 years ago. I'm glad she's still spry and healthy.
Deb R said…
That's a beautiful poem. I always love MO's stuff and it would be so cool to see and hear her read her work!
Catherine said…
I'd go to a Mary Oliver reading in a shot, if she were ever close enough to me. I've never thought she looked frail - I thought she looked like someone who spends a lot of time outdoors.
To believe that one's work is just to watch and love the world is a rare gift
Since we can't all be there (like it was at the workshop) we are all glad for the vicarious experience you give! Thanks! (Even tho' we're envious, so envious). Thanks, too, for the poem.
Kay Cooke said…
I visited last night and caught up with all your news - well th elast two weeks anyway. Thanks for sharing that about Mary oliver - I could vicariously be present!

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