Monday, April 06, 2009

National Poetry Month, Day 6: Mary Oliver

So, here's the thing. Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, David Whyte...these were the poets who pulled me into language very young, who said things, specifically about the natural world, that I didn't know you could. They wrote things that at the time made sense to me, and make sense to me still. I don't go to them anymore to inspire me toward the brilliant stanza or the line or even toward poetry in general. BUT they still inspire me toward thoughtfulness and attention and a general kind of spiritual looking-around, a kindness, if you will, toward the world.

I recently participated in a reading in upstate NY. One of the other readers read a poem he'd written that essentially made fun--and fun is an understated adjective in this case--of this kind of poetry, and at Mary Oliver's expense. By "this kind of poetry" I suppose I mean accessible poetry, poetry about the natural world (?), inspirational poetry, poetry that has made its poets successful and well-known, put them on NPR and allowed them to make a living at what they do, poetry that isn't tinged with the kind of snarky cynicism that makes me want to crawl under a rock. As my favorite rocker Eugene Hutz said in an interview last year, "It's too easy to be a cynic. It's too easy to be ironic. It's too easy to be negative...I think that being here on Earth is a gift to make a full use of before whatever the next stage is."

So, with that, I honor Mary Oliver, and all the other poets that don't have to be clever, cryptic, cynical, and ICKY in order to be brilliant:

Cold Poem
by Mary Oliver

Cold now.
Close to the edge. Almost
unbearable. Clouds
bunch up and boil down
from the north of the white bear.
This tree-splitting morning
I dream of his fat tracks,
the lifesaving suet.

I think of summer with its luminous fruit,
blossoms rounding to berries, leaves,
handfuls of grain.

Maybe what cold is, is the time
we measure the love we have always had, secretly,
for our own bones, the hard knife-edged love
for the warm river of the I, beyond all else; maybe

that is what it means the beauty
of the blue shark cruising toward the tumbling seals.

In the season of snow,
in the immeasurable cold,
we grow cruel but honest; we keep
ourselves alive,
if we can, taking one after another
the necessary bodies of others, the many
crushed red flowers.

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