"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Monday, February 4, 2008

What Is It You Plan To Do

With your one wild and precious life?

Poet Mary Oliver's appearance Monday at Benaroya Hall is the fastest sellout in the 20-year history of Seattle Arts & Lectures. It is sparking ticket action on the local Craigslist, where tickets to rock concerts and sports playoffs are regularly bought and sold, but rarely to poetry readings.

Take that, Minneapolis. The Twin City may have supplanted Seattle as the country's "most literate city" in an annual survey but the Oliver sellout demonstrates that Seattle still has its zealous literary enthusiasts. (At Seattlepi.com)

As if that didn't give us hope for mankind, as poet and friend GC Smith so kindly put it, farther on in the article, we came to this:
Oliver's "New and Selected Poems, Volume One" has been one of the all-time best-selling volumes at Open Books, the poetry-only bookstore in Wallingford.

There is a poetry-only bookstore somewhere in the world.

My favorite book of Mary Oliver's is still House of Light, and one of my favorite poems is The Kingfisher:

The kingfisher rises out of the black wave
like a blue flower, in his beak
he carries a silver leaf. I think this is
the prettiest world--so long as you don't mind
a little dying, how could there be a day in your whole life
that doesn't have its splash of happiness?
There are more fish than there are leaves
on a thousand trees, and anyway the kingfisher
wasn't born to think about it, or anything else.
When the wave snaps shut over his blue head, the water
remains water--hunger is the only story
he has ever heard in his life that he could believe.
I don't say he's right. Neither
do I say he's wrong. Religiously he swallows the silver leaf
with its broken red river, and with a rough and easy cry
I couldn't rouse out of my thoughtful body
if my life depended on it, he swings back
over the bright sea to do the same thing, to do it
(as I long to do something, anything) perfectly.

The poem mentioned in the article, The Summer Day, from which the title of this post comes, is also in House of Light.

The article goes on to say that there are three poets who can be expected to sell out like this, the other two being Billy Collins and Seamus Heaney. I just saw Collins read with Frank McCourt at the AWP conference in New York City, and they were funny, Collins with Bob Newhart-esque delivery and McCourt, the former NYC schoolteacher, giving dead on imitations of his vocational high school students and their forged excuse notes. Now I will be adding Oliver to the to-see list. I have been reading her work for 20 years, but haven't seen her read yet.

On the subject of McCourt, he said he'd read something about cows at a reading and then been chastised that the father of one of the attendees had just been trampled to death by cows. He thought couldn't he have had a heads up, for that? It made me think, in his brogue, that "trampled to death by cows" must be the Irish euphemism for, "He was drunk in the barn and fell asleep and the cow tripped over him. Fell on him. He suffocated. And such nice handwriting he had, he's with God now." There is the proof of the power of McCourt's voice, that it got right into my head and I had to write that down, with a reference to his memory of the nuns' love of fine handwriting. Which brings me to another memory, of receiving a letter from my father in my teens in reply to one I'd written, in which his writing reflected what I knew was my own voice, which evidently had power, at least over him.


Zen of Writing said...
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SB said...

I love how evocative poetry is. Reading this post reminds me of when I first read Mary Oliver, and friends who were reading her around the same time.

I love McCourt, too.