It’s Tuesday evening. I’m not inspired. When I feel this way, I look to other writers and artists to pull me up. We’re all in this together. No need to compete. There is room for everyone. I’m a strong believer in abundance. I feel a spiritual obligation to pay it forward.
I’m thinking about last May. Me, Liz, and two of our friends met for dinner at Acadia Cafe . We were just finishing our meals, when it started to pour. We ran across Nicollet Avenue through the pounding rain (without umbrellas), and sloshed across the parking lot, dodging puddles.
When we finally slipped into a crack between two open doors, we were soaked to the bone: stringy hair, dripping palms, wringing wet. In the soggy line, we handed the smiling ushers our tickets, and stepped into an architectural dream. The place was packed, buzzing with energy. I’ve been meaning to write about that night ever since. But I just didn’t know what to say.
Sometimes things have to sit inside a while. I have to hold them tight to me. Until I know what I’ve got.
Angle, pipe organ, stained glass, inside Plymouth Congregational Church, night of Mary Oliver, May 7th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
After a glowing introduction, and with a half-smirk that never left her face, Mary Oliver slowly walked up to the podium at Plymouth Congregational Church. Steady and sure, she had me from the first step. She was funny, witty, wise, and sometimes sarcastic. She made me laugh, something I highly value in a writer. She seemed to have lived a long, good life – a life not without sorrow.
She woke me up.
Liz took a few notes that night in a black, 8×10 sketchbook she had hidden deep in her pack. I asked her if I could take a look at it tonight, to help me unearth buried treasure. I chuckled when I saw a little thumb-sized pen and ink sketch of Mary Oliver in Liz’s notebook, near the left corner, by the spiral binding.
It’s a great reproduction of the way Mary looked that night. I wish I could scan and post it. I carry everything the poet said in my heart. But there is something about looking at handwritten lists, thin-lined sketches, and short words on a long page, that jogs the memory.
At the top of the toothy, unlined paper was a list the four of us made, things we wanted to do: go camping together again, hang with pre-Dr. Ruth (the name of one of our friends), ask questions at the end of Mary Oliver, practice pranayama (i.e. don’t forget to breathe), always carry a mint
At the bottom were shards of memory, dots connecting the thin, wispy lines of Mary Oliver to snippets of words from the past.
- dogs remind us of the joy of the unexamined life
- dogs (pets) teach us to appreciate what we’ve lost; it’s the other life we no longer have that we must cherish
- it’s all in the way you live your life
- be disciplined
- pay attention!
- cultivate astonishment and tell about it
- never use a computer
- lose your drafts, they are only learning material
- poetry carries stories of us, community, culture, nation
- poetry is one of the bedrocks of culture
- poetry helps us feel
- poetry keeps the good stories going and makes us human – from Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person by Mary C. Richards
- reach to be sustained
- have faith
- read other poems, other poets
- remember life is a gift
- love and work
- embrace the natural world
- keep it simple and clear
- accessible, no more than what you need
- have fun cutting away
- write fast, 30 or 40 drafts
- “Oh, what a nice podium. How nice for the preachers.”
- “I have trouble with titles – there’s a Spring in every book.”
–Writer’s Hands, hands of Mary Oliver, signing a copy of Thirst,
May 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey.
All rights reserved.
At the end of her epic reading, we went out to the lobby to buy books for Mary Oliver to sign. I purchased a CD of Mary reading At Blackwater Pond. Liz purchased Owls and Other Fantasies. We had regretfully left Thirst at home.
Liz walked up to the table, and opened Owls to an unconventional page for signing. Mary paused, a little taken aback. Liz was quick to recover. “I like this image,” she said.
“Did you know it’s a photo of a feather?” Mary asked. Liz said, “Oh, no, I didn’t. That’s amazing.”
There was a pause while Mary ran her pen across the page. I watched from the sidelines. Liz smiled and said, “My Mom’s an Oliver. I like to think we’re related.”
Mary glowed with an impish grin, handed Liz the book, leaned forward, and I could have sworn she winked when she said, “Let’s say we are.”
-related to post, The Uses Of Sorrow – What Is It About Obituaries