I wanted to go to Poet’s Walk, in Rhinebeck N.Y. for a good long time. I have driven by the park for years, mostly on a too and from the train station and yet I never visited. So when on SUnday it finally came time to visit with my friend Lucy, I was, I expect, overly excited and envisioned a miraculous synthesis of walking and poetry. A wonderland with poems posted inspirationally as one walked the paths along the Hudson River.
It was not that. It was land, well placed yes, with paths carved, or mowed into tall grass. Folks sitting on handmade benches were counting butterflies and munching sandwiches and a few Icelandic tourists, to whom I could say I love you in their native tongue. That was the extent of the poetry.
The pamphlet says they called it Poet’s Walk as an homage to Washington Irving and Thoreau who may have been inspired by such landscape, but it was a disappointment for me. As much is of late. Even with my poem in pocket I cannot escape myself and the feeling of dread that I will not find a job. Really any job at this point. Or health insurance. That I will have to sell my place in the city and retire in shame to the country. Retirement is fine; I just don’t want to have to slink off . I want another decade to work hard and make a difference.
All of this is, as my mother would have said is, an upscale problem. And she would have been right. But it is upending any life that bothers me. The anticipation of massive change is never easy and I feel as if I have done myself in with a life lived less than well and no amount of balmic words can sooth this soul.
Last night, tempest tossed, with my head full of dread, I attempted to find Mary Oliver and her wild geese harsh and exciting calling to me. I cocked my head to hear them honk in their harsh and exciting voices, but I was deaf, and drowsy, but unable to fall asleep. So I pinged, ricocheted from one verse to another in a kind of mix and match version of the real poem. Now this stanza, now that and finally with the jumble in my head I went to sleep.
When I went to lunch with Marty, see the earlier postings, he asked for my June poem and also asked about the poet, Mary Oliver so I sent him this bio. I include it here because who knows, what one asks many thinks.
Mary Oliver was born on September 10, 1935 in Maple Heights, Ohio. As a teenager, she lived briefly in the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay, where she helped Millay’s family sort through the papers the poet left behind.
In the mid-1950s, Oliver attended both Ohio State University and Vassar College, though she did not receive a degree.
Her first collection of poems, No Voyage, and Other Poems, was published in 1963. Since then, she has published numerous books, including Thirst (Beacon Press, 2006); Why I Wake Early (2004); Owls and Other Fantasies : Poems and Essays (2003); Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems (1999); West Wind (1997); White Pine (1994); New and Selected Poems (1992), which won the National Book award; House of Light (1990), which won the Christopher Award and the L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award; and American Primitive (1983), for which she won the Pulitzer Prize.
The first part of her book-length poem The Leaf and the Cloud (Da Capo Press, 2000) was selected for inclusion in The Best American Poetry 1999 and the second part, “Work,” was selected for The Best American Poetry 2000. Her books of prose include Long Life: Essays and Other Writings (2004); Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse (1998); Blue Pastures (1995); and A Poetry Handbook (1994).
“Mary Oliver’s poetry is an excellent antidote for the excesses of civilization,” wrote one reviewer for the Harvard Review, “for too much flurry and inattention, and the baroque conventions of our social and professional lives. She is a poet of wisdom and generosity whose vision allows us to look intimately at a world not of our making.”
Her honors include an American Academy of Arts & Letters Award, a Lannan Literary Award, the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Memorial Prize and Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Oliver held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching at Bennington College until 2001. She currently lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts.