The poem is not my favorite literary form. That would be the novel. Yet during our trip to the library yesterday, I checked out three books of poetry. Two by Mary Oliver and another that I found on the shelf and just thought looked interesting. I first heard of Mary Oliver at a silent retreat. At each retreat, we start our time together with a few readings before we enter into silence. Once Oliver's poem Praying was one of our readings:
It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
Praying happens to be in Thirst, one of the volumes I found at the library yesterday. The other volume is Blue Iris, which the one I've chosen to read first. It's been a lovely journey so far, filled with meditations on nature and lines like "the long work/ of turning their lives/ into celebration/ is not easy" from the poem Sunflowers. It has made me think and simultaneously calmed my restless, wearied, overburdened mind.
Why did this novel reader choose some books of poetry for company right now? In part, it was because another recent (non-fiction) read had excerpts of several poems that I thoroughly enjoyed - by Mary Oliver and several other poets. But it was also because I haven't been able to concentrate enough to read a novel. I am now 100 pages into one, but while it is thoroughly readable, I am not jumping headlong into it. Part of me wonders whether this is my spirit reining me in and discouraging me from numbing myself too much with words (as I am prone to do). So when an idea struck me to spend some time in a book of poetry, I thought the idea might be divinely inspired.
Poetry has lessons I need to learn.
savoring each word,
visualizing time, place, flowers, trees,
seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary,
and grasping everyday life as the gift it is.
If magazines are fast food, cotton candy reading and novels are healthy entrees, poetry is rich, decadent dessert. Meant to be taken in small portions and savored.
I don't know whether my time in Mary Oliver's words is meant to teach or comfort me, I just know I am sinking into it and letting her words wash over me.
Okay, not one can write a symphony, or a dictionary,
or even a letter to an old friend, full of remembrance
Not one can manage a single sound, though the blue jays
carp and whistle all day in the branches, without
the push of the wind.
But to tell the truth after a while I'm pale with longing
for their thick bodies ruckled with lichen
and you can't keep me from the woods, from the tonnage
of their shoulders, and their shining green hair.
Today is a day like any other: twenty-four hours, a
little sunshine, a little rain.
Listen, says ambition, nervously shifting her weight from
one boot to another - why don't you get going?
For there I am, in the mossy shadows, under the trees.
And to tell the truth, I don't want to let go of the wrists
of idleness, I don't want to sell my life for money,
I don't even want to come in out of the rain.
From Blue Iris: Poems and Essays by Mary Oliver