Poets and Poetry

Mary Oliver

This is from BBC Sounds. I can’t embed the recording so I will link to it Here. This will open up in a new page. Large portions of the recording are from the On Being interview with Krista Tippett. Both Kirsta Tippett and Maria Popova in The Marginalian speak beautifully, eloquently about Mary Oliver, her life and poetry.

Molly Malone Cook (left) and Mary Oliver

Afterwords – Mary Oliver

A dive into the poetic worlds of the American writer Mary Oliver, through rare recordings of the poet herself, interviews with those who knew her and writers for whom her work has been a guiding light. In this edition of Afterwords, we explore Oliver’s poetic invitations to finding redemption, devotion and love within a harsh and beautiful world. Her words sing the natural landscape – alive with awe, ecstasy, wildness – but also with a deep awareness of its capacity for heartbreak, pain and brutality. In ‘Our World’, Mary Oliver’s elegy for the photographer Molly Malone Cook – her partner of over four decades – Oliver wrote “Attention without feeling… is only a report. An openness — an empathy — was necessary if the attention was to matter”. Using the image of Cook tenderly observing the world in the slow bloom of her photographer’s darkroom, Oliver reflects on how this notion of attention wove into her writing, “M. instilled in me this deeper level of looking…” We hear from Helene Atwan, her publisher at Beacon Press, poet and friend Lisa Starr and the writers Mary Jean Chan and Nadine Aisha Jassat Archive recordings include excerpts from the On Being podcast (‘Mary Oliver – Listening to the World’ interview by Krista Tippett, 5.02.15 – hear the conversation in full at www.onbeing.org), the Lannan Foundation (‘Mary Oliver in Conversation with Coleman Barks’, 4.08.01), Literary Hub (‘A Phonecall from Paul: A Conversation with John Waters’, 18.07.19) and Beacon Press (‘At Blackwater Pond’, 15.04.06).

“One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice --
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save.”

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