LOS ANGELES─"Tell me, what it is your plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"—concludes 'The Summer Day,' one of Mary Oliver's most popular poems. She charges her reader, by her own example, to look inward, live authentically, and experience "astonishment."
Standing at the podium of the UCLA Royce Hall stage, her white shoulder length hair contrasted starkly against her simple black turtle neck and the black curtain behind her. Oliver made her appearance as part of the UCLA Live Spoken Word Series. Her presentation was much like the body of work that has made Oliver the number one selling poet in America, like the precision play of black and white; simple, clear, truthful, enduring, adding up to so much more than their parts.
Saturday evening, Feb. 2, Oliver read selected poems from her various award winning publications, including the Pulitzer and National Book Award, to a sold out auditorium of 1800 seats. Her devoted fans warmly greeted her with enthusiastic cheers at this rare opportunity to hear and see their beloved poet. This rapport continued throughout the evening as she charmed the audience with her wit and humanity, as expressed in the three poems on her bichon rescue dog, Percy, as well as more serious tones, about loss and suffering.
"Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on….
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things." –- " Wild Geese"
Her poems are life's witness, the sunflower, even a stringbean; slowing down to observe, and to experience sheer gratitude and wonderment.
"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 a doorway
Into thanks, and a silence in which
Another voice may speak." —"Praying"
Oliver's poems are a salve, a remedy to cure a culture which can move too fast to perceive a relationship between an inner or outer existence.
When asked by an 8th grader, Elizabeth Lopez, from Provincetown Mass., Oliver's long time home, during an interview for the school paper, if she could be anything, what would it be? She replied, "I would like to be a healer." Perhaps to a world bereft of reflection, inner solace, and quiet, Oliver may not be so far off.