Posted by Asher on:
Bundled between a young boy and an older woman from the UK, I knew that this was going to be an experience. I had been eagerly anticipating to hear one of my favorite poets speak and here I was, right in the middle of it. The woman next to me expressed her surprise about the high quality of audience turn out. Indeed she was right: this Pulitzer Prize winner at Campbell Hall seemed to have attracted the cream of the crop of Santa Barbara's poetry lovers from both near and far. Mary Oliver's words had inspired the sleepy literary enthusiasts of the central coast to come out in full force to hear the enchanting musings of one of America's greatest poetic voices. She spoke with such endearing charm and humor, inserting witty commentary between her recitations of both her old and contemporary literary creations. Blending in old classics like "Wild Geese" (to the audience's delight she prefaced the poem saying, "People hit me if I don't read Wild Geese") and unpublished poems, she recited her work with graceful simplicity and sincerity. The times she fumbled between her passages she noted that "finding poems is like doing taxes," amusing the audience with her wry, casual humor. She created an organic experience of sharing and communication between her work and her listener, allowing her readings to be just as seamless and alluring as her printed words. As her poems capture the gorgeous multiplicities of human experience, so did her performance. Her traditional pastoral observations of her home in Massachusetts still embody an ethereal poignance even as her recent move to Florida has forced her to "learn to love the palm trees." Her fascination with the ineffable sublimity of nature enraptured the audience-the air was silent and still as they grasped on to every word. Mary Oliver's epistolic recitations was like a full season: embodying every facet of the world's dark and enduring beauty. She captured every range of emotion, confronting issues of mortality, love, nature, and, of course, her beloved canine companion, Percy.
Maneuvering between the worlds of poetry and academia, she found that "poetry only has one nation, no boundary--it's the warehouse of the world, full of metaphors." During the Q&A, Oliver revealed that while teaching she would assign students to write a "prose poem" to prove that they could, indeed, write a sentence. She seems to realize the balance of prose and poetry, claiming that one need not choose one over the other. Utilizing multiple part poems in order to allow a circular change of voice, Oliver shed light on her writing style stating that she utilized dashes and semicolons in order to make the listener more privy to finish the sentence-a sentence that could be 36 lines long. When asked about the validity of poetry she proclaimed, "Poetry saves lives...I read for joy, comfort, satisfaction, and then elegance." Each poem she read became my new favorite and by the end of the night, my notebook was full of her hauntingly gorgeous observations. Evoking an emotional standing ovation, Mary Oliver left the stage as quietly as she had entered it, but this time with an audience yearning for more.