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Mary Oliver is one of my favourite poets. Everytime I read her poem, ‘The Summer Day‘, I get goosebumps. But I haven’t read any of her prose or essay collections. I thought I will start with this one. (Isn’t the book cover breathtakingly beautiful?)

Upstream‘ is a collection of essays, mostly selected from Mary Oliver’s other collections and assembled together here. The book is divided into five sections. In the first section, Mary Oliver writes about how she fell in love with nature and with reading and with poetry. She also writes about her favourite poet Walt Whitman. She also shares her thoughts on writing as an art – it is one of the most beautiful and inspiring essays I have read. The second section is about nature. The third section is about Oliver’s favourite writers. Here in four essays, she shares her thoughts on Emerson, Poe, Whitman and Wordsworth. The fourth section is also about nature. The final section has one essay called ‘Provincetown‘ which talks about the town in which Oliver lived with her partner for nearly five decades. It is a beautiful essay about how this beautiful coastal town changed from a sleepy town where everyone was happy to the tourist spot that it is today.

I mentioned earlier that the second and the fourth sections were about nature. Is there any difference between them? Which section did I like more? The second section mostly had essays which looked at nature from a slightly larger perspective. For example, there is an essay about ponds and another about fishing and different kinds of fishes. The fourth section takes a more closer look. Here, there is an essay on a spider which is building her web and trying to have babies. There is another essay about an injured seagull which Oliver saves from the beach and what happens to him. We almost feel that the spider and the seagull are human. I liked both these nature sections, but I loved the fourth section more. It was hard not to think of Charlotte while reading the essay on the spider.

My favourite essays in the book were ‘Upstream‘, which is a meditative essay about trees, the woods, the forest – it felt almost like reading a Mary Oliver poem here, ‘My Friend Walt Whitman‘, which is a beautiful ode to this great poet, ‘Staying Alive‘, which describes how Mary Oliver fell in love with books and nature, ‘Of Power and Time‘, which is a beautiful, inspiring essay about the life of an artist, ‘Swoon‘, which is about the spider mom, ‘Bird‘, which is about the injured seagull, ‘Building the House‘, in which Oliver describes how she tried building a house once, and ‘Provincetown‘, which is a beautiful nostalgic piece. I liked the rest of the essays too, but these were my absolute favourites.

I loved ‘Upstream‘. Mary Oliver is one of my favourite poets. Now after reading this book, I realize that she will give my favourite essayist Anne Fadiman a run for her money. A collection of Mary Oliver poems or essays, a collection of Anne Fadiman essays, a quiet time in the garden with the birds chirping, and the butterflies dazzling, the sun warm but not hot, the sky beautifully blue with fluffy white clouds, a cup of delicious, hot, spicy tea with some chocolate cake, and a beautiful time spent savouring poems and essays and nature – this is the ideal day, isn’t it? What more does one need?

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book. (Sorry I went overboard with the quotes).

“Writing is neither vibrant life nor docile artifact but a text that would put all its money on the hope of suggestion.”

On the Black Oak

“It lives in my imagination strongly that the black oak is pleased to be a black oak. I mean all of them, but in particular one tree that leads me into Blackwater, that is as shapely as a flower, that I have often hugged and put my lips to. Maybe it is a hundred years old. And who knows what it dreamed of in the first springs of its life, escaping the cottontail’s teeth and everything dangerous else. Who knows when supreme patience took hold, and the wind’s wandering among its leaves was enough of motion, of travel.”

“Attention is the beginning of devotion.”

On Walt Whitman

“I learned from Whitman that the poem is a temple—or a green field—a place to enter, and in which to feel. Only in a secondary way is it an intellectual thing—an artifact, a moment of seemly and robust wordiness—wonderful as that part of it is. I learned that the poem was made not just to exist, but to speak—to be company. It was everything that was needed, when everything was needed. I remember the delicate, rumpled way into the woods, and the weight of the books in my pack. I remember the rambling, and the loafing—the wonderful days when, with Whitman, I tucked my trowser-ends in my boots and went and had a good time.”

On the Beauty of Work

“And there is the thing that one does, the needle one plies, the work, and within that work a chance to take thoughts that are hot and formless and to place them slowly and with meticulous effort into some shapely heat-retaining form, even as the gods, or nature, or the soundless wheels of time have made forms all across the soft, curved universe—that is to say, having chosen to claim my life, I have made for myself, out of work and love, a handsome life.”

On Form

“Form is certainty. All nature knows this, and we have no greater adviser. Clouds have forms, porous and shape-shifting, bumptious, fleecy. They are what clouds need to be, to be clouds. See a flock of them come, on the sled of the wind, all kneeling above the blue sea. And in the blue water, see the dolphin built to leap, the sea mouse skittering; see the ropy kelp with its air-filled bladders tugging it upward; see the albatross floating day after day on its three-jointed wings. Each form sets a tone, enables a destiny, strikes a note in the universe unlike any other. How can we ever stop looking? How can we ever turn away?”

On Life

“And now my old dog is dead, and another I had after him, and my parents are dead, and that first world, that old house, is sold and lost, and the books I gathered there lost, or sold—but more books bought, and in another place, board by board and stone by stone, like a house, a true life built, and all because I was steadfast about one or two things: loving foxes, and poems, the blank piece of paper, and my own energy—and mostly the shimmering shoulders of the world that shrug carelessly over the fate of any individual that they may, the better, keep the Niles and the Amazons flowing.
And that I did not give to anyone the responsibility for my life. It is mine. I made it. And can do what I want to with it. Live it. Give it back, someday, without bitterness, to the wild and weedy dunes.”

On Creative Work and the Creative Life

“In creative work—creative work of all kinds—those who are the world’s working artists are not trying to help the world go around, but forward. Which is something altogether different from the ordinary. Such work does not refute the ordinary. It is, simply, something else. Its labor requires a different outlook—a different set of priorities. Certainly there is within each of us a self that is neither a child, nor a servant of the hours. It is a third self, occasional in some of us, tyrant in others. This self is out of love with the ordinary; it is out of love with time. It has a hunger for eternity.”

“Of this there can be no question—creative work requires a loyalty as complete as the loyalty of water to the force of gravity. A person trudging through the wilderness of creation who does not know this—who does not swallow this—is lost. He who does not crave that roofless place eternity should stay at home. Such a person is perfectly worthy, and useful, and even beautiful, but is not an artist. Such a person had better live with timely ambitions and finished work formed for the sparkle of the moment only. Such a person had better go off and fly an airplane.”

“It is six A.M., and I am working. I am absentminded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be. The tire goes flat, the tooth falls out, there will be a hundred meals without mustard. The poem gets written. I have wrestled with the angel and I am stained with light and I have no shame. Neither do I have guilt. My responsibility is not to the ordinary, or the timely. It does not include mustard, or teeth. It does not extend to the lost button, or the beans in the pot. My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.
There is no other way work of artistic worth can be done. And the occasional success, to the striver, is worth everything. The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”

On Emerson

“The best use of literature bends not toward the narrow and the absolute but to the extravagant and the possible. Answers are no part of it; rather, it is the opinions, the rhapsodic persuasions, the engrafted logics, the clues that are to the mind of the reader the possible keys to his own self-quarrels, his own predicament. This is the crux of Emerson, who does not advance straight ahead but wanders to all sides of an issue; who delivers suggestions with a kindly gesture—who opens doors and tells us to look at things for ourselves. The one thing he is adamant about is that we should look—we must look—for that is the liquor of life, that brooding upon issues, that attention to thought even as we weed the garden or milk the cow.”

The Two Gifts

“In this universe we are given two gifts: the ability to love, and the ability to ask questions. Which are, at the same time, the fires that warm us and the fires that scorch us.”

The Love of Trees

“Through these woods I have walked thousands of times. For many years I felt more at home here than anywhere else, including our own house. Stepping out into the world, into the grass, onto the path, was always a kind of relief. I was not escaping anything. I was returning to the arena of delight. I was stepping across some border. I don’t mean just that the world changed on the other side of the border, but that I did too. Eventually I began to appreciate—I don’t say this lightly—that the great black oaks knew me. I don’t mean they knew me as myself and not another—that kind of individualism was not in the air—but that they recognized and responded to my presence, and to my mood. They began to offer, or I began to feel them offer, their serene greeting. It was like a quick change of temperature, a warm and comfortable flush, faint yet palpable, as I walked toward them and beneath their outflowing branches.”

The Young Carpenter Poet

“I know a young man who can build almost anything—a boat, a fence, kitchen cabinets, a table, a barn, a house. And so serenely, and in so assured and right a manner, that it is joy to watch him. All the same, what he seems to care for best—what he seems positively to desire—is the hour of interruption, of hammerless quiet, in which he will sit and write down poems or stories that have come into his mind with clambering and colorful force. Truly he is not very good at the puzzle of words—not nearly as good as he is with the mallet and the measuring tape—but this in no way lessens his pleasure. Moreover, he is in no hurry. Everything he learned, he learned at a careful pace—will not the use of words come easier at last, though he begin at the slowest trot? Also, in these intervals, he is happy. In building things, he is his familiar self, which he does not overvalue. But in the act of writing he is a grander man, a surprise to us, and even more to himself. He is beyond what he believed himself to be.”

Have you read ‘Upstream‘ by Mary Oliver? What do you think about it?

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I am coming to the party nearly a month late, but here I am finally. Here are my favourite books and my favourite reading moments from last year – books which were amazing, writers who were fascinating and everything in between with some fun facts thrown in along the way.

First a small description of how my reading year went. I started off quite well, but at some point after a month or two, I got into a reading slump. And this led to a blogging slump, and though I managed to recover from the reading slump during the second part of the year, with the exception of German Literature Month, I couldn’t come out of my blogging slump. I have never had a blogging slump like this since I started blogging more than seven years back. I hope the worst is over and I hope I will be a better blogger this year.

Fun Stats

I read fifty books last year. I thought because of my reading slump, I hadn’t read much, and so I was surprised when I discovered that it was not as bad as I thought – it was a typical reading year by my standards 🙂

The breakup goes like this : Novels : 17; YA : 3; Short Stories : 7; Fairytales : 1; Plays : 1; Graphic Novel : 2; Comics : 10; Anthology : 1; Poetry : 6; Memoir : 2. That is pretty diverse – not bad.

I read 33 books by male writers and 15 books by women writers – I aim for a 50-50 split and so that was bad. It was probably because all the comics I read were by male writers. There were two books that I didn’t count here – one was an anthology which had excerpts, stories and poems by different writers and the other was a poetry collection.

With respect to the countries from which the books were from (that is the nationality of the author – not the country where the story happens), the breakup went like this : America : 10; Britain : 7; Germany : 7; Belgium : 5; Italy : 3; Switzerland : 2; Chile : 2; Japan : 2; Canada (French) : 1; Canada (English) : 1; Russia : 1; France : 1; Finland : 1; Norway : 1; Lebanon : 1; Austria : 1; China : 1; India : 1; Greece : 1; Romania : 1.

I considered Vladimir Nabokov Russian, Rabih Alameddine Lebanese (though both of them probably were / are American citizens and wrote their novels in English) and Zoë Jenny Swiss (though she has started writing in English now and might have a British passport).  I also included Canada (French) and Canada (English) as separate categories because French literature from Canada is so ignored these days. Even Canadian readers don’t seem to know their French authors. It is so sad, because French-Canadian authors are so wonderful. (Nicole Brossard is my favourite.)

In terms of the language in which the books were originally written, this is how it went : English : 20; German : 10; French : 9; Italian : 3; Japanese : 2; Finnish : 1; Norwegian : 1; Chinese : 1; Tamil : 1; Greek : 1; Romanian : 1.

Most of the books were from the four big European languages – so, Hello, need more diversity here 🙂

Books I Loved

These are my favourite books from last year – books I absolutely loved. I couldn’t review many of them because of my blogging slump, which is unfortunate.

(1) The Pollen Room by Zoë Jenny – The story of a teenage girl and how she copes when her parents break up. The prose is beautiful and haunting, the story is moving and sometimes heartbreaking with some happy moments.

The Pollen Room By Zoe Jenny

(2) The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault – A beautiful epistolary love story between a Canadian postman and a Guadeloupe woman, this book is also a love letter to the Haiku poetic form.

The Peculiar Life Of A Lonely Postman Denis Theriault

(3) The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (graphic novel version) – The graphic novel version of Gaiman’s classic story of a boy who is brought up by ghosts in the graveyard. The story is beautiful, and in this edition the galaxy of artists assembled deliver a stunning work of graphic novel art. A must read for graphic novel and Gaiman fans.

TheGraveyardBookByNeilGaimanPart1TheGraveyardBookByNeilGaimanPart2

(4) New and Collected Poems by Mary Oliver – Mary Oliver is one of my favourite poets and this collection has poems from many of her books. Beauty in the form of poetic art.

NewAndCollectedPoemsMaryOliver

(5) The Summer Book by Tove Jansson – Tove Jansson’s love letter to the Finnish summer, it is also the story of a young girl and her grandmother and their experiences in an island. Though it is a whole book, it can also be read as a collection of individual short stories. My favourite story was about Moppy the cat. It is one of the finest evocations of summer that I have read, alongwith Ray Bradbury’s ‘Dandelion Wine’.

SummerBookToveJansson

(6) An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine – The narrator of the story is a woman who used to work in a bookshop (and who is now retired). She is shy and introverted and spends most of her day reading. Every year she translates one or more famous world classics into Arabic. While telling her story and sharing with the reader what she does everyday and stories of her past, the narrator also shares her thoughts on books, reading, literature, writers, the art of translation and everything else that booklovers love to talk about and think about. This book is a love letter to reading, books, literature, translation and everything in between. I am so glad that I discovered it.

AnUnnecessaryWomanRabihAlameddine

(7) Cassandra by Christa Wolf – A retelling of the Troy legend from the perspective of Cassandra the prophet, it makes one realize how different things are when we see them with a new perspective. Wolf’s stunning prose leaps out of every page and I couldn’t stop re-reading my favourite passages again and again after highlighting them. One of my alltime favourite books.

Cassandra

(8) A Time to Love and a Time to Die by Erich Maria Remarque – There are a few scenes in Remarque’s ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ in which the main character goes home on furlough for a few weeks. Remarque takes this small part, moves the setting to the Second World War and expands it into a whole book. After a slow start, Remarque’s trademark prose flows beautifully, the plot moves smoothly and the main characters’ thoughts on war are quite fascinating. And the heroine of the story – Elizabeth – is one of the most fascinating heroines from any war novel. This is not just a wonderful war story but is also a beautiful love story. I can’t wait to read more of Remarque’s books. I read this for the Literature and War Readalong hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat. I promised myself that I will write a proper review of this book one of these days and I hope to do so soon.

ATijmeToLoveRemarque

(9) Wild Words : Four Tamil Poets – This book has poems by four Tamil women poets who first came to prominence more than a decade back, because the patriarchy threatened them. Our heroines, of course, defied them, and have published many wonderful poetry collections since. I loved this passage from the introduction to the book – “It is perhaps useful to remember that the traditional values prescribed for the ‘Good’ Tamil woman were accham, madam and naanam (fearfulness, propriety, modesty or shame). Our poets have chosen instead, the opposite virtues of fearlessness, outspokenness and a ceaseless questioning of prescribed rules. It is surely significant that at different times and variously, they have claimed as their foremothers, role models and equals, Avvai, Velliviidhi and Sappho; Anna Akhmatova, Sylvia Plath and Kamala Das. And Eve, above all, who defied divine authority to pluck the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Bad Girls indeed, all of them.”

WildWords

(10) Letters of a Peruvian Woman by Françoise de Graffigny – It is the story of a Peruvian princess who is abducted by Spanish invaders who take her to their ship, but who is later rescued by a French ship and taken to France. There her rescuer takes her to his home, tries to teach her French language and culture and treats her like family. Our Peruvian heroine becomes best friends with her rescuer’s sister. The whole story is told as a series of letters that our Peruvian heroine writes to her fiance, who is the Peruvian king. Her observations on the differences between the two cultures are very insightful and humorous, Graffigny’s prose is beautiful and the surprise in the end takes us unawares – must have been stunning when it was first published in 1747. This books deserves to be more widely read, because it is so good.

LettersOfAPeruvianWomanGraffigny

(11) Making Movies by Sidney Lumet – The director of such masterpieces like ’12 Angry Men’ and ‘Network’ shares his thoughts on how to make a movie and the challenges involved. Though the technology he talks about is dated (because the book was published in the 1990s and Lumet mostly worked in the pre-digital era), his insights are wonderful. This book is a wonderful education in the art of film-making. A must-read for all movie lovers.

Making Movies By Sidney Lumet

Honourable Mentions

The following books deserve special mentions. It is really an extended list of favourites.

(1) Dylan Dog comics – This is a comics series which I discovered last year and which was originally published in Italian. The stories are mostly set in England and the characters are supposedly English, but our hero Dylan Dog wears stylish Italian suits and it is so hard to believe that he is anything but Italian. The artwork is stunning and the stories are interesting – mostly murder mysteries or strange happenings, some of which have logical explanations and others which seem to have supernatural causes. Umberto Eco says this about Dylan Dog – “I can read the Bible, Homer and Dylan Dog for several days without being bored.” Well, I am in good company 🙂

DylanDog

(2) A Little, Aloud – It is an anthology of prose and poetry for reading aloud to someone we care for. I didn’t read it aloud though and I read it to myself. It has poems, short stories and excerpts from novels and memoirs and other books. This was the book which got me out of my reading slump and so I have a lot of affection for it. My favourite from the book is a story by Saki called ‘The Lumber Room’ – it is so beautiful and the main character is an adorable and charming naughty boy and we love him from the first page and the ending made me smile 🙂 If you are interested you can read it here.

ALittleAloud

(3) A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – A beautiful story about love and loss and how a boy copes with it. And there is a monster in the story, which teaches him the truths of life. What is not to like? I have to thank Claire from ‘Word by Word’ who recommended this beautiful book to me.

MonsterCallsPatrickNess

(4) The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart – It is the story of a young boy who is suffering from cancer. He discovers that the cancer has come back and there is no escape this time and decides to leave home, take his dog with him and climb Mt.Rainier. It is beautiful, charming, happy, sad and has a wonderful ending. A book I read in a day.

TheHonestTruthDanGemeinhart

(5) Poems that make grown men cry – The ‘men’ in the title made me hesitate (what about poems that make grown women cry) and most of the poems in the collection were by male poets and that also put me off, but I browsed the book and the poems were wonderful and I couldn’t resist getting it and reading it. It is a beautiful collection and I loved many of the poems, especially Billy Collins’ ode to his mother and Harold Pinter’s love poem. There is a companion volume which is expected this year and it is called – you guessed it – ‘Poems that make grown women cry’. I can’t wait for that.

PoemsThatMakeGrownMenCry

(6) The Death’s Head Chess Club by John Donoghue – I don’t know anyone who has read this, but the fact that it had ‘chess’ in the title made me read it. It is the story of a Jewish prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp who is the chess champion among the prisoners and an SS officer who is trying to start a chess club among the officers. When word of the legendary chess champion inmate reaches him, the SS officer can’t resist introducing a championship between the champion officer and the champion inmate. Of course, this can never go well. Whether they do here – you should read the book to find out. A love letter to chess and how small things like this can build bridges between people who are on opposite sides of the divide. This book deserves to be more famous.

TheDeathsHeadChessClub

(7) The Marvels by Brian Selznick – Brian Selznick brings his unique style of storytelling again, combining pictures and artwork interspersed by words which move the plot to tell the parallel stories of a family of actors and a young boy who runs away from school to stay at the home of his uncle, who turns out to be odd, and in some way connected to this actor family. The artwork is stunning and the story is nice.

TheMarvelsBrianSelznick

(8) Bluets by Maggie Nelson – I have to thank Bina from ‘If You Can Read This’ who first told me about this book. I don’t know whether to call this book a long essay or a memoir. In it, Maggie Nelson talks about love and longing, while also meditating on the colour blue and what it means to us today and what it meant to us across history. She quotes philosophers and writers who have written about everything blue and her style reminds us of Alain de Botton’s – with the book having no chapter divisions and each paragraph being numbered.

BluetsMaggieNelson

(9) Children’s Stories from Rumanian Legends by M.Gaster Delia from ‘Postcards from Asia’ told me about the Romanian legend of Harap Alb and when I thought about it, I realized that I had a collection of Romanian fairytales (which is unfortunately, out-of-print today). So, I took it out and read it and it was wonderful. I loved the fact that things were not black-and-white in these fairytales – in one story the main character falls in love with a beautiful woman (who loves him back) and then discovers that she is a demon and both the lovers run away to escape the clutches of her demon-father; in another story, there is an adorable little-devil who is always up to some mischief, creating trouble for humans. I hope to read more Romanian fairytales in the future.

RumanianLegends

So, that is the long (and hopefully not boring) account of my reading year in 2015. How was your reading year in 2015? Which were your favourite books?

 

 

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My first poetry collection of the year – ‘American Primitive’ by Mary Oliver 🙂 I got it last week and dropped what I was reading and started reading this. I finished reading it yesterday. Here is what I think.

American Primitive By Mary Oliver

‘American Primitive’ is a collection of fifty poems. It is classic Mary Oliver – it has mostly poems on nature – on animals, plants, trees, the sky, the sea and other beautiful things. 

In a typical Mary Oliver poem – if there is any such thing – there is a heroine who comes out of the forest, or who is taking a stroll, sometimes with her partner or lover and sometimes with her child and sometimes she spots our poet looking at her and then we realize that our heroine is not human, but she is a deer, or a coyote or a bear or a duck or sometimes even a grasshopper or a damsel-fly and in rare cases even a ray of moonlight (“Yet over the bed of each of us moonlight throws down her long hair”). In some poems we don’t know who the heroine is – we just read about what she does. 

Some of the poems are epic (epic = more than a page long) – the story starts slowly and then there are sparklers and fireworks and then it fades away gently in the end like the coda of a beautiful, melodious song. One of my favourite poems from the book which was like this was ‘Humpbacks’. 

In one poem called ‘John Clapman’ there was an interesting character who made me remember the character called Tom Bombadil from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ “everywhere he went the apple trees sprang up behind him lovely as young girls.”

In the first half of the book, I liked lines from nearly every poem, but I had only one favourite poem. In the second half, the book came on its own for me, and I liked nearly every poem.

There are beautiful lines throughout the book, like this :

“The rain rubs its shining hands all over me”

And this :

“Now you are dead too, and I, no longer young, know what a kiss is worth”

And this :

“there is no end, believe me! to the inventions of summer, to the happiness your body is willing to bear”

And this :

“To live in this world you must be able to do three things : to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go”

Well, no more spoilers. You should read the book to experience the joy I did. 

I will leave you with some of my favourite poems from the book.

 

Morning at Great Pond

 

It starts like this :

forks of light

slicking up

out of the east,

flying over you,

and what’s left of night –

its black waterfalls,

its craven doubt –

dissolves like gravel

as the sun appears

trailing clouds

of pink and green wool,

igniting the fields,

turning the ponds

to plates of fire.

The creatures there

are dark flickerings

you make out

one by one

as the light lifts –

great blue herons,

wood ducks shaking

their shimmering crests –

and knee-deep

in the purple shallows

a deer drinking:

as she turns

the silver water

crushes like silk,

shaking the sky,

and you’re healed then

from the night, your heart

wants more, you’re ready

to rise and look!

to hurry anywhere!

to believe in anything.

 

 

A Meeting

 

She steps into the dark swamp

where the long wait ends.

 

The secret slippery package

drops to the weeds.

 

She leans her long neck and tongues it

between breaths slack with exhaustion

 

and after a while it rises and becomes a creature

like her, but much smaller.

 

So now there are two. And they walk together

like a dream under the trees.

 

In early June, at the edge of a field

thick with pink and yellow flowers

 

I meet them.

I can only stare.

 

She is the most beautiful woman

I have ever seen.

 

Her child leaps among the flowers,

the blue of the sky falls over me

 

like silk, the flowers burn, and I want

to live my life all over again, to begin again,

 

to be utterly

wild.

 

 

The Plum Trees

 

Such richness flowing

through the branches of summer and into

 

the body, carried inward on the five

rivers! Disorder and astonishment

 

rattle your thoughts and your heart

cries for rest but don’t

 

succumb, there’s nothing

so sensible as sensual inundation. Joy

 

is a taste before

it’s anything else, and the body

 

can lounge for hours devouring

the important moment. Listen,

 

the only way

to tempt happiness into your mind is by taking it

 

into the body first, like small

wild plums.

 

The Kitten

 

More amazed than anything

I took the perfectly black

stillborn kitten

with the one large eye

in the center of its small forehead

from the house cat’s bed

and buried it in a field

behind the house.

 

I suppose I could have given it

to a museum,

I could have called the local

newspaper.

 

But instead I took it out into the field

and opened the earth

and put it back

saying, it was real,

saying, life is infinitely inventive,

saying, what other amazements

lie in the dark seed of the earth, yes,

 

I think I did right to go out alone

and give it back peacefully, and cover the place

with the reckless blossoms of weeds.

 

Have you read ‘American Primitive’? What do you think about it? Which of the above poems is your favourite? 

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When I heard that Mary Oliver’s new poetry collection ‘Blue Horses’ has come out, I couldn’t wait to get it and read it. I read it in one breath. Here is what I think.

Blue Horses By Mary Oliver

‘Blue Horses’ has thirty-eight poems. They are on topics which are close to Mary Oliver’s heart – nature, plants, trees, flowers, animals, insects, seasons. There are also poems on love, art, yoga, spirituality and other everyday topics. Each poem is different – each has a different number of lines, some are short some are long, there is no consistency in terms of form and structure – but all of them are beautiful. If one is new to Mary Oliver, one would expect that at some point she would unfurl all the poetic pyrotechnics and dazzle the reader – something that might intimidate the non-specialist reader of poetry – but one would be wrong. Mary Oliver doesn’t bother with metre and rhyme and rhythm and alliteration and the iamb and the dactyl and the trochee. She just writes one beautiful poem after another in free verse which is accessible to the general reader and touches our hearts with beautiful images and thoughts and in the process makes it look so deceptively simple, like the best poets do.

I loved every poem in the book. Here are a few of my favourites.

 

What I Can Do

 

The television has two instruments that control it.

I get confused.

The washer asks me, do you want regular or delicate?

Honestly, I just want clean.

Everything is like that.

I won’t even mention cell phones.

 

I can turn on the light of the lamp beside my chair

where a book is waiting, but that’s about it.

 

Oh yes, and I can strike a match and make fire.

 

 

No Matter What

 

No matter what the world claims,

its wisdom always growing, so it’s said,

some things don’t alter with time :

the first kiss is a good example,

and the flighty sweetness of rhyme.

 

No matter what the world preaches

spring unfolds in its appointed time,

the violets open and the roses,

snow in its hour builds its shining curves,

there’s the laughter of children at play,

and the wholesome sweetness of rhyme.

 

No matter what the world does,

some things don’t alter with time.

The first kiss, the first death.

The sorrowful sweetness of rhyme.

 

 

 

If I Wanted a Boat

 

I would want a boat, if I wanted a

boat, that bounded hard on the waves,

that didn’t know starboard from port

and wouldn’t learn, that welcomed

dolphins and headed straight for the

whales, that, when rocks were close,

would slide in for a touch or two,

that wouldn’t keep land in sight and

went fast, that leaped into the spray.

What kind of life is it always to plan

and do, to promise and finish, to wish

for the near and the safe? Yes, by the

heavens, if I wanted a boat I would want

a boat I couldn’t steer.

 

 

 

Do Stones Feel?

 

Do stones feel?

Do they love their life?

Or does their patience drown out everything else?

 

When I walk on the beach I gather a few

white ones, dark ones, the multiple colors,

Don’t worry, I say, I’ll bring you back, and I do.

 

Is the tree as it rises delighted with its many

Branches,

each one like a poem?

 

Are the clouds glad to unburden their bundles of rain?

 

Most of the world says no, no, it’s not possible.

 

I refuse to think to such a conclusion.

Too terrible it would be, to be wrong.

Have you read ‘Blue Horses’? What do you think about it? 

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