My Word Mothers

Poetry is one of the ways I have always understood the world and my God. I love nothing more than a tattered book of Words, the small, thin bindings fitting perfectly in my bag.

I come home with the Words in my pocket and tell my husband, “It is here! the new book by the Famous Poet!”   He responds, “Honey, I believe that is an oxymoron.”

Run now! To the nearest independent bookstore and grab a thin volume that speaks to you. Open the book to any page and Hear the Word from off the page. If the slender volume is silent, reach quickly for the next. And open to the middle to hear for melody.

Poetry is in many ways a dying art. My dear friend, Bob, who passed at 93 a few years ago, was reciting Keats and Byron from heart on his death-bed. The words were there in his heart and led him Home.

It is not too late for us to take the Words of Poets with us to our death beds; to invite Poets to lead us Home.

There are many Poets who have changed my life. There are many Poets who showed me there was room for Hope when it seemed impossible.   There are a few who are my Mothers.

Mary Oliver sings to me off the page about the natural world; Sharon Olds leads me to a deeper understanding of my love and my marriage. Her calculated and easy words about grief and motherhood have stood me well.

Goddess Bless,  my  Word Mothers.

An Afternoon In The Stacks

by Mary Oliver

Closing the book, I find I have left my head

inside. It is dark in here, but the chapters open

their beautiful spaces and give a rustling sound,

words adjusting themselves to their meaning.

Long passages open at successive pages. An echo,

continuous from the title onward, hums

behind me. From in here, the world looms,

a jungle redeemed by these linked sentences

carved out when an author traveled and a reader

kept the way open. When this book ends

I will pull it inside-out like a sock

and throw it back in the library. But the rumor

of it will haunt all that follows in my life.

A candleflame in Tibet leans when I move.

born Sept. 10, 1935, Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.

American poet whose work reflects a deep communion with the natural world.

Oliver attended Ohio State University and Vassar College but did not earn a degree. She worked for a time as a secretary for the sister of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Millay’s influence is apparent in Oliver’s first book of poetry, No Voyage and Other Poems (1963). These lyrical nature poems are set in a variety of locales, especially the Ohio of Oliver’s youth. Her childhood plays a more central role in The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems (1972), in which she attempted to re-create the past through memory and myth. The Night Traveler (1978) explores the themes of birth, decay, and death through the conceit of a journey into the underworld of classical mythology. In these poems Oliver’s fluent imagery weaves together the worlds of humans, animals, and plants.

Her volume American Primitive (1983), which won a Pulitzer Prize, glorifies the natural world, reflecting the American fascination with the ideal of the pastoral life as it was first expressed by Henry David Thoreau. In House of Light (1990) Oliver explores the rewards of solitude in nature. New and Selected Poems (1992), which won a National Book Award, White Pine (1994), Blue Pastures (1995), and West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems (1997) are later collections.

Oliver also wrote about the writing of poetry in two slender but rich volumes, A Poetry Handbook (1995) and Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse (1998). Winter Hours (1999) includes poetry, prose poems, and essays on other poets.

One Year

by Sharon Olds

When I got to his marker, I sat on it,

like sitting on the edge of someone’s bed

and I rubbed the smooth, speckled granite.

I took some tears from my jaw and neck

and started to wash a corner of his stone.

Then a black and amber ant

ran out onto the granite, and off it,

and another ant hauled a dead

ant onto the stone, leaving it, and not coming back.

Ants ran down into the grooves of his name

and dates, down into the oval track of the

first name’s O, middle name’s O,

the short O of his last name,

and down into the hyphen between

his birth and death–little trough of his life.

Soft bugs appeared on my shoes,

like grains of pollen, I let them move on me,

I rinsed a dark fleck of mica,

and down inside the engraved letters

the first dots of lichen were appearing

like stars in early evening.

I saw the speedwell on the ground with its horns,

the coiled ferns, copper-beech blossoms, each

petal like that disc of matter which

swayed, on the last day, on his tongue.

Tamarack, Western hemlock,

manzanita, water birch

with its scored bark,

I put my arms around a trunk and squeezed it,

then I lay down on my father’s grave.

The sun shone down on me, the powerful

ants walked on me. When I woke,

my cheek was crumbly, yellowish

with a mustard plaster of earth. Only

at the last minute did I think of his body

actually under me, the can of

bone, ash, soft as a goosedown

pillow that bursts in bed with the lovers.

When I kissed his stone it was not enough,

when I licked it my tongue went dry a moment, I

ate his dust, I tasted my dirt host.

Sharon Olds was born in 1942 in San Francisco. She was raised as a “hellfire Calvinist.” After graduating from Stanford University she moved east to earn a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University. Olds teaches creative writing at New York University. Olds has been the recipient of many awards including the San Francisco Poetry Center Award, the Lamont Poetry Prize, The National Books Critics Circle Award, and the T. S. Eliot Prize.

Her book, The Wellspring (1996), shares with her previous work the use of raw language and startling images to convey truths about domestic and political violence, sexuality, family relationships, and the body. The reviewer for The New York Times hailed Olds’s poetry for its vision: “Like Whitman, Ms. Olds sings the body in celebration of a power stronger than political oppression.”[1]

Her first collection, Satan Says (1980), received the inaugural San Francisco Poetry Center Award. The poems explore intensely personal themes with unflinching physicality, enacting what Alicia Ostriker describes as an “erotics of family love and pain.”(28). Olds’ second volume, The Dead and the Living, won the 1983 Lamont Poetry Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Following The Dead and the Living, Olds published The Gold Cell, (1987) The Father, (1992), The Wellspring, (1996), Blood, Tin, Straw, (1999), and The Unswept Room, (2002). The Father, a series of poems about a daughter’s loss of her father to cancer, was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize and was a finalist for The National Book Critics’ Circle Award. In the words of Michael Ondaatje, her poems are “pure fire in the hands.” Olds’ work is anthologized in over 100 collections, ranging from literary/poetry textbooks to special collections. Her poetry has been translated into seven languages for international publications. She was the New York State Poet Laureate for 1998-2000.

~ by Step On a Crack on October 22, 2011.

6 Responses to “My Word Mothers”

  1. It’s been quite a long time since I’ve immersed myself in poetry.
    The only poem I can still recite word for oddly placed word is
    anyone lived in a pretty how town by e.e. cummings (not really a Mother figure)
    I memorized it for fun when I was a junior in high school. I have no idea why I still remember it. I spent hours trying to figure it all out.
    That’s part of the joy of poetry, the layers

    A fellow blogger wrote this just a couple of days ago – thought you might like it.

    And – although I’m sure you’ve read it as we all did back then – here is in again, just in case you’re interested 😉

    anyone lived in a pretty how town
    (with up so floating many bells down)
    spring summer autumn winter
    he sang his didn’t he danced his did

    Women and men(both little and small)
    cared for anyone not at all
    they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
    sun moon stars rain

    children guessed(but only a few
    and down they forgot as up they grew
    autumn winter spring summer)
    that noone loved him more by more

    when by now and tree by leaf
    she laughed his joy she cried his grief
    bird by snow and stir by still
    anyone’s any was all to her

    someones married their everyones
    laughed their cryings and did their dance
    (sleep wake hope and then)they
    said their nevers they slept their dream

    stars rain sun moon
    (and only the snow can begin to explain
    how children are apt to forget to remember
    with up so floating many bells down)

    one day anyone died i guess
    (and noone stooped to kiss his face)
    busy folk buried them side by side
    little by little and was by was

    all by all and deep by deep
    and more by more they dream their sleep
    noone and anyone earth by april
    wish by spirit and if by yes.

    Women and men(both dong and ding)
    summer autumn winter spring
    reaped their sowing and went their came
    sun moon stars rain


    • I LOVE EE Cummings! He had such a playful way with words and THIS is one of my favorites. I read EE to my son when he was little and he would just giggle and giggle.
      I love Thoreau as a writer/philosopher and have been in my head pondering, “He is one of my mothers! Gender? Does it matter?” NO I think not. A poet is a poet is a poet.

      I really like your friends poem… She sums up beautifully why writing can bring us closer to God That is my read anyway.

      XX Jen


  2. i’m afraid i’ll have to agree with your husband: Famous Poet is an oxymoron! i don’t really like poetry but some of my best friends are poets (how’s that for open-minded!). i honestly prefer some of the texts you have written to much of the poetry out there.


    • Now that is a compliment! I often prefer prose over poetry and so much poetry is too snobby and ‘deep’ for my taste. I don’t usually like the Poets I am supposed to. Man! I am just a Word Renegade! The Writers Workshop at the U of I is full of Poets I want to strangle. I AM a pacifist I really really am BUT give me a break; you can only argue about the translation of a chinese poet so long (actually because no one I know speaks Chinese, how, I ask you, can we argue about a chinese translation?)

      When I suggest wandering the poetry shelves and flipping pages open just to read a bit, I really mean it. THAT is how I choose my Poets. If they cant grab me right away, and I have to trudge through MUD to understand them Forget It. Not for me. I am a member of the American Academy of Poets and read tons of poetry magazines and I tell ya, there is maybe one poem I LIKE and resonates in each issue. There is Great accessible poetry out there; I hope you give it a shot Just for fun. Thanks, Al, for your support Really really really al lot.


  3. e e cummings! How could i forget! i Love e e cummings. He’s the one who started me writing. When i was 13 i wanted to write poetry like him. When i was 18 i realized i couldn’t and when i was 20 i knew i wasn’t a poet but i loved writing in a poetic style. And here i am…


    • SEE! Poets Reach People! I am so happy that EE was mentioned, Thank you Debbie!

      I love your writing style (s) Your blogs are all interesting and funny and Different. You can write, man! EE a POET reached you . There are others out there right now able to move new writers. I love blogs! Amazing creature; virtual community. wild, isn’t it?

      xxx Jen


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