Not Yet a God of Even the Palest Flowers
From a conversation about the darker side of Mary Oliver, with three poems.
On Monday I went out in the July heat and made my way across the northern edge of the Jardin Nelson Mandela. The smell of chlorine was wafting up through grates from the underground swimming pool. In an old building on the rue Coquillière, I passed through two sets of wooden doors and then descended an absurdly narrow spiral staircase down to an underground recording studio. I was there to give an interview about the late poet Mary Oliver, who was my college writing teacher and academic advisor. Pushkin Industries, a podcast and audiobook company, is making a book-length audio documentary about her, and they wanted to speak to former students like myself.
Before the interview, the producer had asked me to prepare “two or three poems” of Mary’s that were meaningful to me. I chose two, Rage and Tecumseh. I chose Rage because it isn’t a very well known poem, even though it comes right before the very famous Wild Geese in her 1986 collection Dream Work. (In case you don’t remember, Wild Geese is the one that begins: “You do not have to be good…”).
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