Just mention her name to a group of poetry lovers and watch them take a deep breath and look wistfully into the distance. I am not immune. This poem helped me reclaim my life.
On March 30th, the writers group I belong to travelled to Asheville, NC to attend an evening of poetry reading by Mary Oliver. Yes, THE Mary Oliver, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award...THAT Mary Oliver.
Five days later, I still cannot put into words what the experience meant to me, so I'm putting down some observations with the hope that one day, my vocabulary will catch up with my emotions and I can convey what a deeply profound experience it was:
The 6 hour drive was worth every minute. In hindsight, I would have driven 36 hours, knowing what was waiting for me.
The auditorium was packed with people who looked oddly familiar.
The natives grew restless when it didn't begin on time. At 8:15 the crowd began slow, intentional clapping in unison, like they were beckoning a rock star.
She is small, well kempt and striking. She is much more refined, less wild and tom-boyish than in the photographs I've seen of her.
Her voice is strong, her cadence captivating.
She is funny, witty and quick to say thank you.
She takes requests from the audience, some she honors, others she discards.
All the ferns and flowers at the base of the lectern were unnecessary. She was the only flower needed on the stage.
I cried from start to finish.
We waited in line for more than an hour for her to sign our books. She looked me in the eye, I thanked her for the ah-ha moments her writing had given me. She smiled.
My writers group went back to our mountaintop cabin with the intention of having dessert and sharing the experience. All we could do was drink wine and watch the flames dance in the fireplace. An occasional grunt of approval was all you could hear over the crackling of the fire.
We went to bed completely spent.
She took questions from the audience. One person asked, "How does a young poet continue to write when they compare themselves to the Masters?"
Her response, "You don't measure yourself...you just sharpen the pencil."