I learned about someone new recently. Her name is Mary Oliver. She’s a noted poet that most lesbians, feminists, women and all lovers of really, really good poetry probably already know about. But if you don’t, you should. I was pointed toward her poem “Wild Geese.” It made me cry.
You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting– over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
I confess, I don’t know much about poetry. I don’t always know what a poem is supposed to mean. But I know I appreciate beautiful words strung together so easily that, for some reason, evoke an emotion from me. I see the imagery in this poem, I feel the comfort, I hear the rhythm. And the poem touched me.
I don’t read much poetry anymore, unfortunately. But I’m glad I found out about Mary Oliver. I read some more of her poems and also was moved by each of them. So then I decided to find out exactly who she is.
Well, she’s still alive, for one.
A simple biography of Oliver states she was born in Ohio in 1935 and she won a Pulitzer Price in 1983 for her volume, “American Primitive.”
And, oh, yeah. She’s a lesbian.
But she’s not an outspoken one, as noted in her biography by GLBTQ literature .
According to this bio, “Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver has not been an outspoken lesbian activist. Although she has been a respected and widely published writer since the 1960s, she has publicly acknowledged her lesbianism only since the early 1990s, and then only in subtle, discreet ways. However, her poetic voice — a neo-Romantic expression of the unity of nature, creature-hood, and spirit — is one that is deeply resonant with contemporary lesbian consciousness, and many lesbians claimed Oliver as one of their own long before she ‘officially’ came out in 1993.”
She remained with her partner in business and life Molly Malone Cook until Cook died in 2005.
For Oliver, the earth is her muse. Her poetry reflects that deeply.
Lately, I find peace in my world by watching a big Blue Jay or a mockingbird feed from a large block of bird food I have hanging near my door. And I don’t have to be a queer to appreciate a Blue Jay gobbling down nuts.