“Everything” a poem by Mary Oliver to Celebrate National Poetry Month

by Guest Blogger, Joy Heaton*

Have you ever experienced a moment when you thought “this is everything!” and you wanted time to stop so that you could hold it forever? Perhaps it was kissing a first love, watching a surreal sunrise, or holding a cooing newborn. Everything becomes clear, pure, and transcendent. Your thoughts, feelings, desires, and terrors all disappear in a light called Eternity. But, as we all know, time cannot be stopped and moments cannot be captured…except perhaps by an artist’s brush or a poet’s pen.

EVERYTHING     by Mary Oliver

No doubt in Holland,
when van Gogh was a boy,
there were swans drifting
over the green sea
of the meadows, and no doubt
on some warm afternoon
he lay down and watched them,
and almost thought: this is everything.
What drove him
to get up and look further
is what saves this world,
even as it breaks
the hearts of men.
In the mines where he preached,
where he studied tenderness,
there were only men, all of them
streaked with dust.
For years he would reach
toward the darkness.
But no doubt, like all of us,
he finally remembered
everything, including the white birds
weightless and unaccountable,
floating around the towns
of grit and hopelessness––
and this is what would finish him:
not the gloom, which was only terrible,
but those last yellow fields, where clearly
nothing in the world mattered, or ever would,
but the insensible light.

 Pulitzer Prize- winning poet, Mary Oliver, invites us to ponder the truth and clarity of these illuminated moments in her poem, “Everything,” about the artistic sensitivity of Vincent van Gogh. This poem draws sharp contrasts between the carefree boy and the disillusioned man, the dark mines and the sunlit fields, the laborious work and the idle leisure, the reaching and the unreachable, the black dust and the white birds, the hopelessness of reality and the hopefulness of eternity. 
Oliver captured in words what van Gogh brushed onto canvasses; the clarity and brightness of light when juxtaposed with darkness. Even in death, van Gogh may have been reaching for a light that transcended time and held illusive bliss.
The curse and blessing of artists like van Gogh is the ability to see the world in a different light and to pursue that light until all that seems different is recognized as variations of light on a starry, starry night.
* Dr. Joy Heaton is Executive Director of Just Compassion, Inc.  Her doctoral thesis at Columbia Theological Seminary examined the practice of attentiveness as expressed by the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Mary Oliver.
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Poem: Election Day by Walt Whitman

ELECTION DAY, NOVEMBER, 1884.

07550_150pxIf I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest
scene and show,
‘Twould not be you, Niagara—nor you, ye limitless prairies—nor
your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite—nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyser-
loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon’s white cones—nor Huron’s belt of mighty lakes—
nor Mississippi’s stream:
—This seething hemisphere’s humanity, as now, I’d name—the
still small voice vibrating—America’s choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the
quadriennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous’d—sea-board and inland
—Texas to Maine—the Prairie States—Vermont, Virginia,
California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West—the paradox and con-
flict,
The countless snow-flakes falling—(a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome’s wars of old, or modern Napoleon’s:)
the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
—Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—while the
heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails. 

                                                                                                                    

The Possible Company of My Death

                                                                             Passengers

At the gate, I sit in a row of blue seats
with the possible company of my death,
this sprawling miscellany of people-
carry-on bags and paperbacks

that could be gathered in a flash
into a band of pilgrims on the last open road.
Not that I think
if our plane crumpled into a mountain

we would all ascend together,
holding hands like a ring of skydivers,
into a sudden gasp of brightness,
or that there would be some common place

for us to reunite to jubilize the moment,
some spaceless, pillars Greece
where we could, at the count of three,
toss our ashes into the sunny air.

It’s just that the way that man has his briefcase
so carefully arranged,
the way that girl is cooling her tea,
and the flow of the comb that woman
passes through her daughter’s hair…
and when you consider the altitude,
the secret parts of the engines,
and all the hard water and the deep canyons below…

well, I just think it would be good if one of us
maybe stood up and said a few words,
or, so as not to involve the police,
at least quietly wrote something down.                        
                                                                                                —Billy Collins

This poem is why I love poetry so much. Because poetry, better than any other form of writing, succinctly expresses our common human emotions-often ones that are not spoken aloud. Who has not had these thoughts prior to a flight while waiting in the boarding area? Or even during a flight?  The author brilliantly concludes with humor. He leaves us all clearly imagining the scenario of someone publicly expressing the universal fear- and the inevitable result!

 

 

 

Texas Star Rising

CarieJuettnerBioDear Readers,

I’m so delighted to introduce to you our featured poet, Carie Juettner, to help us celebrate National Poetry Month!  Carie is a poet, short story author, and novelist in Austin, TX. Her work has been published in Nature Futures, The Texas Observer, and The Texas Poetry Calendar, among other places, and she has a story forthcoming in Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things. In addition to writing, Carie substitute teaches, shelves library books, and speaks to students about poetry. You can learn more about Carie, find links to all of her published work, (along with some great photos of her pets) on her blog,  cariejuettner.com

Below are two poems that you will love along with a short interview with Carie!

Wildflower Season

Highways are bridges across red seas,
oceans of blue—
bodies of color that wave
when the wind blows.

Tourists in our own land, we wade
through ankle-high blooms, then venture deeper—
trying to capture something
that can’t be caught in a photo.

What we want to remember
is our moment of awe
when we crested that hill
and gasped at the painted landscape.

One bluebonnet looks just like the next up close.
They are not zebra stripes, nor snowflakes.
Their power lies in the collective,
beauty in numbers.

Let’s put down our cameras,
keep our kids in the car,
stop stopping on the side of the road
to see the blanket turn to threads,
the ocean of blue become a dried up lake
of bald spots and litter.

Let’s just drive, look,Bluebonnets
enjoy with our windows down.

Make a U-turn if we must.

© Carie Juettner

This poem won first place in the Austin Poetry Society’s Mary Oliver Award in 2015 and is published in Best Austin Poetry 2014-2015. Follow this link to get your copy!

The Bohemian Freethinker chats with Carie Juettner

BFT:  Carie, has Austin and or Texas, always been your home? Your poem “Wildflower Season” about the beautiful bluebonnets indigenous to Texas reveals an inspiration from your specific locale. How does sense of place inspire you? Give us an idea of where your inspiration comes from.

Carie: I’ve lived in Texas all my life. I grew up in Richardson, which is near Dallas, then came to Austin to attend college at UT and, like a lot of people, I stayed. I’ve been in Austin for over fifteen years now. It’s a great town.

I’m definitely inspired by place. I’ve been published several times in the Texas Poetry Calendar, so most of those pieces are Texas-themed, and I have another wildflower poem, a haiku actually, that appeared last August in The Texas Observer. I also love Big Bend National Park in south Texas and am always inspired to write when I go there.

BFT: In one of your essays about teaching, you state that you knew you wanted to be a teacher as early as the 9th grade. When did you discover that you were also a writer, and a poet in particular?

Carie:  I started writing poems in 9th or 10th grade. I still have them. They almost all rhyme and most of them have dramatic titles like “Dancing with Danger” and “Flirting with Disaster,” things I never actually did. 🙂 I started journaling and writing poetry more seriously in college, and I got my first poem published in the 2009 Texas Poetry Calendar.

All throughout my teaching career I wanted to “write a book someday.” But that’s about as far as the thought went. It was just this vague notion of something I wanted to do, but I didn’t know what the book would be about or when I would write it or how. In my last year of teaching, I got an idea for a novel and started making notes. Then I made the big decision to quit teaching and jumped into writing with both feet. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned about both the craft and business of writing over the past four years. And there’s still so much TO learn.

BFT:  Although our focus is on poetry today, you are actually a published author in other genres including horror, and young adult fiction. Does one inform the other, or one flow from another? Do you usually have a work in progress in multiple genres simultaneously?

Carie: I do think that the practice of writing, in any genre, makes you a better writer in all genres. I think the succinctness of poetry and the focus on imagery and language aids my prose, and sometimes when a short story is getting too long and I’m having trouble reeling it in, I try to visualize it as a poem in order to focus and find the heart of it.

I ALWAYS have multiple projects going at once, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. In one way, it’s nice to have something else to work on when I get stuck in one piece, but at the same time, that makes it easy to jump from one work-in-progress to the next over and over rather than making myself focus and struggle through the hard parts.

Right now, while I’m looking for an agent for my first middle grade novel, I have a poetry chapbook and a horror short story both in revision and another middle grade novel draft I need to get back to.

BFT:  Your poem, “Poetry Tumbles,” was published in the 2015 Anthology of the Austin International Poetry Festival. The festival has already occurred in 2016, yes? Was it well attended? Is poetry alive and well today?

Carie: Sadly, I wasn’t able to attend AIPF this year, but I do think poetry is alive and well today, at least in Austin. I’m on the board of the Austin Poetry Society, where we have a fairly small but very devoted group of poets who enjoy attending our meetings and listening to our guest speakers and entering our monthly and annual contests. We’re always looking for new members and volunteers though, so if you’re a poetry lover in the Austin area, consider joining. http://www.austinpoetrysociety.org

In fact, Austin has is a great community for writers of all types. A few months ago, I raved about all my favorite local literary events and organizations on my blog. You can check it out here: https://cariejuettner.com/2015/09/01/writerly-resources-in-austin-tx/

                                                                      Poetry Tumbles 

Poetry tumbles down the street
skittering into gutters
wrapping around crepe myrtles
and live oak branches
sailing out from under parked cars,
marred by tire treads

Poetry collects in doorways
lurks in bushes
pastes itself to fence posts
like flyers for lost cats.
It teeters on rooftops
threatening to jump

Poetry rings the doorbell
in the middle of the day
then runs away, laughing.
It digs holes in the garden,
then lounges on a lawn chair
nibbling ripe plums
birds eggs in nest
Poetry yawns, stretches  
wiggles its bare toes
and rubs its eyes,
curls up in a bird’s nest
and falls asleep
camouflaged as eggs.

© Carie Juettner  

 

Give Lions Some Love

Sunt Leones

The Lions who ate the Christians on the sands of the arena
By indulging native appetites played what has now been seen a
Not entirely negligible part
In consolidating at the very start
The position of the Early Christian Church.

Initiatory rites are always bloody
And the lions, it appears
From contemporary art, made a study
Of dyeing Coliseum sands a ruddy
Liturgically sacrificial hue
And if the Christians felt a little blue-
Well, people being eaten often do.

Theirs was the death, and theirs the crown undying,
A state of things which must be satisfying.
My point which up to this has been obscured
Is that it was the lions who procured
By chewing up blood gristle flesh and bone
The martyrdoms on which the Church has grown.

I only write this poem because I thought it rather looked
As if the part the lions played was being overlooked.
By lions’ jaws great benefits and blessings were begotten
And so our debt to Lionhood must never be forgotten!

Stevie Smith

Church History was my favorite subject while I was a student in Divinity School. And I remember being fascinated by stories of “martyrs for the faith.” In particular, the story of Ignatius of Antioch, a bishop in Syria, who died as a martyr in Rome during the reign of Trajan A.D. 98-117. Ignatius seemed to actually relish the idea of martyrdom and wrote in a letter, “I am the wheat of God. Let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.” And his wish came true.

I love this tongue-in-cheek poem by Stevie Smith which takes a new perspective on the role the lions played in early martyrdom. I bet even Ignatius forgave the lions for their part in the whole bloody affair.

 

“We Grow Accustomed to the Dark”

We grow accustomed to the Dark-

When Light is put away-

As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp

To witness her Goodbye-

A Moment- We uncertain step

For newness of the night-

Then- fit our Vision to the Dark-

And meeet the Road-erect-

And so of larger-Darknesses-

Those Evenings of the Brain-

When not a Moon disclose a sign-

Or Star-come out-within-

The Bravest-grope a little-

And sometimes hit a Tree

Directly in the Forehead-

But as they learn to see-

Either the Darkness alters-

Or something in the sight

Adjusts itself to Midnight-

And Life steps almost straight      —Emily Dickinson

I can remember as a child, being fascinated by how my “night vision” would kick in shortly after all the lights were out. At first it’s like you are blind but then slowly you begin to make out shapes and realize that all that is familiar is still there in the room.

In this poem I love the imagery of the “Neighbor” holding the lamp so that the light falls on her face as she pauses at the door to turn and say her goodbyes before setting off into the dark night. But it is the image of the night’s darkness as a metaphor for our mental darknesses that is so brilliant. Those “Evenings of the Brain” devoid of all light, both moon and star, when we experience the total darkness of grief and loss, despair and hopelessness.

At first we are blinded and can do little more than grope in the darkness. But if we just hold on, slowly the eyes of our soul will adjust. Maybe our life will be forever changed but we will continue to step out onto the road of Life and find it “almost straight.”

April Is National Poetry Month

Dear Readers,

In honor of National Poetry Month I have decided to deviate from my original planned posts to focus on poetry instead. Over the next several weeks I will be sharing some of my favorite poems and why they have special significance for me. I’m hoping that you will share some of your favorites in the comments and I’ll post them here as well.

In the meantime please check out the National Poetry Month Website which includes a list of 30 things you can do in honor of poetry month. Let me know if you do any of these. Some of my favorite suggestions are:

1.) Sign up for Poem-a-Day (I’ve already done this and it’s great!)

2.)Memorize a poem (good for the brain)

3.)Chalk a poem on the sidewalk (or the street for walkers in your neighborhood)

4.)Celebrate National Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 21,2016 (you’ll have to check out their website to find out how to do it!)

Please join me on this journey and let’s talk poetry!