Poem of the Week: The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Listen to Mary Oliver read this poem here.

Photo by Indra Projects on Unsplash

Last week, I wondered if a daydream could be an intention; today, I wonder if a question can be a prayer. Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

To say this poem is my favorite would be both an understatement and an untruth. This poem saved my life, I might say instead. And I love so many poems… but this one is special, and I know I am not alone in my deep connection to both this poem and all of Mary Oliver’s work. In my graduate program, some of my peers scoffed at Oliver’s work: too easy, too feminine, too simple. I disagree. And anyone who pictures Oliver as some angelic saint floating through the fields with no problems and no flaws should listen to this interview with her from On Being. She smoked, for one thing. I was so happy when I learned that: she wasn’t perfect. She was one of us, her devoted readers: imperfect.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? The love of my life gave me my first book of poems by Mary Oliver when we were in college. I was a tragic poetess, or imagined myself as one, anyway, bewildered with sadness of the world, a Plath and Sexton devotee; he handed me hope in the form of a slim volume called The House of Light.

(All of Oliver’s books have beautiful titles: The House of Light, Dreamwork, Wild Geese, Blue Horses, A Thousand Mornings…)

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? I had these words laid out in rainbow cutout letters on a long, wide strip of paper that my artist mother-in-law helped me decorate and laminate; I posted the strip up above the chalkboard in my very first high school classroom so my students had to see them all the time.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? The question settles on me, some mornings, right after I wake up, when I am sleepy and dread leaving my bed’s thick covers. We face so much, in a day, all of us do. This week I gave this slideshow to my students about how every choice involves suffering: they are studying moral dilemmas and I am listening to The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck audiobook when I walk the dog (highly recommend). To say my life didn’t turn out how I imagined it might would be my second understatement of this post, and some mornings the weight of all the chores and choices is nearly suffocating.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? One of my best friends, another poet, remarked one day that this question is tongue-in-cheek. As in, yes, make your plans, and life will do what it will. I had never considered this possibility; it shocked me. But I like this reading, too. It makes me think of life an an animal itself, a swan, a black bear, a grasshopper. A black dog, maybe. What are you gonna do with this animal, this warm beast you didn’t wholly choose and can’t control?

Poem of the Week: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Welcome to “Poem of the Week!”

In my new(ish) job as an adjunct instructor at CO School of Mines, I am teaching a course called Nature and Human Values. It’s a interesting mix of about one million topics–ethical frameworks, writing skills, environmental and engineering dilemmas galore–and this semester, I’ve decided to end each teaching week by sharing a poem with my students, and on my site here. (One of my daydreams/goals for 2023 (can a daydream be a goal?) is to write on my site more.)

My students have been reading this fabulous essay by Jenny Price, Thirteen Ways of Seeing Nature in LA. This is the poem the essay’s title (and hundreds of other literary works out there) alludes to.

So, you can read Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens at the Poetry Foundation.

Some Thoughts (and Links) About This Poem

As I wandered the Internet, I found this amazing fine art book by Corrine Jones. (I want this.) A catalog description for a cloth reprint of the book notes this:

Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” appeared  originally in 1917 and was subsequently published in his first book, Harmonium,  in 1923.  In a letter, Stevens once wrote that “this group of poems is  not meant to be a collection of epigrams or of ideas, but of sensations.” 

I love the idea of a poem as a collection of sensations. You can feel the sensations as you read the poem: a shadow, a shiver, a breeze…

I also found this essay from Stone Soup (a super cool lit mag whose target audience is children under 13) that contains some fun facts (Wallace Stevens was not a full time writer but an insurance company executive!)(which is such a hopeful fact for young writers who know they also have to make $$) and wonderful moments of analysis–

like the observation that the phrase “twenty snowy mountains” IS the sound of pointy mountains:

TWENty SNOWy MOUNtains. (For my poet readers: those are trochees!)

And, last, I spend a few moments doodling/thinking about the poem on this (blurry) printout:

And: bonus! The image of the blackbird at the top of this post is from the British Library website, which also features a recording of the blackbird’s song. Listen here.

Hope you enjoyed Poem of the Week! Edition 2 will be out next Friday.

Stuff I’m Into: Nonprofit AF

Hello!

The Dexter Avenue King Memorial by Carol M Highsmith is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

I’m starting a new and occasional feature of this website called “Stuff I’m Into.” Pretty self-explanatory, yes?

Today I’d like to highly recommend Nonprofit AF. Written by Vu Le, this blog comes out Monday mornings and points out inequities in the world of nonprofits and ways to fix them, in very funny and wonderful ways. Reading this blog each Monday puts me in a good mood. Vu’s writing makes me feel hopeful and gives me specific ideas for changing the world for the better.

Although I no longer work in a nonprofit, Nonprofit AF hits themes that are relevant to education.

Check it today’s post, which celebrates some lesser known MLK quotes, here.

White Lung featured on Verse and Image

I’m honored that NC poet Bill Griffin featured White Lung on “Verse and Image” earlier this month. He captures my hope for this book so well when he says:

“But here is our best chance for hope, for a world where we dig out the pain, find its roots, put it in a place where we can all see it for what it is. Maybe it won’t have to hurt us forever.”

Read the full post here.

Beech tree roots by Stephen Craven is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

Brockman-Campbell Book Award

Exciting news! I was honored to get a call a few weeks ago that White Lung was selected as the winner of the North Carolina Poetry Society’s 2022 Brockman-Campbell Book Award. Even though I am a Coloradan now, I still consider myself a North Carolina poet, and the contest’s rules did too (and if you’ve read the book, you’ll know it’s the teensiest bit about NC (ha). The judge for the contest was Jeff Worley, a recent Poet Laureate of Kentucky.

Check out the announcement here: https://www.ncpoetrysociety.org/bcaward/

And here’s a poem by Jeff Worley, too:

Mark Your Calendars: Summer Events

I’m excited to share a few upcoming events! First, if you’re in the Denver area, mark your calendar for Friday, July 9 at 6 PM, when I’ll be reading with Suzi Q Smith at Tattered Cover’s McGregor Square location. Check it out here: https://www.tatteredcover.com/event/kimberly-oconnor-and-suzi-q-smith-live-mcgregor-square I’m beyond thrilled to share an event with Suzi; her poems are amazing, inspiring, and enthralling. This reading is free.

Next! Well, really, first—I have some events this week! On Friday, June 17, I’ll be reading at Lighthouse Writers Workshop’s Lit Fest at 4:30 PM with a terrific lineup: Sandra Newman, Lija Fisher, Nicky Beer, Daniel Levine, Ellen Barish, and Abby Chabitnoy. Register for this free event here.

And on Saturday, July 18 from noon to 1:00, I’m honored to be part of Writing Big, a panel about the role social justice plays in the stories we tell. I’ll be participating with Suzi Q. Smith, R. Alan Brooks, Angelique Stevens, Mathangi Subramanian, and Jade Wong-Baxter from the Frances Goldin Literary Agency. The event costs $20-30 to attend; you can register here. I *adore* the people on the panel, even the ones I haven’t met yet. Check them out if you don’t know them by following the links attached to their names in the lineup. (I am especially a huge fan of R. Alan Brook’s What’d I Miss; if you don’t know it, set aside an afteroon and read it all.)

And last but not least, on Saturday, June 25, the Colorado Book Awards ceremony takes place at Denver’s Ellie Caulkins Opera House. I’m still kinda shocked to be a finalist with so many amazing authors. Get tickets here.

National Poetry Month 2022

Hi friends,

Thanks to everyone who reached out about enjoying my handwritten poems for April 2022. It turns out that the end of April was a bit of a battle and the end of April won, so I decided to wrap up the project with a single post highlighting some other poems, poets, and poemy things.

First, I got to teach a class called ”Poetry Alive” at the Golden Library in mid April. I highlighted two poet laureates, Joy Harjo (the current US Poet Laureate) and Bobby LeFebre (Colorado’s current Poet Laureate). If you want to read some of Joy’s poems, and watch one of Bobby’s, you can see the outline I used for the class here.

Speaking of Bobby LeFebre—carve out and hour and check out Cuentos de Colorado, which aired on Rocky Mountain PBS last week. It’s terrific.

Next! The first part of lyrics of a song I am loving. This is Big Thief’s song “Not.” I got to see them perform last week at Mission Ballroom in Denver. It was amazing. Listen to the song as you read for maximum pleasure.

First part of Big Thief’s ”Not”

And! I got the news in early April that White Lung is a finalist for the 2022 Colorado Book Award in poetry (!!!). On April 29, I got to read along with the other three poetry finalists, Morgan Liphart, Wayne Miller, and Ruth Obee; and the finalists in literary fiction, Claire Boyles, Wendy J. Fox, and Mark Stevens reading Gary Reilly’s work. All were amazing and I am honored to be in such great company.

Check out the full list of CO Book Award finalists and reading schedule here.

April’s over, but poetry’s still alive and well. Check out my upcoming summer camps for kids and a panel on writing for social justice at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. And—if you’re still reading and you like this blog, please follow it and maybe forward it to a friend!