We all make mistakes. Mary Oliver has had a brilliant career as popular nature poet, but she unfortunately published “Singapore,” betraying a fatal elitism.
But Oliver advanced to the third round in the East Bracket with her poem, “Singapore,” in a controversial win over Robert Pinsky, a poet of equal parts vast, heart-felt erudition and self-indulgent, lisping bore. The Oliver poem embarrassed us highly; the Pinsky poem bored us—with a slight grating sound. The Oliver poem won.
Franz Wright has a dark, spirtual, melancholic swagger that is irresitible, and his poetry has been nearly as successful recently as Oliver’s mystical, motherly, environmentalism.
First the telephone went,
It was cold,
and they both went to sleep
as though dressed for a journey.
Like addictions condoned
from above, evening
to come back as leaves–
the long snowy divorce. . .
That narrow bed, a cross
between an altar
and an operating table. Voice
saying, While I was alive
I loved you.
And I love you now.
Franz Wright is the poet of love—wearing black.
Mighty good stuff.
Mary Oliver pleases in a more far-flung manner:
WILD GEESEYou do not have to be good.You do not have to walk on your kneesfor a hundred miles through the desert repenting.You only have to let the soft animal of your bodylove 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 rainare 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 excitingover and over announcing your placein the family of things.
Franz Wright offers comfort from the broken body of himself; Oliver comforts with the natural fabric.
Oliver says, “Look at the sunrise in your door!”
Wright says, “Love me, stumbling on your threshold.”
Oliver is quick to give New Age advice. Wright is broken, and past that. That’s why Wright is better.
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