Dear Revgals and pals:
For many reasons, my palms are sweating as I type this entry, my very first on the "Revgals" blog. We've never done a book discussion of a book of poetry before, although Mompriest and I have led a few spirited discussions of particular poems. I'm not really sure how one goes about discussing a book of poetry, but for Mary Oliver, I'm willing to give it a try.
I first heard Mary Oliver's name a few years ago, when I attended the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, and heard Barbara Brown Taylor speak. She recommended, to writers and preachers, a little book by Mary Oliver called A Poetry Handbook. I ran right out and purchased a copy. Such was the power of her recommendation. Later, I discovered her famous poem, "The Summer Day", which ends, "Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?/Tell me, what is it that you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?" And this summer I heard that she spoke to a sold-out audience here in Minneapolis. She is poetry's equivalent to a Rock Star.
But the reason we are discussing her today is her latest book of poems, "Thirst," where she honestly deals with such topics such as faith and doubt, grieving and going on, and the vocation of a poet: which I think, in some ways has some things in common with the vocation of a preacher (we both deal with words, for example). With that in mind, here are some questions and other discussion starters for our conversation today:
1. Choose a favorite poem in this collection, or one you think is representative of this book. What is it that speaks to you in this poem? What questions do you have about it?
2. Choose one of the recurring themes in the book, and write about this theme. What is Oliver saying about grief, about faith, about her love for the natural world? How is she saying it?
3. Why do you think she chose the title, "Thirst"? What do you think she is thirsty for? What poems speak about this thirst?
4. As a preacher (for those of us who are), what do you appreciate about her work? Does she preach? If so, how, and when?
5. Finally, I have always been captivated by a passage at the end of her book, A Poetry Handbook. There Oliver writes, "Poetry is a life-cherishing force. And it requires a vision, a faith, to use an old-fashioned term. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes, indeed." (p. 122) Do these words ring true for you? About poetry? About Oliver's poetry? Which poems are "ropes let down to the lost" for you? How do they accomplish this role? And may we who preach the gospel also claim this vocation, that our words are also "as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry"?
Looking forward to the conversation!
Here are links to 2 of the poems in the books:
Making the House Ready for the Lord