There was little applause at the end of each poem Mary Oliver read Monday night. Instead, the last line of each poem was met with a collective murmur of approval from the captivated audience. Despite the rain, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, invited by the Creative Writing department through the Jean and Bill Lane Lecture Series, drew an audience larger than Cemex Auditorium’s capacity of 600.
Oliver was introduced as a “Virgilian guide to the natural world” by Eavan Boland, head of the Creative Writing Department. “Because of her poems,” Boland said, “the world continues to offer itself to our imagination.”
Jean Lane, sponsor of the lecture series, was present at the reading. She discussed her decision to invite Oliver and said, “She sees nature so much like I do, in the same spirit. I love her words.”
Oliver, 76, has published close to 30 volumes of poetry. Last night, she read a range of poems that spanned across various volumes, as well as some new, unpublished poetry. Threaded through the reading were three poems dedicated to her dog, Percy, named after the Romantic poet Percy Shelley.
“The Percy poems were really sweet,” said David Jia, ’13, after the reading. “I really liked that she named her dog after Percy Shelley-it made him seem so much more like a human.”
Throughout the reading, Oliver joked with her rapt audience. “You’re so quiet, you people!” she exclaimed after a poem ended to another quiet wave of satisfied sighs and appreciative murmurs. “I should have some fighting poems! I don’t have any. What can you do?” However, she elicited enthusiastic applause when she read her iconic poems Wild Geese and The Summer Day, both which have been widely published.
Oliver also kept up a steady stream of self-conscious banter between poems. Riffling through her own book to find the next poem, she said, to a wave of laughter, “I’m very organized, except that my organization isn’t very good. That’s why there’s a table of contents.”
She also drew chuckles when she commented, “I’m old and I’m supposed to be laboring. Sometimes I want to sit down and have an ice-cream sundae and forget it.”
On a more serious note, she highlighted her concern about the environment, a theme evident in her poetry.
“I do worry a great, great, great deal about the environmental devastation of the world,” she said. “We are many, probably more than we should be as a species and we have to be careful about our usage of things. I worry about the little kids that I know now-will they even know what the world was like?”
At the end of the reading, students and community members milled around in the rain, hoping to catch Oliver for a signing.
“You can just see she speaks to the heart of the whole community,” Boland said, pointing to the mixed crowd of students and white-haired locals. “The community is united by this event.”
“She was wonderful,” said Lucas Loredo ’12. “I don’t really read poetry, but I found her poems really accessible. They were profound in a way that wasn’t high falutin’-they were not claiming to be anything grand, but they were.”