Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver

Past Event: Monday, February 4, 2008

At Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

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Mary Oliver was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1935. The quiet, wooded, flat land and sharp seasons of her first physical landscape moved her deeply and appear in many of her poems and essays. In “A Blessing” from her 2004 collection, Blue Iris, Oliver describes the high school summers she spent car camping with a friend. “What we saw,” she says in conclusion, “filled our minds. What we saw made us love and want to honor the world. And dear readers, if anyone thinks children in these difficult times do not need such peaceful intervals, then hang up the phone, we are not having a conversation. Without doubt those summers changed my life and my friend’s. Whoever I am, and whoever my friend is now, fifty years later, we are both still part of this feast of the past. Happiness and leaves—they went together.” During those same transformative years, Oliver was inspired by the work of Edna St. Vincent Millay and briefly lived in the poet’s home helping the family sort through Millay’s papers. She later attended Ohio State University and Vassar College, though she did not receive a degree from either.

Oliver writes with a posture of strength and grace, a stance of balance and flexibility, an opening of the heart and a quietness of the mind that invite the world in. “(Her) poetry is an excellent antidote for the excesses of civilization,” wrote one reviewer for the Harvard Review, “for too much flurry and inattention, and the baroque conventions of our social and professional lives. She is a poet of wisdom and generosity whose vision allows us to look intimately at a world not of our making.” Though the reader rarely encounters other human beings in Oliver’s work, a distinct voice and mind observe and describe the natural world with great focus, and often speak to us in direct questions that push us to observe, absorb, and capture every molecule we possibly can. “The Summer Day,” a poem from the Pulitzer Prize-winning collection American Primitive, in which the narrator spends a summer’s day laying in the grass, takes us there pointedly, asking: 
“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?”

In her latest volume, Thirst (2006), Oliver writes through her grief over the loss of her partner of more than 40 years and at the same time traces her journey into a newfound Christian faith. Collectively, the more than twenty volumes of poetry and essays that expose her delight in the mysteries of the world and explore her willingness to believe have garnered a large and loyal following. Her numerous awards include the Pulitzer Prize for American Primitive, the National Book Award for New and Selected Poems, a Lannan Foundation Literary Award, the New England Booksellers Association Award for Literary Excellence, the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Memorial Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Excerpt from Thirst (2006)

The Place I Want to Get Back To

is where
   
     in the pinewoods
        
         in the moments between
            
              the darkness

and first light
   
      two deer
         
            came walking down the hill
              
                 and when they saw me

they said to each other, okay,
     
      this one is okay,
          
             let’s see who she is
              
                 and why she is sitting

on the ground, like that,
     
       so quiet, as if
          
              asleep, or in a dream,
                
                     but, anyway, harmless;

and so they came
     
       on their slender legs
         
             and gazed upon me
             
                  not unlike the way

I go out to the dunes and look
     
      and look and look
         
            into the faces of the flowers;
             
                 and then one of them leaned forward

and nuzzled my hand, and what can my life 
    
      bring to me that could exceed
        
           that brief moment?
             
                 For twenty years

I have gone every day to the same woods,
    
      not waiting, exactly, just lingering.
         
            Such gifts, bestowed,
             
                 can’t be repeated.

If you want to talk about this
    
     come to visit. I live in the house
         
          near the corner, which I have named
              
                  Gratitude.

Selected WorkPoetry:No Voyage, and Other Poems (1963) The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems (1972) The Night Traveler (1978) Twelve Moons (1978) Sleeping in the Forest (1979) American Primitive (1983) Dream Work (1986) Provincetown (1987) House of Light (1990) New and Selected Poems (1992) White Pine: Poems and Prose Poems (1994) Blue Pastures (1995) West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems (1997) Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems (1999) The Leaf and the Cloud (2000) What Do We Know (2002) Why I Wake Early (2004) Boston Iris: Poems and Essays (2004) New and Selected Poems Volume Two (2004) Blue Iris: Poems and Essays (2006) Thirst: Poems (2006)

Other:A Poetry Handbook (1994) Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse (1998) Long Life: Essays and Other Writings (2004)

Linkspoets.org

The Poetry Foundation

Reading and conversation with Joseph Parisi, former Editor-in-Chief of Poetry Magazine

God of Dirt: Mary Oliver and the Other Book of God, Cowley Publications, 2004

Event Details

Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

200 University Street
Seattle, WA 98101

View directions.

Transportation & Parking

This event will be held in the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, the largest event space at Benaroya Hall. 

Benaroya Hall is located at 200 University Street, directly across Second Avenue from the Seattle Art Museum. The public entrance to Benaroya Hall is along Third Avenue.

  • From Southbound I-5
    Take the Union Street exit (#165B). Continue onto Union Street and proceed approximately five blocks to Second Avenue. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound I-5
    Exit left onto Seneca Street (exit #165). Proceed two blocks and turn right onto Fourth Avenue. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Union Street. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Seneca Street exit and move into the left lane. Turn left onto First Avenue and proceed one block. Take the next right (at the Hammering Man sculpture) onto University Street. Continue up the hill two blocks to Third Avenue. Turn left onto Third Avenue. Continue to the next block and turn left onto Union Street. Make the next left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Southbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Denny Way/Downtown exit. Keep right and cross over Denny Way onto Wall Street. Proceed approximately five blocks and turn left onto Second Avenue. Continue south on Second Avenue approximately eight blocks. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.

By Bus
Benaroya Hall is served by numerous bus routes. Digital reader boards along Third Avenue display real-time bus arrival information. For details and trip planning tools, call Metro Rider Information at 206.553.3000 (voice) or 206.684.1739 (TDD), or visit Metro online. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, served by bus and light rail, has a stop just below the Hall (University Street Station).

Parking
The 430-car underground garage at Benaroya Hall provides direct access from the enclosed parking area into the Hall via elevators leading to The Boeing Company Gallery. Enter the garage on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street. Maximum vehicle height is 6’8″. Blink charging stations are available for electric vehicles. The event rate is $16.

Parking is also available at:

  • The Cobb Building (enter on University Street between Third and Fourth avenues).
  • The Russell Investments Center (enter on Union Street between First and Second avenues).
  • There are many other garages within a one-block radius of Benaroya Hall, along with numerous on-street parking options.

Accessibility

All of our venues have accessible seating and listening devices available. Please contact us at sal@lectures.org or 206.621.2230 x10 for more details and to let us know you’re coming so we can better accommodate your needs.