A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver

I loved this slim collection of poems, many of which reminded me of something, or awakened something in me, it’s as if they don’t just exist on their own merit, but are pathways of invitation.

Just the title A Thousand Mornings suggests how many, many mornings Mary Oliver has passed in taking walks in nature observing creatures large and small, her shortest poem two lines about an ant; of watching the tides, there are at least three poems about the sea, the one mentioned on the back cover of the book, reminds me of a lesson whose symbol is “chop wood”, that sometimes we need to stop over thinking and tend to the ordinary and mundane.

Her title also reminds me of the benefit of writing morning pages, three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, ideally practiced first thing in the morning, advocated by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way, as a way of awakening one’s creativity, overcoming fear or blocks.

I GO DOWN TO THE SHORE

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall-
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

***

There is a poem called If I Were on ways to dance and the joy in life it brings, which can be read superficially, but which could be and most certainly is also about writing poetry, as I am reading another book of Mary Oliver’s called Rules for the Dance, A Handbook for Reading and Writing Metrical Verse, the title of which is clearly inspired by a stanza from Alexander Pope’s brilliant, poetic essay An Essay on Criticism a controversial work that discussed and compared styles of poetry and criticism, alluding to poets and critics past and present.

‘True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learned to dance.’ Alexander Pope

IF I WERE

There are lots of ways to dance and
to spin, sometimes it just starts my
feet first then my entire body, I am
spinning no one can see it but it is
happening. I am so glad to be alive,
I am so glad to be loving and loved.
Even if I were close to the finish,
even if I were at my final breath, I
would be here to take a stand, bereft
of such astonishments, but for them.

If I were a Sufi for sure I would be
one of the spinning kind.

***

THREE THINGS TO REMEMBER

As long as you’re dancing, you can
break the rules.
Sometimes breaking the rules is just
extending the rules.

Sometimes there are no rules.

***

There are mornings in India hinted at in After I Fall Down the Stairs at the Golden Temple and the closing poem of the collection Varanasi, which is in itself something of a response, a balm to the cry nestled within her poem A Thousand Mornings.

And finally one of my favourites:

I HAVE DECIDED

I have decided to find myself a home
in the mountains, somewhere high up
where one learns to live peacefully in
the cold and the silence. It’s said that
in such a place certain revelations may
be discovered. That what the spirit
reaches for may be eventually felt, if not
exactly understood. Slowly, no doubt. I’m
not talking about a vacation.

Of course, at the same time I mean to
stay exactly where I am.

Are you following me?

***

Click Here to Buy a Copy of Mary Oliver’s A Thousand Mornings via Book Depository

Just Like February by Deborah Batterman

What is February? A wonderful metaphor for the unpredictable, of opposites, a reminder to live without expectation while also appreciating ritual and traditional when it is gifted.

“It was the only way I could make sense of something that seemed so arbitrary to me. I soon began noticing things I’d never noticed in February. A sudden whiff of early spring one day, followed by a snowstorm the next. A certain restlessness in the air.”

Just Like February by Deborah Batterman is a novel that is immersed in nostalgia for the past, for the innocence of childhood and the reluctant awakening of the adolescent, of the fragility of love, the need for forgiveness, the pain of judgement.

When it opens Rachel is 5 years old, remembering the on again, off again nature of her parents commitment to getting married. She finds solace in her Uncle Jake, when he is around and through his postcards and letters, as he voyages around.

There is a longing in her that only Jake can appease, however there is mystery around him that is slow to be revealed though often hinted at throughout the text, a reminder in the way of it being written of traditional attitudes of skirting subjects, keeping up appearances, of that lurker, denial.

Once it becomes clear to the reader what’s happening to Jake, I couldn’t help but think of similar decisions that were made by the producers in consultation with band members of the rock group Queen (amid plenty of controversy), in the extraordinary film Bohemian Rhapsody a wonderful tribute to their creative music making and to their lost lead singer Freddie Mercury.

They highlighted family tension as well as tenderness, an unrequited love that endured despite all the pain, creativity born out of frustration and conflict. It was not necessary to over indulge the audience with the misery of the slippery slope, that temporary gratification, hedonism lured him into. It was hinted at, respectfully.

“I didn’t want to write an AIDS movie, to be honest with you. And then, I just looked the period – It’s sort of where he rejects [his bandmates] and comes back to them. It’s sort of like a family movie. It’s sort of like ‘I hate my family, I want to be independent, and then I come back’.” Screenwriter, Peter Morgan

And so too I wonder about the stories behind the story, what would this story be if Jake had been the protagonist, or if Rachel had been more forthcoming earlier on. In a way the novel experiences that secrecy of the eighties, for despite what it says in the blurb, it doesn’t confront the issue of AIDS, it waits until nearly the end before revealing it, thereby creating in the reading experience that same feeling of something being held back, not addressed.

John Boyne also does this exceptionally well through his character Cyril Avery in The Heart’s Invisible Furies. And ultimately though it took years in the making, with a change of cast and direction, Rami Malek, the Egyptian-American actor that took on the role of Freddie, gets to the truth of his character when he reflects:

“I think if you don’t celebrate his life, and his struggles, and how complicated he was, and how transformative he was – and wallow instead in the sadness of what he endured and his ultimate death – then that could be a disservice to the profound, vibrant, radiant nature of such an indelible human being.”

It’s a novel that makes you want to peel back the layers and find out why, the reason perhaps he avoided those family gatherings that are known to get to the heart of issues, when families can no longer keep up appearances and combust. I could feel myself wanting to leave that table. Just like February.

Marie Antoinette silk slippers

Knowing others is intelligence;

knowing yourself is true wisdom.

Mastering others is strength;

mastering yourself is true power.

Tao Te Ching: The Classic Book of Integrity and the Way

I have also read and reviewed Deborah Batterman’s excellent collection of short stories Shoes Hair Nails which the author sent me after I forwarded her a picture of a pair of Marie Antoinette silk slippers that were put up for auction on the 100 anniversary of her execution.

Further Reading

Independent Article: Bohemian Rhapsody: How the new Queen biopic almost never happened

N.B. This book was provided to me kindly by the publisher.