Mary Oliver: Live at Royce Hall
Mary Oliver, winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, was back in Los Angeles after five long, barren years, speaking again at historic Royce Hall on the UCLA campus. Presented by UCLA Live, the event was nowhere near the sellout it should have been for a night of such inspirational and beautiful weaving of poetry and prose. Mary Oliver has been writing for over fifty years now, and the stunning growth of her new work proves that she isn’t feeling complacent, nor has she lost her voice, as she reaches her 75th year on the planet.
She reads from what might seem to be a carefully selected group of works, but at the same time she seems to bounce around spontaneously as if she hasn’t made any plans for what to say at all. She shares with a rapt, appreciative and laughing audience. Her words range from nature to her dog Percy to loss and love and light. She is truly a vessel for mother nature, as she displays a distinct and amazing eye and pen for detail. We close our eyes and we’re in lush green forests, sitting at the end of calm expansive oceans, basking in the sun’s falling light, or sitting doing taxes while her dog waits patiently for attention. No matter how mundane the subject may sound, when she leads us through how she sees it, the experience opens up to something amazing and new.
A peak is “Flare,” a long, twelve part story that has everyone silent and blissful, hinged on her every word, even as she counts out ‘One’ or ‘Two’ or ‘Three’ as she lets us know which piece of the story she has moved into. It is the longest of the night, and we’re thrilled she shares it with us. The clear highlight, for the audience at least (other than anything about Percy), is “The Journey,” a statement of independence for any gender, any age. The audience is primarily older female, but there are a smattering of younger couples, a few college students, and this writer. We all feel the pull of this poem. It is revelatory: “There was a new voice, which you slowly recognized as your own.”
She spoke of a new book as she wound through her poetry, and at the end we were treated to a smattering of questions compiled from folks earlier in the day. She answered with honesty and truth in that inimitable voice of hers. We all stayed til the end, when we rose and honored her with a lasting standing ovation, looking forward, already, to her return.