Hope is invented every day.
— James Baldwin, 1924-1987
American writer and social critic
Mary Oliver, who was born in 1935, said once that she was “saved by poetry, and by the beauty of the world.” She had a difficult childhood, dropped out of college, and then worked for seven years at Steepletop, the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay, helping to organize the late poet’s papers. There she met photographer Molly Malone Cook, ten years her senior. The two fell in love and spent the rest of Cook’s life together. Oliver wrote most of her poems at their home in Provincetown, Massachusetts. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 and the National Book Award in 1992. She survived her partner by almost fifteen years, continuing to walk among the forests, ponds and dunes of Province Lands and write poems of keen observation.
At least two years ago I accessed Salt Project’s An Advent Companion to Mary Oliver’s “Devotions.” I printed out the booklet, and bought the hefty, pricey hardcover edition of her last collection. As I recall now, I regretted buying the volume, because it is a collection of “new and selected” poems, all of which I already had in the individual volumes I’d acquired over the years or could find online. I put the booklet in with my burgeoning collection of Advent guides and remanded the tome to my car, intending to return it.
I didn’t use the devotional, nor did I return the book. It rode around in the bottom of a utility basket in the back seat of my car, other things piled on top of it. I forgot it was there. A few weeks ago, in an effort to redd out my car, I found it, and finally brought it into my house.
When the pupil is ready, the teacher will come.
I started with it today. In “Yes! No!,” the poet states the cardinal theme of her work: “How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly,/ looking at everything and calling out//Yes! No!”
Among the suggested activities for this first week in Advent is the exhortation to give of my time, talent, and treasure to organizations that are doing the essential work of giving people hope. Today I choose the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, a local group known and respected for its work.
This is my first post to Holidailies 2022. I move into this latest iteration of it with hope and joy, and a little trepidation about my ability to follow through on my intentions. Come with me, pay attention with me, for “to pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”