4109 Ware Lecture by Mary Oliver

Reported for UUA.org by Jone Johnson Lewis, Reporter; Margy Levine Young, Editor.

Due to our agreements with Ms. Oliver around her appearance at General Assembly, we regret that we are unable to offer video of her Ware Lecture reading.

After a long day—and nearing the end of the long week—of General Assembly workshops, plenaries, parties, and networking with other Unitarian Universalists, several thousand General Assembly participants gathered to hear this year's Ware Lecture.

The Rev. William G. Sinkford, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, introduced the poet Mary Oliver, noting that while in the UUA, worship draws from many sources, congregations use "none more effectively or more frequently than the work of Mary Oliver." Her poems reflect a love of the natural world and the struggle to find peace and compassion. She is "one of our most important liturgists," he said, also noting that she probably didn't plan that to happen.

A slight woman, dressed in a blue shirt and black slacks, Mary Oliver began by suggesting that the audience "save some of that applause for the Democrats."

She began her reading with a prose piece, published recently in a magazine as "Foods for Thought." Then, saying "I like poems better," she introduced the first of three Percy poems, about her little dog Percy, each reflecting a charming mischievousness. She continued with "When I Am Among the Trees," and another Percy poem, then "Beans."

Then she read a poem she described as "an old, old poem everybody wants me to read—so I'll do it." It was the UU favorite, "Wild Geese." After that, Oliver read "Yes! No!," a prose poem.

Commenting that young writers seem to give great attention to commas, she described a dilemma she tried to solve: how to get readers to read past the first sentence. A solution? Write a poem of only one sentence. But, she noted, this makes the poem "a little difficult to read." She did manage it.

From her new book coming out this fall, named Thirst, Oliver read "Great Moth Comes from His Papery Cave." She then read "Mozart for Example" and "Oxygen." She continued with a longer poem, "Six Recognitions of the Lord," followed (with a twinkle) by Percy Three, "Little Dog's Rhapsody in the Night."

Oliver introduced the next as "another old poem, using the clever device of questions the audience gets to answer—later." Then she read "In the Store," another from her upcoming book, and "Such Singing in the Wild Branches."

Announcing that she was switching the order of the last two, she read "In the Evening in the Pine Woods," also from Thirst, and finished with "White Heron Rises over Blackwater," noting that there is no pond named Blackwater but that it was convenient to give a pond a name.

Sinkford closed the program, noting that the audience members had been "soothed and stimulated by this wonderful woman," putting into words the feeling in the room of calmness and good humor. After the reading, Mary Oliver stayed to sign copies of her books.