One of my very favorite poets, Mary Oliver, died this January at the age of 83. Now, with April just around the corner, we are at the start of National Poetry Month, and I can think of no better time to honor Mary Oliver, her work, and her affection for the changing of seasons. Toward that end, I invite you to listen to Mary Oliver reading her tender and moving poem, Wild Geese.
Mary Oliver is a perfect introduction to poetry for the uninitiated because she writes so crisply and accessibly about the natural world around us. Oliver demonstrates a strong command of language, and writes in partnership with it, rather than allow it to overwhelm her.
"One thing I do know is that poetry, to be understood, must be clear," Oliver said in an 2012 interview with NPR. "It mustn't be fancy. I have the feeling that a lot of poets writing now are… they sort of tap dance through it. I always feel that whatever isn't necessary shouldn't be in a poem."
Simplicity, directness and clarity are great goals to keep in mind for writers penning poems for the 21st Annual John Gardiner Poetry Contest, sponsored by Laguna Beach Library. Named in honor of the beloved local poet who died in 2017, this event celebrates writers of all ages who are encouraged to write and share poems based on a theme. This year’s theme is “freestyle,” which applies to the poem’s content, structure and style.
The library is accepting entries from April 1-30. Participants may submit up to three original poems along with the entry form, which is available at the library or by email request at firstname.lastname@example.org. Winners in all grade/age categories will be chosen and notified in mid-May. Winning poets receive gift certificate prizes, and their poems will be published in a booklet. The library also will host a public reading of the winning poems on Saturday, June 1.
If you want more guidance, look no further than Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook, which teaches poetry basics, including free verse.