“Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”

I’ve been waiting weeks to work on this poem, with its famous final lines.

Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day,”  from her 1990 book House of Light, just sings summer, and now summer’s here (with the accompanying mid-90s temperatures here in Boston), it’s time to learn it.

I’m slowly reading the whole volume, and I can’t believe that for years I’ve missed that Ms. Oliver is perhaps the best-known and most widely read poet in this country. A native of Northeast Ohio, Ms. Oliver now resides on Cape Cod (her poems celebrate its interior marshes more than its seashore), and since I grew up in Cleveland and now live in Boston (and married a man from Cape Cod), her poems often feel homey and familiar to me. I love the intimacy of her observations, the feeling, almost, of conversation. This feeling of casual grace is remarkable, because elsewhere Ms. Oliver has written that she revises most poems forty or fifty times!

If you’d like to recommend a favorite poet, please leave a comment! Who knows how many lovely voices I’ve been missing . . .

“The flash across the gap of being”

Howard Nemerov is a poet whose work I’d like to know better. He’s the favorite poet of one of my poetry-inclined uncles, and when I took the time to flip through The Selected Poems of Howard Nemerov, I was amazed by the versatility, the breadth, the sheer variety of his work. It’s meaty poetry, the kind that requires many days of reading and re-reading to achieve an understanding.

It was difficult to choose a poem to memorize, since so many in even this small collection are appealing, but I landed on “Moment” for its length (just fifteen lines) and the way the simplicity of the title underscores the complexity of the thought within the poem, which juxtaposes some dozen images with the repeated word “now.” What begins with “Now” and a “starflake” crescendoes to “the mind of God” and the inevitable “now.”  The poem is one sentence, and I found the moments when I needed to take a breath underscored the “nowness” as well. And I’m a sucker for good linebreaks, if you couldn’t tell, and here’s one for the ages: “And now is quiet in the tomb as now / Explodes inside the sun, and it is now” (10-11).

What a mind at work. I’ll be back for more.