Of the many tributes and commentaries we’ve read about poet Mary Oliver’s passing, the most moving was Summer Brennan’s lovely, short remembrance, Passing Mary Oliver at Dawn, in the Paris Review. We learn that Oliver is kind, “absurdly generous”, and as a teacher “had almost no ego at all”. And most importantly, that she was “matter of fact about her own failed poems” that she would bring into class to discuss why they did not work, an act both intimate and generous.
Brennan remembers one of Oliver’s “failed” poems whose essence she would discover in a book many years later, reworked, refined, complete. With it came a lesson in the creative process:
I find it encouraging to know that even this small poem lived in draft form for at least twelve years, changing bit by bit, before it was published.
When Brennan’s heart got broken, Oliver let her cry in her warm office, before gently suggesting that the best thing to do was to just get back to work.
Oliver taught Brennan many big quiet lessons: that failure is part of the process (and really not that big a deal) as is changing a work bit by bit for however long it takes to bring something to fruition. And that the very process could get you through a lot.