How have I not written a poetry-focused article for my DIY MFA column before?? Because like novels, short stories, and other longer forms of literature, poetry is chock-full of literary themes. So that’s what my latest Theme: A Story’s Soul post – or, rather, the first of two posts – is about. We’ll go over four questions that can help us identify themes in the poetry we read, then practice them with an in-text exercise using one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems. We’ll also touch on how we can recognize themes (either on our own or with the help of the four questions) across a book of poetry by a single poet.
These lines from Mary Oliver’s “When Death Comes” took on new meaning when I read them on the afternoon of January 17, 2019. I’d read the poem before, but time has a way of changing your perception of what you read. In this case, I was re-reading one of Oliver’s most well-known poems about mortality just hours after learning that she, my favorite poet, had died from lymphoma at the age of 83.
The timing was eerie, too. Around the same time last week, I started working on a similar tribute to my favorite author of all time, Ursula K. Le Guin, who had recently passed away. (Oliver died 5 days before the first anniversary of Le Guin’s passing.) So, naturally, I’ve been drawing comparisons between the relationships I have with their work. And I remembered one difference that might surprise some people: While Le Guin’s stories resonated with me right away, it took a few years for me – a fantasy fan and a poet in equal measure – to fall in love with Oliver’s poems.
When Victoria Grace Howell nominated me for this tag (thank you, Tori!), two thoughts went through my head. The first one: “Wow! This should be fun.” And the second one: “Crap. I threw out most of my old journals when I was reorganizing last year.” (*lol*) I still kept some of them, though, since some of their pages were still empty. Because, really, how awful would it be for a writer to let blank sheets of lined paper go to waste?
So I went through the oldies-but-goodies I still have and chose three to share with you today. Oddly enough, none of them show much of my early creative writing projects. But each one is unique in design, purpose, and personal meaning to me. I hope you enjoy this post as much as I enjoyed looking back through some of the pages of my past, literally.
Of course, since this is a blog tag, let’s kick things off with…