Guest Post ~ J.S. Watts on Mary Oliver’s ‘Autumn Songs’

Hello again, and welcome to the first guest post on Green Fire Poetry. I hope you enjoy J.S. Watts’s musings on Mary Oliver and the role of nature in inspiring her own work. She has generously supplied some wonderful photographs too.

Autumn Songs

I’m taking Mary Oliver’s beautiful poem, Song for Autumn, as the leaping off point for this post and will then see where my pen takes me (and, yes, I do always write the first draft of anything, be it fiction, blog post or poem, longhand.)

 

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For me, Song For Autumn, is about resting down your burden: the leaves dream of the comfort of falling to the ground, the trees look forward to birds sleeping inside them, the goldenrod whispers goodbye and the fox is hurrying towards dusk. The poem ends on thoughts of the traditional domestic comfort of a log fire, something to come home to, although for the logs anticipating it, it means certain oblivion. I find the poem a lyrical, accepting and contemplative valetudinary piece.

 

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A review of my own back catalogue of poetry reminds me that I have written a goodly number of autumnal poems over the years. A quick count confirms there are seven alone in Cats and Other Myths (my first collection), although my other collections and pamphlets are less overtly autumn heavy. To be fair, landscapes and natural images in all seasons feature throughout my work. The pleasure of rural life is that you get to see, experience and travel through nature’s seasonal settings more directly, I think, than writers who live an urban life. Or put it another way, nature and its seasonal cycle are constantly in your face.

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As an enthusiastic (if perhaps too occasional) walker and amateur photographer, I get to experience and record, close up and personal, the constant natural changes that surround me. Not surprisingly, they and the landscapes they inhabit feature directly in my work, as well as subconsciously influence it. If a season colours a particular poem, it tends to be the one I am living through when first drafting the piece. My experience of the seasons also colours how I read others’ work. I especially responded to Oliver’s lines, “the white field over which/ the fox runs so quickly brings out/ its long blue shadows” because during the bitter cold of last winter I sat snuggly in my study and happily watched a fox in exactly that setting in a field adjacent to my house.

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Shared landscapes, however, don’t necessarily mean identical responses. Whilst I admire the gentle acceptance of the dying of this life’s cycle that I see in Oliver’s poem, my own autumnal pieces, more often than not, dwell on the visual conflagration inherent in autumn:

“One last hope flares in the trees,

embarrassing them with unexpected emotion

to their reddening tips.

A conflagration of the senses.”

(from Autumn at Kneesworth)

or

“she blazes forth, igniting trees in her wake

to leave them burning like the feral fires of cross quarter day”

(from Autumn)

Log fires are temporary “bittersweet sanctuary” from the killing cold that comes next and, of course, autumn cradles the ancient festival of Samhain (or All Hallows Eve, if you adhere to a more modern calendar), the time of year when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is thinnest and we remember the dead (or they remember us, depending on your point of view). Most often it is the bonfires of Samhain and Firework Night that I see reflected in autumn leaves. It seems my words frequently echo with a burning unwillingness to let go or move on, or with a sense of defiance that, if one’s got to go, it’s better to go out with a roar and a bang than a whimper. For me, autumn is a defiant burning up, not a gentle farewell and a laying down of burdens. But aren’t such divergent views one of the pleasures of writing about the natural world? We see the same things, but are able to experience and write about them from different places. Our own personal, internal landscapes are so varied that we can enjoy the same, initially glorious, colours and stages of autumn and make of them such different creations.

 

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J.S.Watts

J.S.Watts is a British poet and novelist. Born in London, she now lives in the countryside outside Cambridge. Her poetry, short stories and book reviews appear in a variety of publications in Britain and internationally and have been broadcast on BBC and Independent Radio. She has been Poetry Reviews Editor for Open Wide Magazine and Poetry Editor for Ethereal Tales.

J.S.’s poetry collections, Cats and Other Myths and Years Ago You Coloured Me, are published by Lapwing Publications, as is her multi-award nominated poetry pamphlet, Songs of Steelyard Sue. Her latest poetry pamphlet, The Submerged Sea, came out in Spring 2018 and is published by Dempsey & Windle. Her novels, A Darker Moon – dark literary fiction and Witchlight – a paranormal fantasy, are published in the US and UK by Vagabondage Press.

For further details see her website: www.jswatts.co.uk

 

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