Why did you title your new collection Mary Oliver?

The short answer, what I tell people when approached at events, is that I’m using the name totemically. There’s an essay in the back of the collection, called “On Mary Oliver”, which deals with the title. Here’s a representative chunk:

“There is a gentle gibe here that I’m sure you’re picking up on. That’s definitely a layer of skin. Fame, ego, poetry and the interplay of these, as well as my own attitude surrounding them, are things I grapple with frequently, having to remind myself that I am not the center of the universe, that people deserve to be appreciated for their art, that this will result in hierarchies, and all of it’s okay, even if I disagree with the opinions of others, even if this isn’t what I want the world to look like, because I tried to control the world and many things wound up devastated. Giving the title over to another human’s name, specifically, a famous poet of perceived authority, has become a device through which I can do some of this grappling”.

I created an Instagram account for the book which features a FAQ, specifically around the title, because I foresaw a lot of feeling people could catch over using her name, especially as she passed away once the book was already with the printer. I haven’t caught as much shit as I thought I might, which is probably more a testament to my relative obscurity than anything else.

I

I do not believe in this slice of time, but in the tremor.

Not in the bird, but the shoulder.

Not in the bear, but the honeypot. Not the near future,

but in the constant memorization

of all my mistakes. Not in the thunder, but sneaking out

of the party, but not in the rain.

Not the umbrella, but the cock, the gravel, not the sky

turned black, not the eyes, but in the music

of flies over new rot, the fruit and not the vine. In the swollen

moment of climax I believe in the self,

as a well, as other, as the therapy of being wrong. In being

wronged, but not forever. I believe

in the hand on my throat as evidence of being, but not alone.

Please don’t let me be alone.

Roll it into a log
Get it wet
Place it at the base of a tree
It will grow mushrooms
I know this because it is a mushroom poem
And because my cat fights herself in the dark
Like my father did in prison
My father said that is all you can in prison

I can do anything now
Because this is my mushroom poem
This may not make sense to you
But the sky doesn’t make sense to me
And I don’t come down to where you work
Asking stupid questions about the sky