Fav Queer Author: Mary Oliver | #PrideLibrary20

I’m joining in on some of the #pridelibrary20 prompts, hosted by The Library Looter, Michelle Likes Things and Anniek’s Library throughout June. Here’s a link to a summary of my posts from last year.

I wanted to write a big post claiming all the reasons Mary Oliver is my favourite poet and queer author, but my body is a wreck currently and I finished exams this week and this post is going to be thrown together quickly. I have a full review of one of Oliver’s collections of poems gathered from several periods, which could be a good introduction, but is also a bit confusing without context. Personally my favourite collection and the first I read from her was “A Thousand Mornings” back in 2017. I also truly love her essay collection “Upstream”, which along with beautiful thoughts on using nature gives a bit more insight into her thought-process and background.

In ‘Upstream’ she says: “I could not be a poet without the natural world. Someone else could. But not me. For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.” And also: “You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.” Truly words to live by!

First off, I was a bit into poetry before stumbling upon Mary Oliver, but I’d never read the type of nature focused poetry that she writes. I truly fell instantly in love with it. It’s a type of romanticization that doesn’t shy away from the uncontrollable force that nature is or how it affects humans. It’s spiritual at times, but she’s also a talent at using nature and beautiful phrasing to criticize society. In my head her poetry toes a lot of these balances very-well, it’s constantly questioning intentions and morale. But it’s also very simple at times, and that’s what makes it easy poetry to fall in love with even if it’s your first poetry collection, without losing substance along with that simplicity. There’s something special about life advice from someone you know have been through difficult life events and come out on the other side, especially when she looks like the perfect grandma. She’s truly life goals, and I stand by that as someone who grew up thinking I had few role models, also because the queer component was missing.

Mary Oliver went through many of the queer struggles; she was born in 1935 in suburbs of Ohio, she often went in the woods to escape a dysfunctional family and has talked briefly about experiencing sexual abuse as a child. She used writing to observe her world, but also to create one. And through it she was lucky enough to find other queer friends that would also become her family.

And after falling in love with her poetry I learned that she was an old lady! An older lesbian lady! Who had been living peacefully in nature with her female partner Molly Cook for over forty years, before she passed away. And I started crying when I heard Oliver passed away as well last year, but in the sense of someone having lived their life to completeness, even if it was a tough one.

Mary Oliver may not be very confrontative or ‘loud’ in her poetry, she’s not been extremely radicalizing or political in other means than existing as a queer person. But her story, her views and politics is definitely something you see through her poetry, it’s her medium. And I personally think it’s admirable to never lose a certain softness even as a person deals with massive trauma. But don’t mistake that as there not being a sharpness to Mary Oliver’s poetry as well.

I would suggest looking up Mary Oliver reading some on her poems on youtube and sitting down with a cup of tea or coffee, preferably staring out a window, and listen to her calm reassuring voice. You need good time for it, not in length, but in attention. Even if I also sometimes play them to relax if I can’t sleep.

A Woman in the Polar Night by Christiane Ritter | Book Review

A new book on the list of all-time favourites.

Genre: nonfiction, memoir, travel to the Arctic

Pages: 224

Synopsis

In 1934, the painter Christiane Ritter leaves her comfortable life in Austria and travels to the remote Arctic island of Spitsbergen, to spend a year there with her husband. She thinks it will be a relaxing trip, a chance to “read thick books in the remote quiet and, not least, sleep to my heart’s content”, but when Christiane arrives she is shocked to realize that they are to live in a tiny ramshackle hut on the shores of a lonely fjord, hundreds of miles from the nearest settlement, battling the elements every day, just to survive.

At first, Christiane is horrified by the freezing cold, the bleak landscape the lack of equipment and supplies… But as time passes, after encounters with bears and seals, long treks over the ice and months on end of perpetual night, she finds herself falling in love with the Arctic’s harsh, otherworldly beauty, gaining a great sense of inner peace and a new appreciation for the sanctity of life.

This rediscovered classic memoir tells the incredible tale of a woman defying society’s expectations to find freedom and peace in the adventure of a lifetime. 

My thoughts

Rating out of five: five stars

Reading this book was an experience, one that made me actually want to take a trip further north than Norway, to experience the Arctic for myself. Which sounds both dumb and unrealistic, but truly read this book if you want to understand why.

This book is special because of many reasons. It’s a memoir from 1934 by a german woman, the painter Christiane Ritter. Her husband has already fallen in love with the Arctic, and she decided to uproot her comfortable and rich life and see what it’s all about herself. He warns her about how isolated it really is, but it’s almost as if he’s forgotten the big change from normal city life already, becoming used to having to fend for himself, to have no one to turn to when the hut gets covered in snow, and travelling great distances to search for a better stove to cook on.

It’s obvious that it’s written in another time from Christiane Ritter’s position in life, but the emotion she conveys through very sparce wording was really breathtaking. I know enough about the cold emptiness of certain landscapes that I felt I could recognize it, and the feelings the vastness brings after you get over its overwhelming fear of isolation.

Everyone should give this book a chance, it won’t be for everyone’s taste, but it earns its place among my favourite books of all time because of its uniqueness. Why did I feel like this contains lessons in writing as well. I really wanted to add some quotes, but I left the beautiful book filled with markings at home by the university, and as its closed for now, this will have to do.

My feelings reading this book: fear on Christiane’s behalf, then impressed & mindblown. I really loved the third person with them most of the time, the Norwegian, who Christiane talks about the strange customs of. He represented my norwegian heart too well.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Synopsis

What does it take for a well-off young man to donate all his money and wander into the Alaskan wilderness (north of Mt. McKinley) with minimal equipment prepared? August of 1992 his body was found, four months later. After the author wrote an article on him, he chose to continue investigating what had happened and who Christopher McCandless was. It leads to this book about the events leading up to the event, how McCandless took the name Alexander Supertramp and it wasn’t his first trip alone. He had gone to Mexico and back in a kayak and wandered the US for years, meeting people who mostly got a good impression of him. It’s strange how he affected certain people, even if it’s looked at with the lense of his death becoming a nation-wide story. Alexander himself wrote about his months in the wilderness and took picture of the place, he underlined thoughtful philosophical quotes in books like anyone. But not everyone meets such an unfortunate end all alone, after having eaten something toxic or simply starving to death.

“I read somewhere… how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong… to measure yourself at least once.”

My thoughts

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I didn’t get as much out of this book as I was looking for. Mostly because it’s not Alexander/Christophers story. Obviously, since he’s ufortunately dead. His notes was the most interesting part of this book, along with the interviews of the people who met him. The author adds other similiar stories, some more interesting than others, as well as own experiences. It comes in an odd place that makes it seem more like filler than if it had been towards the end, as an extra information. There’s not enough material to justify the length of the book, which makes the middle part more boring than necessary. Other than that, the authors writing was good. There’s no romanticizing the events that occurred, but at the same time there’s given reasons for why people choose to live solitary, off the grid that way or want to be in the wilderness.

who was this person?

Personally I don’t agree with the voices claiming Christopher to have a death-wish, had overly romaticized the trip or that he’s a hero for doing something so daring and breaking out of the average life. There certainly seems to be elements of all three, he was too unprepared in the end, he seemed to be escaping and he seemed to be spontaneous. He’d already travelled a lot and been on the road, so he wasn’t straight out from normalcy and college. The last person who saw Christopher alive warned him about the dangers as he noticed he didn’t have much gear, even gave him some, but figured he wouldn’t stay out there that long. This is the part of the story where I question how in his right mind Christopher was, and what his plans were originally. But even with this there wasn’t one personality trait or fault that automatically lead to his death. He got unlucky, in the end. I think that’s the main idea I’ve gotten from this book that I wouldn’t have from articles that claim he was one thing or another. People have done stupid shit and survived, even in the wilderness of Alaska, but McCandless got unlucky.

I wonder if Christopher would’ve liked the book himself. Maybe not. I wanted to know what lead to him wanting to spend time alone out there, as well as what went wrong, and could’ve liked a more direct layout of the theories when it became obvious there were no final answer. I would recommend the book if you’re very interested, if not I think articles online or even the wiki page would be a great place to start. I haven’t yet seen the movie “into the wild”, but I’ll keep you updated when I do. I’m expecting that to give a much more “McCandless as a daring hero” vibe than this book, but maybe not.

Have you ever wanted to spend time alone in the wilderness? Can you imagine what would lead a person to do what McCandless did? I’m still wondering why he changed his name, any ideas?