Sunday, June 13

Poetry Flash: Mary Oliver to work as commentator on 2010 World Cup

Mary Oliver. Summer, 1964.
Photo by Molly Malone Cook,
from Our World (Beacon Press, 2007)
The 2010 World Cup has now begun, which means that football will be the overriding obsession of just about the entire world outside the USA (where the sport is known as soccer). Here in Spain is certainly no different and, although I am not a huge football fan (I would just as soon be out riding my bike than watching any sports event on the tube), I do feel compelled to post something on the great competition that will unfold over the course of this month and be followed by billions.

So I am very pleased to announce that the alchemist’s pillow, with the invaluable support of the Lannan Foundation, has convinced Mary Oliver to give her views on the world’s most important sports competition. I am embedding a video of Oliver’s unique insights into such pressing issues as whether Fabio Capello’s defensive-minded style of play is best suited for the England team, some curious views on why Lionel Messi has so far failed to uncork the same type of scintillating scoring runs with the Argentina side as he does with the Barcelona football club, and much, much more.

A double warning, however. First, the video is longer than anything previously posted here (around 45 minutes), so some may find it overlong. I trust, however, that the real football lovers will probably find it too short! But just in case, if you prefer to see it some other time, I am including a link here so you can visit the site and watch (or download) it at your leisure.

The second warning: you will find that Mary Oliver has not completely jettisoned the baggage she carries from her previous work as a poetess. So her discussion of the World Cup is rather tangential and elliptical, with oblique references at best. Rather than a cut and dry discussion of team strengths, weaknesses and tactics, she uses a somewhat more lyrical approach, cleverly couching her analysis in metaphors … you know, wild geese, swans and roses, roses, roses, roses … that kind of thing.

But I am sure the sophisticated football cognoscenti amongst you will see through this pesky but curious poetic patina and gain much from her commentary. And as for those of you who neither follow nor give a hang about football —Ah, you hapless, laughable souls, I do so love you anyway— you may enjoy the video nonetheless. Some of my 'poety' friend who know and care much about such matters say her words stand up fairly well on their own as poetry, even if you don’t catch the subtle sports references.

The Lannan Foundation has may other podcasts of poets reading their works. Click here to browse their list of videos of Grace Paley, Robert Creeley, Octavia Paz, Czeslaw Milosz and many others.


  1. caught the poem wild geese, but had a hard time getting this to load this morning...will pop back by in a bit...

  2. Oh, you clever man! I was completely hoodwinked. I was dying to get an education on soccer - I mean football - from my favorite poet, since I can't for the life of me see why anyone cares about it. It's just a game! All that hornblowing! Grown men running around. Why doesn't the world get wise and play a real sport, like American football? It's full of chivalry and elegance, so classy, and it would inject America's vision for imposing - I mean promoting - peace in the world!

    I was at first disappointed that you lowered the fine standards of this pillow, but I am finding balance in the redemption of the podcast, and the Lannan site itself.

    Do you work in advertising?

  3. lorenzo what an excellent video - a gift! i searched in vain for any reference to green's glorious and humbling fumble of the ball in the england usa game but perhaps she felt the suffering of that poor man was sufficient and didn't bear any further analysis - symbolic or otherwise! cheers! steven

  4. believe it or not, the world cup games are a big hit around my little town in CT. we have many internationals in our midst so there are many parties centered around the televised games. rock on!

  5. Oh this is like receiving an unexpected present.
    Mary Oliver is my favourite poet. She can be as elliptical as she wishes, i adore her.
    I'm off to the kitchen to pour myself another cup of coffee, then put my feet up and watch.
    Thank you!

  6. You don't have to love football
    You don't have to crawl across the field on your knees...
    You only have to let the soft animal of your body
    Love what it loves....

    For me that would be ... well ... not football.

    Apologies to Mary for using her poem in vain.

  7. I prefer soccer to any other team sport. Although I don't watch it or play it much.

    I also prefer Mary Oliver to any other poet.

    Happy Sunday, you!

  8. Oh, wonderful! I think I am a sports widow for the next week or so...Joe will be glued to it all. I'll have to make sure he sees this as well.

  9. This is great! You had me sweating a bit and hoping you were being tongue in cheek about football...haha!

    I love Mary Oliver's work. She is amazing. Thank you! This is a gift. I sat here and listened in delight for at least two thirds of the way through, until my old computer died (it gets cranky when it gets hot). I'll go back and listen again, though. It felt like I was in the audience. I'm thrilled to have the link to all of the poets reading. Much appreciated!

  10. Can't wait to find a little time later to view this

    and we are an eat sleep and breathe soccer family.

    ( well , I'm mostly along for the ride. Or rides. )


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