The Poetry of Mary K O'Melveny



Flight Patterns/ poetry by Mary K. O’Melveny/ book review by Mary Beth Hines

September 21, 2023


Part lament, and part celebration, Mary K. O’Melveny’s collection, “Flight Patterns,” introduces readers to an array of birds—snow geese, bald eagles, mourning doves, and more—as it contemplates existential threats such as climate change, wars, Covid, human rights, and aging. The author’s appreciation for the natural world shines through in poems that grapple with human love, losses, and failings.


Impressively knowledgeable about a variety of topics—scientific, historical, and literary—O’Melveny shares her expertise through accessible verse. In addition to birds, readers are introduced to butterflies, fireflies, bees, bats and bears as well as to stars, meteors, and planets. Mythology, legends, and historical events also add context and depth to many poems.


Beyond intellect, O’Melveny often employs fresh imagery that welcomes readers into her work. For example, in the opening poem,

“A Late October Convocation,” the speaker and her mother “stand in stillness, just as clouds/flame russet, peach, lavender. Snow geese arc/over a Delaware wildlife sanctuary’s pale waters/like a convocation of wimpled nuns...”


Readers who enjoy poetry that looks at politics and contemporary society through a lyrical and/or narrative lens, will find much to appreciate. The poem, Escape Velocity, is one that I most admired in that vein. In the opening of this three-part piece, the speaker’s mother sits in a small-town bus depot dreaming of leaving. The intimate scene is followed by an opening up, a kind of lyrical flight from the individual to the universal with “how hard it is/to stay tethered/once freedom tempts...” In the poem’s second part, the speaker laments earth’s degradation followed by an imaginative exploration of consequence in which “elevations tempt us/to steal away/go higher than/we ever have[...]we’ll don space suits/head for the stars...” In the last section, the speaker moves back to the personal, ending with: “when I grew up/women did not/ pilot airplanes/or lead space missions{...}they stayed put even/when ground caved in/no wonder so many/of us choose/to fly away.”


In closing this review, I’ll share some thoughts about “Saying Goodbye to Lawrence Ferlinghetti,” one of my favorite poems in the collection. Self-deprecating, poignant, and humorous, this piece resurrects a couple of idealistic, literature-loving, social-activist college friends living and dreaming during the 1960’s. O’Melveny masterfully evokes the time through the telling of a deeply personal and emotional story. This poem also serves as an example of how “Flight Patterns” remains satisfyingly anchored in human experience even as it reaches outward and upward.


“Soon we would be off to City Lights

where our own words would stop a show cold,

goose bumps forming on every arm, because

we would be acrobats, just like him, willing


to leap into the unknown just for the sake

of the dare, of absurdity’s constant risk.

Oh how we wanted to fly!

Back then, we never looked down.”



Reviewer Mary Beth Hines is a frequent contributor to Lightwood. Read additional reviews and poetry by going to our Search Button and entering her name.


Read additional poems by Mary K. O’Melveny and reviews of her work here on Lightwood.


Go to our Search Button and enter her name. Mary K O’Melveny, a retired labor rights lawyer, lives with her wife in Woodstock, NY and Washington DC. Mary is the author of “A Woman of a Certain Age” and “MERGING STAR HYPOTHESIS” (Finishing Line Press 2018, 2020) and co-author of the Hudson Valley Women’s Writing Group anthology “An Apple In Her Hand.”


A Pushcart Prize nominee, Mary has received award recognition for her poetry, including First Place in the 2017 Raynes Poetry Competition, the 2019 Slippery Elm Literary Journal Contest and the 2020 “Poems of Political Protest” Contest sponsored by City Limits Publishing. Another collection “Dispatches From the Memory Care Museum” is published by Kelsay Press.



Read additional poems by Mary K. O’Melveny and reviews of her work  on Lightwood.


Dispatches from the Memory Care Museum/ poetry by Mary K O’Melveny/ book review by Jan Zlotnik Schmidt 


September 21, 2021  In "Articles"




Chrysalis/poem by Mary K. O’Melveny


March 19, 2021  In "Issue 5"




Ode to Companionship/ poem by Mary O’Melveny


December 17, 2021In "Issue 8"


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