O is for Oliver


Mary Oliver, that is. A prolific poet, she is most inspired by nature, and walks daily for inspiration. 82 years old, she is still writing.

Insights from Mary Oliver:

  • Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that.

  • I had a very dysfunctional family, and a very hard childhood. So I made a world out of words. And it was my salvation.

  • I consider myself a kind of a reporter—one who uses words that are more like music and that have a choreography. I never think of myself as a poet; I just get up and write.

  • I love the line of Flaubert about observing things very intensely. I think our duty as writers begins not with our feelings, but with the powers of observing. [Gustave Flaubert— ‘Talent is a long patience, and originality an effort of will and intense observation.’]

  • It’s very important to write things down instantly, or you can lose the way you were thinking out a line. I have a rule that if I wake up at 3 in the morning and think of something, I write it down.

  • If I’ve done my work well, I vanish completely from the scene. I believe it is invasive of the work when you know too much about the writer.

  • I have a notebook with me all the time, and I begin scribbling a few words. When things are going well, the walk does not get anywhere; I finally just stop and write.

  • Writers sometimes give up what is most strange and wonderful about their writing—soften their roughest edges—to accommodate themselves toward a group response.

  • I believe art is utterly important. It is one of the things that could save us.


To learn more about Mary Oliver and sample some of her poems, see her page on the Poetry Foundation website



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