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Mary Oliverisms

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

A few weeks ago, I had the joy of hearing Mary Oliver read, talk about poetry and life, and simply just visit with some of us. I found her to be exactly like her poetry: clear, precise, kind but unwilling to suffer fools, gracious and as excellent at listening as speaking her truths. Thanks to the Hall Center of the University of Kansas for bringing her in. Here’s some of what she said over an evening and the following morning.

* “Don’t be ashamed of anything. Ever.”

* A writer has an obligation not to miss the marvelous things that happen in the world.”

* A perfect day? A little love, a little work, a good meal.”

* “Now is the only time there is.”

* “We can wonder if trees have a language” (when asked about multi-culturalism and after praising what we can learn from people in different cultures).

” We’re in a terrible, terrible [ecological] struggle now because we’re too inventive.”

* “The only thing we can do as individuals is to believe in community, and communities of all sorts, and remember how much we need the stories that are in poems.”

* “It’s the first time I’ve been in Kansas, and it occurred to me that I had to land in Missouri to do it.”

* “I’ve had people tell me that when they read my poems, it brings down their pressure, so I’m as good as a dog.”

* She says she had “two friends while growing up: the forest and books of poets.”

* “As I age, my heart grows younger.”

* “I love the earth so much, and I am so grateful for my single life that it doesn’t scare me that I would give my life back one day. I would give the earth everything.”

* While writing something new, “I wonder if Yeats would have liked it. I’ve been writing everyday for 60 years.”

* “I believe in doing something in your life that is helpful to someone.”

* When asked how to practice being present, “The most important thing is that it takes a lot of time.”

* “We need our worlds. We need our first worlds around us to even grasp the larger world, not to mention the stars.”

* “You can’t just write about how you feel about things without the world being in existence too.”

* “The natural world is our warehouse of language.”

* When asked about visiting her on the Cape, “You’re all welcome to come visit, but you won’t find me.”

* “Writing is my way of praying. Writing is my way of praising.”

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