Mary Oliver – morning poetry writing

Listen to this wonderfully calm and thoughtful interview with the Pulitzer prize-winning poet, Mary Oliver (NPR recording 2013).

In under 7 minutes, she conveys the fresh tang of her words, by reading her poem “I happen to be standing”, written during her usual early morning attentiveness to nature and poetry writing time of choice.  Then goes on to give some thoughts on the practice of writing poetry and her concern with the natural world:

“I like to give the mornings to those first good thoughts”

“Prayer has become more useful, interesting, fruitful and again, almost involuntary in my life…. what Rumi says in that wonderful line: ‘there are hundreds of ways in which to kneel and kiss the ground.’ “

“The two things I loved from a very early age were the natural world and dead poets, they were my pals when I was a kid.”Screen shot 2018-05-19 at 12.55.09

“the world is not only necessary to us in its pristine state but it is in itself an act of some kind of spiritual thing.”

“I said once and I think it is true – that the world did not have to be beautiful to work.  But it is.  What does that mean?”

When the interviewer asks how she finds new words to describe what she sees, Mary replies “I suppose by paying very close, close, close attention to things and seeing new details….. to find a new word that is accurate and different you have to be alert for it – it’s wonderful, it’s fun.”

Poetry as Dance

As she talks about poetry, Mary Oliver observes that she loves the choreography of words on the page.

“Poetry to be understood must be clear – it mustn’t be fancy.  I have a feeling that a lot of poets writing now sort of tap dance through it.  I always feel that whatever isn’t necessary shouldn’t be in the poem.”

How do you know when a poem is done?

“Well, I don’t know that you ever know, but in some way you have made a completion of a thought or a mood or whatever you’re doing and it’s time to go on with the next one.”


Creative Takeaways

Is first thing in the morning a good time to be creative?  Try reading the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron – written for artmakers of all disciplines, exploring ways to sustain your creative practice.  (She describes a practice called “morning pages”)

What are your artistic disciplines?

With your artworks, are you rigorous, making sure all parts are there because they are deeply integral to the work?

If you’re a poet, and struggle to edit your work.  Pick a poem, imagine Mary Oliver editing your written works – open a new document/copy of the poem and edit as you think she would. When finished, compare to your original poem.  Is it better?







    • you’re so welcome – I haven’t yet bought a book of her poems, but the more I see of them, the more likely that I will buy them!

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