Even in book stores with only a shelf or two of poetry books, one author will nearly always be represented. Mary Oliver is the people’s poet. Those touched by her words can quote whole poems or favourite lines. They copy passages into their journals and post them on Web sites, likely to the dismay of their author, who carefully crafts each line as part of a whole.
Years ago I asked her permission to include “The Summer Day” in my storytelling programs. Its last two lines were a question I constantly asked myself, a question those in my audiences were pondering in their own lives:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
She graciously agreed, in a letter still tucked in my files. I committed the poem to memory and felt the gift of it every time I shared it. In the years since, through all the upheavals and travels of my own life, I have carried her books with me and her words in my heart.
Oliver starts her day with poetry, greeting the dawn with words, which come to her as naturally as breathing. Interviewed for National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition Sunday”, she expressed her sorrow for the disappearance of so much of the natural world. The solace of her daily practice of observing a tiny flower or the sound of wings is being eroded by the growing footprint we humans tromp on the land.
But writing will always be her solace, and ours as her readers. The best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet has an extraordinary gift for encapsulating the journey of the heart within her poems. In an interview for Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, she gave this sage advice to all of us compelled to capture our thoughts in words: “Write for whatever holy thing you believe in…”