Beloved poet and natural world evangelist Mary Oliver pulls the curtain for a rare glimpse behind her writing and life. Her new book of prose, Upstream, filled with gorgeous essays and meditations, was released in October.
1.What are some poems that have been touchstones throughout your life?
That would be hundreds. But I will say, in our time, the following: Edna St. Vincent Millay (badly underrated). Sometimes D. H. Lawrence takes my breath away, especially “The Snake.” And most of all, the marvelous poems of James Wright. Not to leave out Coleman Barks’s translations of Rumi.
2. How do you cultivate the discipline of your creative process?
You don’t cultivate it unless you really want to do it, and do it well—and keep in mind that wise phrase “Use it or lose it.” No vacations.
3. You’ve said, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” Can you expand on what this means to you?
I was mostly thinking and speaking of the world’s approach to the natural, original world, how much we consider only what can be used (abused) for our comforts. True attention might change that—my hope that a sense of wonder might bring on a sense of respect, which we so badly need.
4. How does solitude play a part in your work?
Privacy seems to be out of fashion these days. Myself, I just don’t want it. There’s the writer and there is the person connected, certainly—and yet separate. What I write involves me, but I mean the words, the ideas, for the reader. And myself be as invisible as possible, as I prefer.
5. How would you describe your spirituality?
It is the part of me that says “thank you,” “thank you” all day with or without the movement of my lips.