Mary Oliver and the Extraordinary Stuff

The poet Mary Oliver writes about clam shells and hummingbirds and new snow on the ground.

The kind of ordinary stuff you’d find on the beach or in the backyard or on the street.

It’s also the kind of stuff poets have written about and written about and written about for ages. The contents of the natural world.

Ms. Oliver has never been one for buildings. Most mornings, she rises at 5:00 and goes out to walk the woods. With a pen ready and her notebook open. Writing things down instantly when she sees them, notices them, thinks them.

One of her favorite words is ‘love.’ She loves writing. Loves Shelley. Even named her bichon, Percy, after him. She also loves dogs.

Ms. Oliver has always been one for the woods. She walked the woods of Maple Heights, Ohio in her teens. The woods of Provincetown in her 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s. The woods of southern Florida in her 80s. It’s there in the natural world where she finds the origins of many of her extraordinary poems.

So, how, Rachel Martin once asked her, do you find new ways to write about these things that so many have already written about?

“I suppose,” Ms. Oliver replied, “by paying very close, close, close attention.”

And all this ordinary stuff in the world gets Ms. Oliver’s attention, which, it has been said, is a form of love. And becomes extraordinary stuff.

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