Maria Shriver is guest editor of O Magazine's April Issue, a special Poetry Month edition of the magazine, which features a rare interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver. Shriver has long admired Oliver's work, and writes, "I was overjoyed when—after politely declining my invitations for six straight years—Mary finally agreed to read at my annual Women's Conference in California last fall, joining speakers like Michelle Obama and Eve Ensler."
In the interview, Oliver talks about writing, reading, the loss of her life partner Molly Malone Cook, and finding the courage to speak about personal trauma. Here's a short excerpt from this revealing and delightful discussion:
Maria Shriver: One line of yours I often quote is, "What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"* What do you think you have done with your one wild and precious life?
Mary Oliver: I used up a lot of pencils.
Maria Shriver: [Laughs.]
Mary Oliver: What I have done is learn to love and learn to be loved. That didn't come easy. And I learned to consider my life an amazing gift. Those are the things.
Maria Shriver: You have lived a very unique life, a life really individual and fearless.
Mary Oliver: Well, it was never a temptation to be swayed from what I wanted to do and how I wanted to live. Even when Molly got ill, I knew what to do. They wanted to take her off to a nursing home, and I said, "Absolutely not." I took her home. That kind of thing is not easy. I used to go out at night with a flashlight and sit on a little bench right outside the house to scribble poems, because I was too busy taking care of her during the day to walk in the woods.
* The poem referenced here is "Wild Geese," which can be found in New and Selected Poems, Volume One.
Read the whole interview here. Read more about Mary Oliver and her work at the Mary Oliver website. You can also Like Mary Oliver on Facebook for updates on readings and news.
(In a bit of Beacon Press trivia, Maria Shriver is the daughter of Sargent Shriver, founder of the Peace Corps and a prominent figure in When the World Calls: The Inside Story of the Peace Corps and Its First Fifty Years.)
Summer, 1964. Photo by Molly Malone Cook, from Our World (Beacon Press, 2007).
Selected Beacon Press titles by Mary Oliver
A complete list of her books is available on the Mary Oliver website.
“Joy is not made to be a crumb,” writes Mary Oliver, and certainly joy abounds in her new book of poetry and prose poems. Swan, her twentieth volume, shows us that, though we may be “made out of the dust of stars,” we are of the world she captures here so vividly: the acorn that hides within it an entire tree; the wings of the swan like the stretching light of the river; the frogs singing in the shallows; the mockingbird dancing in air. Swan is Oliver’s tribute to “the mortal way” of desiring and living in the world, to which the poet is renowned for having always been “totally loyal.”
Inspired by the familiar lines from William Wordsworth, “To me the meanest flower that blows can give / Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears,” Evidence is a collection of forty-seven new poems on all of Mary Oliver’s classic themes. She writes perceptively about grief and mortality, love and nature, and the spiritual sustenance she draws from their gifts. Ever grateful for the bounty that is offered to us daily by the natural world, Oliver is attentive to the mysteries it imparts. The arresting beauty she finds in rivers and stones, willows and field corn, the mockingbird’s “embellishments” or the last hours of darkness permeates her poems. Her newest volume is imbued through and through with that power of nature to, in Oliver’s words, “excite the viewers toward sublime thought.”
When New and Selected Poems, Volume One was originally published in 1992, Mary Oliver was awarded the National Book Award. In the years since its initial appearance it has become one of the best-selling volumes of poetry in the country. This collection features thirty poems published for the first time in this volume, as well as selections from the poet’s first eight books.
New and Selected Poems, Volume Two, an anthology of forty-two new poems—an entire volume in itself—and sixty-nine poems hand-picked by Mary Oliver from six of her last eight books, is a major addition to a career in poetry that has spanned nearly five decades. Now recognized as an unparalleled poet of the natural world, Mary Oliver writes with unmatched dexterity and a profound appreciation for the divergence and convergence of all living things.