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Mary Oliver (1935 - 2019)

January 17, 2019

Mary Oliver passed away today. She was the first poet that made me appreciate poetry.

I’m not the biggest fan of poetry. Never have been.  I like to plow through books, reading quickly and then moving on to the next one. With poetry, though, you’re supposed to meander around in the words, stopping to ponder whatever catches your fancy. As a reader, you’re intended to take the time to savor the combination of words that the writer has chosen. It’s not my thing.
And then I found Mary Oliver.
I don’t know what special gift Mary Oliver had, but she was happy to share it with the world. Most of her poetry focuses on nature and her observations thereof, but for me, it was the realness of her words that made them spark. Her poetry was never pompous or trying to be something it wasn’t, and I think that’s why I liked it so much. I’m sure a poetry professor could dig down and find layers of subtlety and metaphor, but I just enjoyed the pictures she painted. There were always certain lines that resonated with me so strongly that I couldn’t help but remember them.
The first poem of hers I encountered was “Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?” I loved parts of it so much that her words inspired me to create a piece of art that hangs in my house to this day:
Do you think this world is only an entertainment for you?
Never to enter the sea and notice how the water divides
with perfect courtesy, to let you in!
Never to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass!
Well, there is time left – 
fields everywhere invite you into them.
In 1984, her collection American Primitive won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Then her New and Selected Poems won the National Book Award in 1992. But you don’t read Mary Oliver because she won some big awards, you read Mary Oliver because her words touch your heart. If you’ve never read Mary Oliver, maybe today is the day that you find some poetry that will make you stop and smell the roses.
Her National Book award-winning collection contains a poem called, “When Death Comes.” In it she says:
When it’s over
I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
Mission accomplished. Thank you, Mary Oliver. Rest in peace.

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Amanda is a classically-trained pianist who loves to read. Like any good librarian, she also has two cats named after Italian cities. Amanda spends her free time sitting in Nashville traffic, baking, and running the Interlibrary Loan office at the Nashville Public Library.


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