Maria Shriver: You've come into your own more?
Mary Oliver: Yes. Kind of late, but it has happened.

Maria Shriver: You told me when we were walking that you've never been happier.
Mary Oliver: It's true.

Maria Shriver: We live in a society where people think they're too old at 55 or 60 to do anything else. And you're 75! I find it fascinating that you've become happier, you're braver, you're more excited, you're healed from the early trauma of sexual abuse.
Mary Oliver: I'm also something else I never was—I'm funny! [Laughs.]

Maria Shriver: How did winning the Pulitzer [in 1984] change your life?
Mary Oliver: Well, they say that in 1941, the question everybody was asking was, "Where's Pearl Harbor?" After I won the Pulitzer, everyone was saying, "Who is Mary Oliver?" I'd already written my fifth book, and I don't think I'd ever given a reading. I was washing the dishes when the phone rang [laughs].

Maria Shriver: And what did you think? 
Mary Oliver: Well, when the local TV station called and asked if they could come up, I said no. I was at that time—boy, you have really got me talking now—at the time I was shingling our house, if you can believe it. I went to the dump to gather up old shingles, my usual routine, and one fellow who saw me said, "Didn't I see you on television last night?" I wasn't on television myself, but they'd shown a picture of me. And then another friend came by, a painter, and she said, "Ha-ha, what are you doing, looking for your old manuscripts?" [Laughs.] That was Provincetown—it was wonderful. My life didn't change, except that I started to get more work published, and I started to do readings.

Maria Shriver: Are you ever amazed when you walk out onto the stage that there are several thousand people sitting there just to hear you read your poems? 
Mary Oliver: I think, "These people are all hoping they're not going to be put to sleep. They hope they're going to hear something that means something to them."

Maria Shriver: That's a lot of pressure! You always say, though, that poems are meant to be read. 
Mary Oliver: Oh, they are. They're meant to be read and heard.

Maria Shriver: It's different if I hear you speak "The Journey" than if I read it. 
Mary Oliver: Yes, it is different, but not too different if I've done a good job with the poem, with the words I use, the line breaks. Poets these days don't seem to know much about mechanics. Donald Hall says a poem has two lives—there is the statement that you're making, and there is the poem's sensual body. The words you use, the layout... I'm fascinated by that.

Maria Shriver: Do you have a favorite poem? 
Mary Oliver: That I wrote? Not yet. You're supposed to love all your children [laughs]. Actually, my favorite poem is always the one I'm working on.

Maria Shriver: And what's the one you're working on now? 
Mary Oliver: Several. I've got about 15 or 18.

Maria Shriver: Is there a brave one in there?
Mary Oliver: It's not typed up yet, but yeah, there is a brave one [laughs].

More on Poetry


Next Story