friday feast: mary oliver on writing

by Mary Oliver

But, where are the words?
Not in my pocket.
Not in my refrigerator.
Not in my savings account.

So I sit, harassed, with my notebook.
It’s a joke, really, and not a good one.
For fun I try a few commands myself.
I say to the rain, stop raining.
I say to the sun, that isn’t anywhere nearby,
Come back, and come fast.

Nothing happens.

So this is all I can give you,
not being the maker of what I do,
but only the one that holds the pencil.

Make of it what you will.

(from SWAN: Poems and Prose Poems, Beacon Press, 2010)

Those 26 letters never cease to amaze me. Sometimes you feel you can write the whole world, other times, nothing at all. How to court the muse? Endure the agony of waiting? I remain humbled; writing is a mystery.

♥ The lovely Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at The Poem Farm is our Poetry Friday host today. Please take her some letters of love. She may just give you some Pineapple Slices!

Click here for the full list of 2011 Poetry Friday posts at alphabet soup.

**Love typography by Sharon Prazner/flickr.

***”i heart you” pasta by achew *Bokehmon”/flickr.


Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

26 thoughts on “friday feast: mary oliver on writing

  1. I’m a huge Mary Oliver fan myself and keep her book Rules for the Dance close by my computer. As someone very sick of rain–we had either 11 inches or 20.9 inches in Colonial Beach last Thursday and I drove through a flood with my heart in my mouth–that none of those commands word. Words sometimes fail us! But we take up the alphabet and begin again . . . thanks for a little shot of Mary Oliver!


    1. Sorry to hear about the treacherous drive. Glad you’re okay!

      Words do indeed fail us at times — there’s no rhyme or reason for it either.


  2. Okay, that sentence above should be “that none of those word commands work.” Apparently my word command from my brain to my fingers didn’t work either!


  3. Thank you for the Mary Oliver poem, Jama! And the fun art. A poetry connoisseur friend reminded me last week that it was Mary Oliver’s birthday on Sept. 10. I hope she had a good one, with just the right words to celebrate.


    1. Thanks for passing that on, Robyn. Didn’t know it was Mary’s birthday last week. I think the “gift of words” is the best birthday present out there :).


  4. We always do “make of it what we will,” don’t we? Even when they are put in a particular order, we read them so differently from one another. Great poem, Jama.

    I like the text “Love.” It almost looks like a Tetris-style game. 🙂


    1. “we read them so differently from one another” — good point, Tabatha. Seeing letters tumbling about makes me happy. I’ll always be a typography/alphabet freak :).


  5. for me it’s “not being the maker of what i do” that captures the life of a writer. we do it, something makes us, but it doesn’t feel like it is us who is doing the true making.


    1. I’ve always felt writers (or anyone else creating a form of art) are mere conduits. Definitely a higher power involved. The trick seems to be remaining open and ready, practicing patience and perseverance — our responsibilities if we dare hold the pencil.


  6. Thank you for this wonderful poem. She is my favorite living American poet. And I wish we poetry bloggers could campaign for her appointment as national Poet Laureate when the next term opens up.

    Go! Mary! Go!


  7. This poem makes me very very happy. I love the last two lines and the honesty all through it. Thank you for nourishing me once again,Jama! (If you haven’t read the speech that Steve Jobs gave to Stanford graduates in 2005, do. You’ll love the story about typography!) A.


  8. So very lovely to be introduced to another poet that I am not too familiar with. I also love the commentary you wrote right after: how to court the muse indeed? How to fashion those lovely words and have them bend and twist – not on command – but out of sheer joy of wanting to. Particularly loved the typography as well! So nice.


    1. I’m sure the more you read Mary Oliver’s work, the more you’ll love her. It’s hard not to. Some poets have to grow on you a little, but I’ve found with Oliver and Billy Collins, the appeal was immediate.


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