Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver appears in this month’s O Magazine, which features poetry and journaling as part of the creative process. As a huge fan (and subscriber) of the mag, I was thrilled to see the interview with Oliver, who is an out lesbian as well as one of the world’s most renowned writers about nature and life.
Oprah writes in her opening column that Maria Shriver had asked her to interview Mary for years, but Oprah thought Maria should do it, and she did. The famed TV journalist (and politician’s wife) visited Mary at her home in Provincetown, Massachusetts where they discussed her life, her writing and how it has changed since the passing of her longtime partner, Molly Malone Cook, who died of cancer in 2005.
An excerpt from the interview:
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.
Maria Shriver: You had a 40-year relationship with Molly. How did her death change your life?
Mary Oliver: I was very, very lonely.
Maria Shriver: You’ve written in your work that you rarely spent any time apart. How did you avoid being crushed by losing her?
Mary Oliver: I had decided I would do one of two things when she died. I would buy a little cabin in the woods, and go inside with all my books and shut the door. Or I would unlock all the doors — we had always kept them locked; Molly liked that sense of safety — and see who I could meet in the world. And that’s what I did. I haven’t locked the door for five years. I have wonderful new friends. And I have more time to be by myself. It was a very steadfast, loving relationship, but often there is a dominant partner, and I was very quiet for 40 years, just happy doing my work. I’m different now.
Mary has famously been reclusive, more interested in letting her writing speak for herself, but told Maria she is becoming braver now, at age 75, and that she is finding it easier to write about more personal subjects.
“I think what’s made me braver are the forerunners who have dared to tell,” Mary said. “At your conference,” she said to Maria, who created the annual Women’s Conference, “I was very moved by Eve Ensler‘s courage. I now know it is a subject or theme I will not be avoiding. There will always be birds, but I’m gonna broaden out a little bit, or maybe a lot. I don’t know.”
Mary also said she is happier now than she’s ever been, and she’s working on “15-18 poems” at a time, and each one she works on becomes her new favorite. She appeared humble throughout the interview, despite being a best selling writer whose work has won multiple awards and who has been awarded three honorary doctorates. Maria also notes that Mary’s fans include “Laura Bush,” which might be a little surprising, considering Mary has been living as a lesbian since before it was deemed acceptable. But that never stopped Mary from writing the words about Molly that inspired their collaborative book together, Our World: “I took one look and fell, hook and tumble.”
It’s kind of how some people feel about her poetry: One read and you’re a fan for life.