Tribute to Mary Oliver: Local Poets Reflect on a National Treasure

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Photo courtesy John Heino Photography

To honor her January 17 passing, Duluth poets read a favorite Mary Oliver poem each day on KUMD’s Northland Morning program here in Duluth. In the event you were not able to catch these morsels, here is what you missed.


Mary Oliver passed away last week at the age of 83. She has been a beacon to poets and non-poets for decades and once gave a reading here in Duluth at The College of St. Scholastica. She has meant, and still means so much to so many.

It’s almost too obvious to say, and yet for her devoted readers, her poems yield so many varied and crystal-clear access points to her unique perspective on nature and on human nature. The five members of one of the several writing groups in the Twin Ports area share their own personal takes on what Mary Oliver and her poetry means to each of them. Perhaps in these five references to her work and her life, you might find a link to other poems and other truths.

Candace Ginsberg: Candace offers this snippet from Mary Oliver’s “A Settlement”:

And I am walking out into all of this with nowhere to go and no task undertaken but to turn the pages of this beautiful world over and over, in the world of my mind.

* * *

Therefore, dark past,
I’m about to do it.

I’m about to forgive you
for everything.

Deb Cooper: I’ve carried her poems with me and in me over the past decades, particular ones essential to my life at certain times. Most recently, it is these lines:

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

Ellie Schoenfeld: Mary Oliver said, “For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold…” and that is exactly what her poems have been for me.

Penny Perry: From “Winter at Herring Grove”:

“Of all the reasons for gladness,
What could be foremost this one:
That the mind can seize both
the instant and the memory!”

Perfect description of the joys of the still observer.

Phil Fitzpatrick: In my mind, among the countless Mary Oliver standout poems is “In Blackwater Woods” which we read at my mother’s memorial service in 2004. Its wise prescription for carrying on in the face of loss continues to have daily relevance to me:

To live in this world
you must be able

to do three things:
to love what is mortal,
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.


As it turns out I have a couple connections to the late poet. She was from Maple Heights, Ohio. I, too, lived in Maple Heights for a time, till the year I turned 12.

A second connection would be through an apparent mutual interest in Bob Dylan. Though he’s not mentioned in the poem by name, other than in the title “And Bob Dylan Too,” it was fun to discover this poem a few years back, which I shared here on Ennyman’s Territory in October 2017.

Originally published at on January 25, 2019.

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An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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