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The On Being Project

I Want to Write With a Simplicity That Says Everything

This week, I’m taking a little break from my normal work. I’m hoping to get out of the whitewater long enough to let things settle inwardly — and, if I’m lucky, to find a poem or two down there that’s worthy of being written.

I already count myself lucky because I found the poem below just when I needed it. Here, one of my favorite poets reflects on the kind of poems she wants to write and, in the process, creates a beautiful poem.

I know I’m not alone in treasuring Mary Oliver’s poetry. And I suspect I’m not alone in wanting and needing to write poetry of my own. No matter which category you’re in, I hope you’ll find as much insight and guidance here as I do.

by Mary Oliver

I want to make poems that say right out, plainly,
what I mean, that don’t go looking for the
laces of elaboration, puffed sleeves. I want to
keep close and use often words like
heavy, heart, joy, soon, and to cherish
the question mark and her bold sister

the dash. I want to write with quiet hands. I
want to write while crossing the fields that are
fresh with daisies and everlasting and the
ordinary grass. I want to make poems while thinking of
the bread of heaven and the
cup of astonishment; let them be

songs in which nothing is neglected,
not a hope, not a promise. I want to make poems
that look into the earth and the heavens
and see the unseeable. I want them to honor
both the heart of faith, and the light of the world;
the gladness that says, without any words, everything.

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