Niamh Clune

Environment, poetry, comment, children's books,

The Wednesday Poetry Corner with Victoria Slotto

Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver

I am very happy to introduce another new wonderful poet and writer to the plum tree. Victoria Slotto also writes for the Bardo Group. One of those fine minds, she writes with thought and deep care .I am sure you will enjoy her insights into Mary Oliver. Great to have you here, Victoria.

By Victoria Slotto

Even those of us prone to optimism experience down days, difficult challenges, worries and moments of depression. When these clouds settle on me, I turn to poetry, particularly the poetry of Mary Oliver, to lift my spirit. It is, rather, that which underlies her work that serves as a natural antidepressant: nature and spirituality.

A recipient of both the Pulitzer Prize for Literature and the National Book Award, Oliver was born in 1935 in Ohio. She began writing poetry at age 14 and continues to this day, acclaimed by the New York Times as America’s best-selling poet. At a young age she discovered the work of Edna St. Vincent Millay and spent seven years almost living in her home, thanks to the friendship she developed with the poet’s sister. Eventually she moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts where she resided with her now-deceased life partner, Molly Malone Cook. A private person by nature, she largely declines to be interviewed, but her views and the source of her inspiration are able to be unearthed in her poetry.

Here is an imaginary interview that I put into poetic form, borrowing short excerpts from her work:

Hot Chocolate and Mary

The leaves of an elm splash

dappled sunlight on the forest

floor. A chill lingers in the

air so we share hot chocolate

from a thermos, pour the creamy

liquid into insulated mugs.

Age does not prevent her

from sprawling on the earth

she loves so passionately.

She leans against the tree’s

stout trunk, says, “I’m yours.”


My mouth is dry like when

the dentist stuffs it full of

cotton rolls. Disbelief numbs

me till she laughs—a sound

as real as songs of her beloved

birds that sing their prayers

in unison from the surrounding

branches and marshy meadows.


“I’m yours,” she says again,

reminding me I’m here to do

the interview I’ve wished for,

nurtured in my imagination

since I discovered her.


“Your life,” I coax, knowing

that a single word suffices.


As for myself

I swung the door open and there was

The wordless singing world. And I ran for my life.


“You ran to it?”


“Yes, immersed myself in beauty.”

While on and on the sparrow sings.


“And aging? If you don’t mind, that is.”


In the deep fall, don’t you imagine the leaves think

how comfortable it will be to touch

the earth…?”


…and what shall I wish for myself but,

being so struck by the lightning of years

to (spend) with what is left, loving.


“Any regrets?”


There wasn’t

time enough for all the wonderful things

I could think of to do


In a single day…


“If you could choreograph your death?”


…Maybe on a midsummer night’s eve,

And without fanfare.


“About death?”


So it is

if the heart has devoted itself to love, there is

not a single inch of emptiness. Gladness gleams

all the way to the grave.


“And after?”


If there’s a temple, I haven’t found it yet,

I simply go on drifting, in the heaven of grass

and the weeds.


She takes her leave.

I watch her walk across the fields,

stopping to listen

or to follow the flight of a heron.

She’s alone now

with Percy her dog

and memories of having lived well.


(Author’s note: since I penned this earlier this year, Mary has lost her canine companion, Percy.)


Oliver’s ability to pierce the depth of the human condition is clearly the result of her ability to observe nature intently and to deduct the lessons found therein. She is microscopic in her attention to detail and understands how this applies to all phases of the life cycle. As she ages, her wisdom grows and she seems to embrace, even welcome, life’s transience with acceptance.

If her work is not familiar to you, I hope you will invite her in to your reading experience. Check her out at or your local bookstore.

About Dr Niamh

When I was a little girl (a very, very long time ago), I used to love learning new, really big words like ‘discombobulate’. As I grew, my love of words grew too, until I loved them so much, I could not stop writing them down. One day, as I was scribbling a particular word, a very peculiar thing happened. The word shouted at me, “Stop! Don’t put me there!” As you can imagine, I was shocked and nearly fell off my chair. When I recovered somewhat, I said to the word, “Could you stop shouting, please? I am not used to it.” Can you guess what happened next? No! I thought not. The word said, “I might be small, but I will misbehave if you do not use me properly. I will not tell the story you would like me to tell. I will say something entirely different!” I dropped my pen. I hoped that by dropping my pen, the word would stop talking. Alas! It did not. It carried on chitterchobbling, even after the ink had dried. I was in a pickle. I could not allow my words to run away with my story, now could I? I don’t know about you, but when this sort of thing happens, there is only one thing left to do if you prefer not to spend your time arguing. “Very well,” said I. “I will do as you ask if you will just be quiet and allow me to concentrate.” Since that day, I have been paying special attention to every word I invite into my stories. After all, a story should say exactly what it means to say and not be led astray. With love from Dr. Niamh, Ph.D in Learning Through The Imagination and Founder of Dr Niamh Children's Books.

6 comments on “The Wednesday Poetry Corner with Victoria Slotto

  1. Victoria C. Slotto
    February 5, 2014

    Niamh, thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of your wonderful blog.


  2. scillagrace
    February 5, 2014

    Definitely an iconic figure to me. I like the imaginative interview!


    • ontheplumtree
      February 5, 2014

      Yes! I agree. I also love the imaginative interview. Thank you, Priscilla. I would love to feature your thoughts here too.


  3. Daniel Vimont
    February 6, 2014

    How wonderful! The poetic version of “sampling” and “remixing” to create something fresh and new!!


  4. thiskidreviewsbooks
    February 6, 2014

    What a poem. I’ll look up some of her work. 🙂


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This entry was posted on February 5, 2014 by in Guest Authors, Poetry and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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