Poet Spotlight: Mary Oliver

Recommended Poetry Book: Devotions

Lived: 1935-2019

Favourite Quote:

So it comes first: the world. Then, literature. And then, what one pencil moving over a thousand miles of paper can (perhaps, sometimes) do.

Upstream (a collection of essays)

Selected Poem: The Poet With His Face in His Hands

Opening stanza:

You want to cry aloud for your / mistakes. But to tell the truth the world / doesn’t need any more of that sound.


Mary Oliver understood me. She understood how the woods could be a home, how words could be a sanctuary. She knew the difficulty of a scream aloud, but also the importance of one expressed. She knew that nature was just meant to be and that a human, humanity, is nature too.

Other Poems

  • Wild Geese
  • A Summer Day
  • Some Questions You Might Ask
  • The Journey
  • At Blackwater Woods
  • Don’t Hesitate
  • When Death Comes
  • Invitation
  • Swans

Top 10 Victorian Novels

This is one of my favourite periods of literature. The Victorian era is filled with light and dark, satire and tragedy–some novels possess both, depending on how one perceives it.

  1. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
  2. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  3. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  4. Emma by Jane Austen
  5. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll
  6. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  8. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  9. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  10. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Self-Help/Psychology Books

Top 10 Self-Help/Psychology Books

  1. The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday
  2. Atomic Habits by James Clear
  3. Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown
  4. The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel
  5. The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz
  6. Bittersweet by Susan Cain
  7. Range by David Epstein
  8. 4,000 Weeks by Oliver Burkeman
  9. Do the Work by Steven Pressfield
  10. Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl

Prepping for Adulthood

  1. Atomic Habits by James Clear
  2. A Happy Pocket Full of Money (Expanded Study Version) by David Cameron Gikandi
  3. The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday
  4. The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin
  5. 4,000 Weeks by Oliver Burkeman

Daily Rituals

  1. Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
  2. A Year of Living Consciously by Gay Hendricks
  3. A Year of Miracles by Marianne Williamson
  4. The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday
  5. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Know Thyself

  1. The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday
  2. Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown
  3. The River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks
  4. Bittersweet by Susan Cain
  5. The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

Money is Good

  1. A Happy Pocket Full of Money by David Cameron Gikandi
  2. The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel
  3. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki
  4. Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin

Top 10 Reads By Age

Ages 16-18

  1. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
  2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  4. Ralph Waldo Emerson Essential Writings (Introduction by Mary Oliver)
  5. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
  6. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  7. Atomic Habits by James Clear
  8. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  9. Circe by Madeleine Miller
  10. Lavinia by Ursula K. LeGuin

Ages 13-15

  1. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  4. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
  5. Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
  6. Watch Us Rise by Ellen Hagan and Renee Watson
  7. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
  8. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  9. The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho
  10. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Ages 11-13

  1. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
  2. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate Dicamillo 
  3. The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
  4. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
  5. The Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan
  6. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  7. Holes by Louis Sachar
  8. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
  9. A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  10. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Ages 8-11

  1. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (first book in Percy Jackson series)
  2. The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan (first book in Kane Chronicles trilogy)
  3. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (first book in the Harry Potter Series)
  4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
  5. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
  6. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (first book in the Chronicles of Narnia)
  7. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
  8. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  9. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  10. Five Children and It by E. Nesbit

On Silence.

“I want to write a novel about Silence,” he said; “the things people don’t say.”

Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out

Silence can often be more powerful than words, although this is not an excuse to not use your voice; it is not an excuse to be afraid. What it is, is an opportunity to listen. Oftentimes it is easier to yell your opinion over the din, operating with the arrogance and audacity that people should listen to you and not the other way around. That is the reason for conflict, the reason for hatred (that and fear, of course, but that is a subject for another time). The failure to listen is also the failure of understanding and understanding is known to breed peace, love, innovation, knowledge.

The lack of noise is related to tranquility and peace for a reason. To be subject to words infringing on the very essence of your own being will drive you mad; to have incessant declarations made to you and expectations forced on to your conduct will provoke you–if not to violence–to shut yourself up in a room of your own devoid of such savage impositions. However, those that do so are often scorned and called recluses, hermits, depressed, expressed with a passively aggressive upturned nose and snarky remark. But what if those people–the ones scorned–are the most happy? Society is quick to judge and slow to forgive, but possess no power if you simply do not care. But that is easier said than done.

Keeping quiet is cowardice, courage, and weight all at once. Not saying anything when witnessing a cruelty will secure you the hottest place in hell, but listening to someone you do not agree with is a pure form of courage. As to silence and weight, the weight of silence can be the loudest thing in a room, demonstrating the impact of words and the spaces that separate them.


On Mirrors.

Who sees the human face correctly: the photographer, the mirror, or the painter?

Pablo Picasso

A mirror is simply a looking glass. At least it should be. I don’t know who decided to make mirrors distort images–make the reflection not a reflection, but another subjective perspective–but I whole-heartedly disagree with it. Mirrors were only supposed to be reflections, tools to objectively observe oneself in the best way one is able to. However, now they are something different. Now, certain mirrors are only tools used to manipulate images–to enhance this, reduce that–and sell products.

I could be reading too far into it. Maybe I should operate with Hanlan’s razor, although there is always a fallacy: sometimes situations should be attributed to malicious intent. Then, how do we do differentiate? Extremes are never really the answer, we shouldn’t ban mirrors as a whole like abnegation in Divergent. Mirrors are not representations of vanity or low self-esteem. At least they should not be.

Humans are too human: we continually convert something objective into something subjective; we give perspectives to tools that wouldn’t normally possess a perspective.


On Brevity

It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.

Friedrich Nietzsche

I am not laconic by any means, nor do I claim to be. Is it desired? Of course. Do I often receive what I want? No, not really. The thought expression of today will most likely be contradictory–I will write about brevity without the slightest of intention of being brief. I will be so bold as to ask you to bear with me.

It has been a great aspiration of mine to write wondrous meaning in the least amount of words. But It has been a long and painful voyage. I attempted a 100 day project where I only wrote a simple 100 words every day–I failed around day 15–and I always seem to exceed every word count–no matter if it is 500 or 10,000 words. I am at a loss as to how people can convey the most incredible and unbelievable importances in so few words. Perhaps it is my redundancies–I often find various ways to express the same thing–but I feel it is more than that.

I absolutely adore stringing complexity after complexity, one behind the other. At times, I feel like the only way to tell what I mean, tell my complexities, is through numerous words. Obviously, great writers have proven otherwise, but there is something I admire about a sentence of “important nothings”, a phrase coined by Jane Austen whose dialogue writing is incomparable.

Perhaps a laconic disposition is something that comes naturally with time and age, plus a continued practice. I’ll keep practicing, but until brevity shows its face, I will be an idealistic and young daydreamer who has not yet lived enough–nor experienced enough of the world–to be terse.


On Life

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist, that is all.

Oscar Wilde

The absence of life isn’t death, but existence. Mary Oliver once asked, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I ask the same of you now. What will you do with your aliveness, live or exist? Simple existence is reserved for those who take no sides, those who stay silent amidst conflict. It is reserved for those who do not care, because it is easier–it is safer–not to.

I do not claim that I am living anything besides existence–I, too, am silent; I, too, convince myself of not caring to avoid any sort of pain. The fear of pain is pain enough for me. However, there are things I do live. I live through listening to the whisper of trees, feeling the pulse of the sun, seeing the extraordinary in the seemingly mundane. Humans are not black and white: you can live in one way, but exist in another. At least that is what I believe; that is what comforts me.

I exist in the human world, but live in the natural. Is such a thing possible? Can we live in one world and exist in another, simultaneously? I have not settled for a label of existence in any which way, I am striving to live everything, even the pain. It is a struggle and it is slow, but it is happening. I’m not sure what I plan to do with my one wild and precious life, but I do commit to living it in the best way I know: being who I know am to be. After all, that is all I can do and all I know for some kind of certain.


On Worlds

“I thought: I cannot bear this world a moment longer.

Then, child, make another.

– Madeleine Miller, Circe

“To create one’s own world takes courage,” or so said the artist Georgia O’Keefe, whose white rose will be infinitely spiraling in my memory–it’s endless folds and hidden pathways. The world is a lot like that: spirals and obscured turns. I think creating a world, any world, is more than courage. But I’m not sure what that more is. Can all people create worlds? Should worlds be created, or must this one be lived? Should we find the beauty here, create our own beauty here, instead of looking outside? Must unhappiness be lived?

I ask with the intention to discover an answer, not to answer these questions myself. If I experience unbearableness, can I create something bearable? Perhaps I should not be posing these inquiries unless I have lived something that must be undone and done again, but then I’ve always desired to have a “just in case” solution for what I can.

But I digress. What is that more than courage I claimed to be there? Maybe power, the power to anticipate each shrouded turn–each spiral–and what’s more, to unravel it; to make the pathway straight and clear. To identify the one pathway that is your own.


On Beginnings

This is always the hardest part: starting.