Mary Oliver
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Literary Arts

Mary Oliver

Past Event: Monday, February 4, 2008

At Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

Sponsored by University Book Store.

Mary Oliver was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1935. The quiet, wooded, flat land and sharp seasons of her first physical landscape moved her deeply and appear in many of her poems and essays. In “A Blessing” from her 2004 collection, Blue Iris, Oliver describes the high school summers she spent car camping with a friend. “What we saw,” she says in conclusion, “filled our minds. What we saw made us love and want to honor the world. And dear readers, if anyone thinks children in these difficult times do not need such peaceful intervals, then hang up the phone, we are not having a conversation. Without doubt those summers changed my life and my friend’s. Whoever I am, and whoever my friend is now, fifty years later, we are both still part of this feast of the past. Happiness and leaves—they went together.” During those same transformative years, Oliver was inspired by the work of Edna St. Vincent Millay and briefly lived in the poet’s home helping the family sort through Millay’s papers. She later attended Ohio State University and Vassar College, though she did not receive a degree from either.

Oliver writes with a posture of strength and grace, a stance of balance and flexibility, an opening of the heart and a quietness of the mind that invite the world in. “(Her) poetry is an excellent antidote for the excesses of civilization,” wrote one reviewer for the Harvard Review, “for too much flurry and inattention, and the baroque conventions of our social and professional lives. She is a poet of wisdom and generosity whose vision allows us to look intimately at a world not of our making.” Though the reader rarely encounters other human beings in Oliver’s work, a distinct voice and mind observe and describe the natural world with great focus, and often speak to us in direct questions that push us to observe, absorb, and capture every molecule we possibly can. “The Summer Day,” a poem from the Pulitzer Prize-winning collection American Primitive, in which the narrator spends a summer’s day laying in the grass, takes us there pointedly, asking: 
“Tell me, what else should I have done? / Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? /
Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”

In her latest volume, Thirst (2006), Oliver writes through her grief over the loss of her partner of more than 40 years and at the same time traces her journey into a newfound Christian faith. Collectively, the more than twenty volumes of poetry and essays that expose her delight in the mysteries of the world and explore her willingness to believe have garnered a large and loyal following. Her numerous awards include the Pulitzer Prize for American Primitive, the National Book Award for New and Selected Poems, a Lannan Foundation Literary Award, the New England Booksellers Association Award for Literary Excellence, the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Memorial Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Excerpt from Thirst (2006)

The Place I Want to Get Back To

is where
     in the pinewoods
         in the moments between
              the darkness

and first light
      two deer
            came walking down the hill
                 and when they saw me

they said to each other, okay,
      this one is okay,
             let’s see who she is
                 and why she is sitting

on the ground, like that,
       so quiet, as if
              asleep, or in a dream,
                     but, anyway, harmless;

and so they came
       on their slender legs
             and gazed upon me
                  not unlike the way

I go out to the dunes and look
      and look and look
            into the faces of the flowers;
                 and then one of them leaned forward

and nuzzled my hand, and what can my life 
      bring to me that could exceed
           that brief moment?
                 For twenty years

I have gone every day to the same woods,
      not waiting, exactly, just lingering.
            Such gifts, bestowed,
                 can’t be repeated.

If you want to talk about this
     come to visit. I live in the house
          near the corner, which I have named

Selected WorkPoetry:No Voyage, and Other Poems (1963) The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems (1972) The Night Traveler (1978) Twelve Moons (1978) Sleeping in the Forest (1979) American Primitive (1983) Dream Work (1986) Provincetown (1987) House of Light (1990) New and Selected Poems (1992) White Pine: Poems and Prose Poems (1994) Blue Pastures (1995) West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems (1997) Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems (1999) The Leaf and the Cloud (2000) What Do We Know (2002) Why I Wake Early (2004) Boston Iris: Poems and Essays (2004) New and Selected Poems Volume Two (2004) Blue Iris: Poems and Essays (2006) Thirst: Poems (2006)

Other:A Poetry Handbook (1994) Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse (1998) Long Life: Essays and Other Writings (2004)

The Poetry Foundation

Reading and conversation with Joseph Parisi, former Editor-in-Chief of Poetry Magazine

God of Dirt: Mary Oliver and the Other Book of God, Cowley Publications, 2004

Event Details

Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

200 University Street
Seattle, WA 98101

View directions.

Transportation & Parking

This event will be held in the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, the largest event space at Benaroya Hall. 

Benaroya Hall is located at 200 University Street, directly across Second Avenue from the Seattle Art Museum. The public entrance to Benaroya Hall is along Third Avenue.

By Car

  • From Southbound I-5
    Take the Union Street exit (#165B). Continue onto Union Street and proceed approximately five blocks to Second Avenue. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound I-5
    Exit left onto Seneca Street (exit #165). Proceed two blocks and turn right onto Fourth Avenue. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Union Street. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound I-5 via Westbound I-90
    Take the 2C exit for I-5 North. Follow signs for Madison Street/Convention Place and merge right onto Seventh Avenue. Turn left onto Madison Street. Proceed three blocks and turn right onto Fourth Avenue. Continue four blocks. Turn left onto Union Street. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.

By Public Transit (Bus & Light Rail)

Benaroya Hall is served by numerous bus routes. Digital reader boards along Third Avenue display real-time bus arrival information. For details and trip planning tools, call Metro Rider Information at 206.553.3000 (voice) or 206.684.1739 (TDD), or visit Metro online. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, served by light rail, has a stop just below the Hall (University Street Station).


The 430-car underground garage at Benaroya Hall provides direct access from the enclosed parking area into the Hall via elevators leading to The Boeing Company Gallery. Enter the garage on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street. Maximum vehicle height is 6’8″. ChargePoint charging stations are available for electric vehicles. Visit the Benaroya Hall website for event pricing.

Parking is also available at:

  • The Cobb Building (enter on University Street between Third and Fourth avenues).
  • The Russell Investments Center (enter on Union Street between First and Second avenues).
  • There are many other garages within a one-block radius of Benaroya Hall, along with numerous on-street parking options.


Open Captioning is an option for people who have hearing loss, where a captioning screen displaying the words that are spoken or sung is placed on stage. This option is present at every event at Benaroya Hall in our 2021/22 Season.

Closed Captioning is an option for people who have hearing loss, where captioning displays the words that are spoken or sung at the bottom of the video during an online event. Captioning is available for all online events; click the “CC” button to view captions during the event.

Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs) are devices that people with hearing loss use in conjunction with their hearing device (hearing aids or cochlear implants). Benaroya Hall has an infrared hearing system, which transmits sound by light beams. Headsets are available in The Boeing Company Gallery coat check and the Head Usher stations in both lobbies.

Sign Language Interpretation is available upon request for Deaf, DeafBlind, and hard of hearing individuals for both in-person and online events. To make a request for interpretation, please contact us at or 206.621.2230×10, or select “Sign Language Interpretation” from the Accessibility section during your ticket checkout process and we will contact you to confirm details. Please note: we appreciate a two-week advance notice to allow us time to secure interpretation.

Wheelchair Accessible Seating and Accessible Restrooms are available in all sections at our venues, and our venues are fully accessible to ticket holders with physical mobility concerns. Among other features, Benaroya Hall has designated parking spaces adjacent to elevators in their parking garage. Elevators with Braille signage go to all levels within the Hall. To reserve seating for a specific mobility concern, you may select “Wheelchair Accessible or Alternative Seating Options” during ticket checkout, and we will contact you to confirm details. For more details on their accessibility features, click here.

Guide and service dogs are welcome.

Gender neutral restrooms are available.

We are pleased to offer these accessibility services at our venues, and they are provided at no additional cost to ticket holders. Please contact us with any questions and feedback about how we can be more accessible and inclusive. Our Patron Services Manager is available at, or Monday-Friday from 10:00am – 5:00pm at 206.621.2230×10.

For more accessibility information, please head to If you would like to make accessibility arrangements you do not see listed here, please contact our box office or select “Other Accommodations” from the Accessibility section during your ticket checkout process, and we will contact you to confirm details.