Poets and Writers Respond

Mary Oliver wrote poetry with a clarity and a sentience that whiplashed me into an awareness I often missed. Her work is a direct arrow of energy. Her death also.

Last week I wrote a post called “What would Mary Oliver do?” I wrote about a dream I had after she died where I was sent up to the attic to plug the holes where the mice lived and stood there looking at them. I wondered what Mary Oliver would do. I invited people to send me poems. What she’d do. What they’d do. Some poems responded to the question while most came from that arrow of energy that she was, the essential ephemeral nature of everything as it hits you and moves through.

Here are poems by four Canadian poets: Robbie Chesick, Dominique Davies, Bill Gaynor, and Jill Jorgenson.

Full confession

I killed Mary Oliver 
I didn’t intend to, because
why destroy a voice
that listens as it speaks,
while offering the hand 
of question to the answer 
of my virgin breath?

Like an anxious child 
sips warm milk, 
on the night of
January 16, 11:12,
I read from the collection 
White Pine and quipped,

‘Mary Oliver 
the word wild”

a sheet of shame
covered my face
as the strike hit its mark.

I didn’t even know she was ill,
and take full 
for my heinous act.

I await
the perfect sentence.

Robbie Chesick has been writing poetry secretly for a million years.  She is grateful to live in Vancouver, Canada, where she hangs with her family, plays with her friends, and works as a clinical counsellor.



For Mary Oliver

a black dog 
is my intimate companion 
not what I had imagined 
for mid life 
not the laughter, sweat, tears 
but the sweet breathing
the constancy 
the soulful eyes 
as I long

Dominique Davies has loved writing poems since she was a child. She enjoys writing in other genres as well but finds that poetry is a home for her emotions unlike any other.


What would Mary Oliver do

with the mice in the attic
and the ones in my shoe
the soft little creatures 
landlords ask us to kill?
Soften the landlord and
converse with the mice. 

Bill Gaynor

Bill Gayner knows and loves Ronna and her poetry and workshops through his work as a clinical social worker and mental health clinician at Mount Sinai Hospital, where Ronna is the Poet in Residence. He is developing emotion-focused mindfulness therapy which integrates mindfulness and experiential and emotional processing and has just launched a new website about this work called mindfulfeeling. (Note from RB — thank you, Bill!)

Bill added: “It struck me later that “converse” also combines “with” and “verse” — which for me implies to speak in verse or poetically with someone. And that many people have observed that Mary Oliver wrote in a conversational style. I also think I remember her being quoted recommending we cultivate a kind of conversational attention to the world and its creatures.”


buzzed and buzzed by a big black fly 


thus spake the pacifist anti-

capitalist vegetarian humanitarian tree-

hugger hurry-the-ant-or-bug-or-

spider-gently-hand-trapped-outside-er (and

truth told, it surprised her) – flat back of Best of

Mary Oliver raised and ready – : willya 

just land I’m gonna killya.

Jill Jorgenson lives in Toronto with her partner, and is on the cusp of retiring from a twenty-seven-year career of delivering the mail. More writing, and art, will be forthcoming. The poem “buzzed and buzzed by a big black fly” is from the collection, Looking East Over My Shoulder, by Jill Jorgenson, published by Cormorant Books (Toronto). © 2014 Jill Jorgenson. Used with the permission of the publisher.