:: I am a writer because, when I was a sophomore in college, I lucked into a 6-person poetry writing workshop with Mary Oliver.

She forced me to reckon with every word I put down on the page. I didn’t understand what words were until that writing workshop. I was nineteen years old.

I didn’t even know who she was when I submitted a packet of poems to be considered for the workshop. I didn’t understand how thrilled I should be when I was accepted. I didn’t understand that others at my school were angry that an upstart newb had taken their place. Thank goodness I knew nothing about the backbiting and meanness that writing could entail.

Instead, I learned from Mary Oliver that writing meant looking at ordinary objects intently and deliberately. It meant taking your time. It meant taking yourself seriously, even at a school like Duke, where young women were not, as a rule, taken seriously.

Mary Oliver taught me to write. She taught me to take myself seriously. She changed my entire fucking life.

Mary Oliver, 1935-2019

*A Note on the photograph:

In the photo is a poem by Mary Oliver that she wrote about me when I missed class for an intercollegiate equestrian event (yes, I know how that sounds). As I recall, she had everyone in the class write quatrains. I saved hers. I should have saved them all. The poem reads:

Katie at the Gallop

We hope you cantered fine and fair,

we hope you galloped fast

and swung your little whip; we hope

you did not come in last.


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