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Praying by Mary Oliver

Posted on Jan 18, 2012 by

This isn't

It doesn’t have to be

the blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just

pay attention, then patch


a few words together and don’t try

to make them elaborate, this isn’t

a contest but the doorway


into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.

So I’m thinking this poem by Mary Oliver could be instructions for a writer—or instructions for a teacher—which, if looked at in a certain way, are perhaps not that different.

I’m at the beginning of a new semester, the beginning of brand new classes, teaching high school sophomores and seniors.  Fifteen and sixteen and seventeen and eighteen year olds.  We write almost every day.   The obstacles they come across are not so different than my own.  Their hands hurt.  They run out of things to write about—or they run out of things to write about that they believe are interesting enough or good enough or even acceptable.  They get bored with their own minds.  They resist.  (I just finished leafing through daybooks from the end of last semester and two young women covered the last pages with large letters in red and purple marker:  I hate this, I hate this, I hate this.  After a mild cringe–yikes, how could I have assigned this differently?–it occurs to me that one response is simply to admire their perseverance.  They were assigned to fill a notebook—and they did.)

This writing can feel terribly difficult at times.

But it could be so simple really.

At least simple to begin.  Each time.

Just pay attention, then patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate

Instructions, possibly—for beginning any blank page—or any new class—or any new day?

 This isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks. . .

Oh, this makes so much sense—and is such a good thing for me to remember now.  I’m not writing or teaching to impress—anyone—or to draw attention to myself but simply to find a doorway into something, and maybe she’s right that thanks is a doorway I could be aiming for.

. . . and a silence in which another voice may speak.

And that seems to me like a place where writing and teaching meet.  That somehow, maybe if my words find a doorway—or become a doorway—then that becomes the space or pause or silence into which one of my students can find their way.  Maybe.

Which leaves me with a question: How do words create silence or space?

How do we do that?


See also:

Morning Poem by Mary Oliver

Instructions from Sometimes by Mary Oliver

Image above created in Doodle Buddy