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Poets who do art: Interview with Mary J. Oliver

As I've been getting more and more into painting these last few months, I realised I was far from the only poet to be working in different art genres. So I thought I'd run an informal interview series on my website to showcase other "poets who do art" for want of a sexier term!

First up is Mary J. Oliver!

A chicken or the egg question, were you a poet first and an artist next, or vice versa?

Artist first.

How do you work with both? Do you allocate specific time or do you find they manifest themselves to you?

First it was all art. Then all writing for 10 years. Now I'm loving bringing the two together.

Who are your influences today, have they radically changed over time?

Gosh, so many: literary, artistic and those who combine. Hard to know where to start. I love so much, from Leonardo's notebooks, to Sophie Herxheimer's collaged poems.

Let's talk about the, for want of a better term, "covid era". It seems to have made some people super creative & productive and others less so - how has it impacted on your own work?

I'm lucky (and feel guilty about it). I'm retired and staying indoors and writing or making art is what I do. So it hasn't reduced my output at all. However, one is horribly depressed by what is happening in the world. I try to uplift others with my work - I feel it's all I have to offer. I don't write about or make art about Covid specifically. I think it's too depressing. As I wouldn't make art about Trump. How to see the beauty and the amazingness of existence (which is still there, inspite of Covid and Trump), is what I feel I can do.

Do you listen to music when you create? Which type?

No, not while I'm working. Other times, yes. Mostly classical (learning).

What can you tell me about your artwork "Woman disappearing into a poem" (above) - how did it come about?

This is a page from a sketch book, in which I'm exploring ideas, materials and ways of incorporating text, words, poems.

What are you working on next?

Ongoing exploring the above.

Further reading about Mary J. Oliver:

Mary J. Oliver trained in the visual arts before switching to writing full time ten years ago. Her poems have appeared in many periodicals and anthologies in the UK and US. Competitions won include those judged by Paul Muldoon and Ruth Padel. Her first book,Jim Neat: The Case of a Young Man Down on His Luck, was published by Seren in 2019. In 2017, the original manuscript of Jim Neat was awarded 2nd prize in the New Welsh Writing Memoir Award. Five of the poems from it have been set to music for piano by the composer Judith Bailey. Oliver edits Piccolina, a poetry newsletter promoting live-poetry events in Cornwall, UK.





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