On ‘A Poetry Handbook’ by Mary Oliver – Part II

“The part of the psyche that works in concert with consciousness and supplies a necessary part of the poem — the heat of a star as opposed to the shape of a star — exists in a mysterious, unmapped zone. . .”

This is what Mary Oliver describes as the emotional center, the crux, of a good poem. This part of us is elusive; it is shy, and when we try to name it, it runs away and hides out of fear of being exposed. Mary Oliver says that a poet must continually try to access this reluctant part of ourselves, and there is only one way:

Habits.

A poet must frequently and seriously search for this fleeting feeling.
Sit down. Think. Write. Repeat.
This feeling must be taken seriously. To Oliver, it is more important to constantly search for and pin down this feeling than it is to learn technique, for what good is technique if its subject is empty?

Finally, though the poet’s style will change over time, it is important to never lose the desire to connect with this part of ourselves. Never lose the fervor to go beyond the margins of the self.

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