mary oliver

Pay Attention: An Afternoon with Billy Collins and Mary Oliver

Rachel Giese Brown

Mary Oliver has won a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Rachel Giese Brown

What’s the first thing you think of when you think poetry readings by a Poet Laureate and a Pullitzer Prize winner? Well, whatever it is, I’m sure you weren’t thinking dogs.

Nonetheless, pet dogs were brought up more than anything else during poetry readings by Billy Collins and Mary Oliver at the Strathmore in Bethesda, Md. on Sunday. They managed to bring up their dogs in a beautifully poetic way, of course.

But perhaps the most important take away from the evening came from Oliver during a question and answer time after the readings. She said something like this: “Pay attention. Be astonished. And tell about it. We’re soaked in distractions. The world didn’t have to be beautiful. We can and should think about that beauty and be grateful.”

Those are words I have tried to live by for the last year.

Both poets demonstrated that attention in their work — even in poems about dogs.  

Soul Food

Author Annie Dillard, standing in her writing shed, 1987. By Getty Images.

Author Annie Dillard, standing in her writing shed, 1987. By Getty Images.

When Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis departed on his three-month sabbatical at the beginning of January, I sent him a list of books, films and music that I thought would nourish his mind and spirit in, perhaps, different ways than the media he normally consumes do.

Jim's sabbatical — a true Sabbath in the literal sense — is designed to be a time of rest and, more importantly, rejuvenation. It will also be a creative time when he will be working on a new book.

Jim is a creative. A writer. A visionary. He regularly digs deep into his heart and soul, breaks himself open and pours out his passion, hope and faith for the edification of others. If creatives aren't diligent, though, we can work ourselves into the ground. Our wells can run dry.

In sending Jim this list of what I like to think of as "soul food," I hoped to inspire his imagination and give him new fuel for the fire, if you will.