—A SOLITARY WALK
WHEN MARY OLIVER TALKS about her work—something she is quite reluctant to do, fending off interviews and media proposals—there is an austerity, a quiet determination to her thought that brings to mind an earlier century. The discipline of her writing life might seem more natural in a time before every living room was plugged in to the perpetual tide of images and ideas, when an individual cultivated the solitude and curiosity of the inner life. This is not to say Ms. Oliver's poems aren't thoroughly contemporary in style, voice, and motive. It's just that, during our conversation, I kept getting the idea that Emily Dickinson would have found her a most agreeable next-door neighbor.
As a young writer, Ms. Oliver was not crushed by the intense isolation and general lack of support peculiar to the poet's vocation. Nor was her equanimity dramatically altered when her book American Primitive burst on the national scene, winning the 1984 Pulitzer Prize. In 1992, her New and