Writing great cards #2: Mary Oliver wants you to pay attention

Mary Oliver is a Pulitzer Prize winning poet known for her clear and poignant observances of the natural world. The Harvard Review describes her work as an antidote to "inattention and the baroque conventions of our social and professional lives". 

A recurring leitmotif in her work is her call for us to pay attention and the passages of the poems below suggest that there is nothing more important or thoughtful than being observant.  

This extract from Sometimes issues us with instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

The advice is fundamental. At the root of every special memory is the observation of a moment and the aha moment of astonishment that follows.  

Mary Oliver would probably suggest that writing a letter or card is your moment to codify that special memory by 'telling about it'.

In Praying, she suggests that our words don't have to be as beautiful as a blue iris, you need to 'just pay attention, then patch a few words together and don't try to make them elaborate'.

Sure, this poem is about praying, but the words are analogous to communicating with an important person in your life. In closing, she says, 'this isn't a contest but the doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak'. 

Writing a letter or a card need not require grandeur. The recipient is likely to want little more than to have been thought of, to be noticed for something that makes them special. 

In Yes! No!, Oliver closes the poem off with:

'To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.'

To say or write something memorable requires you to observe something that interests or inspires you and to then share it. In noticing that significant little moment or detail, you can say so much more than the regular platitude.

Maybe a maxim for writing a good card could be to ask yourself before putting pen to paper:

'Could this be written about anybody else?'