Oliver, Mary




Mary Oliver is an Ohio-born poet who has received numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for American Primitive in 1993 and the National Book Award for New and Selected Poems in 1992. “Singapore” from the 1990 House of Light recalls a white woman’s encounter with a Singapore woman in an airport bathroom and explores issues of labor, cultural difference, and understanding. Oliver’s poem invites dialogue on globalization, attitudes about employment, and relationships across difference.

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Originally published in House of Light (1990)


Reading - Short Enough to Read Aloud.


Connection and RelationshipLove and CompassionWisdom and ContemplationWork and Vocation

Big Questions

What causes division between people and groups?What makes it possible for us to connect to others? What gets in the way?What prevents us from being compassionate?What is wisdom? How do we learn how to make wise choices?What does it mean to have a “calling”?What is the value of work for me? For my community?


Taking Action

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What is the relationship between the speaker and the woman in the bathroom? Do they have a connection?
  2. Why is the speaker uncomfortable when she encounters the woman in the bathroom?
  3. How does the speaker describe the way the other woman does her work?
  4. Why does the speaker say, “I don’t doubt for a moment that she loves her life”?
  5. Do you think there is a cultural difference between the two women? Or are their thoughts and concerns universal?
  6. How do we know how people feel about their work?
  7. How do we respect other people’s work? Do we expect other people to respect our work?
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