Internationally acclaimed poet Mary Oliver exuded her trademark quiet spirituality when she sat down for a question-and-answer session in the Multicultural Center after her sold-out reading at Campbell Hall last Wednesday.

“I try to remind people of the good story,” Oliver said. “If all war stopped, we would still need art.”

The event was hosted by Barry Spacks – the poet laureate of Santa Barbara – and the College of Creative Studies, and Spacks said he meant the question and answer session to attract “seriously engaged” poets and Santa Barbara community members.

“Mary Oliver has a massive readership in our town, where she’s held in a kind of holy awe,” Spacks said. “The proof could be seen in the glowing faces of the students gathering round to thank her for the session afterwards.”

Clad in jeans, hiking boots and a fleece beenie, Oliver answered questions from Spacks and the audience with a direct honesty and a total lack of condescension. Oliver’s poetry reflects the beauty of the natural world, and her presence has a similar spiritual grace. Though her fame is renowned, she remained extremely accessible to the audience and answered everyone’s questions thoroughly, tossing out off-the-cuff quotations that were so profound they sounded like edited lines in a poetry book.

Speaking to all the writers in the audience, Oliver advised, “It is your responsibility as a writer to cultivate your own astonishment. And keep the finest company you can.”