She came to Cornell planning to major in Chemistry, in preparation for a medical career. She had the highest Math SAT scores in New Jersey in her graduating year. Her goal was to become a doctor and work on a cure for cancer.
Mary Gilliland published her first poem at the age of seven.
After college she began meticulous hands-on research into New York State herbs, wildflowers, and plants. Then opportunity came her way: she and her husband-to-be got to apprentice with her hero, poet Gary Snyder, and study poetry, carpentry, and Zen Buddhism. Gary performed their wedding ceremony.
Although she switched majors from chem to lit, Mary Gilliland’s poetry remains ecologically and scientifically involved. She honors nature as material for her work; she uses her work as material for environmental politics. She has testified at DEC hearings by reading her poems. She helped prevent the paving of the South Hill Recreational Way by talking about the importance of this woodland trail to her poetic research and creative process. Her poems have been anthologized in such publications as Environment: Essence and Issue.
Her aim as a poet and an essayist is to create sacred space for everyday use. In 1997, she contributed to the enlargement of the Standing Stone Circle at the Foundation of Light on Turkey Hill Road in Ithaca. In 1998, Mary Gilliland led installation of the Labyrinth, a walking meditation open to the public, a sacred space constructed according to the design in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France.
Mary Gilliland looks for spirituality wherever she can find it.
Until she retired in 2007 she was on the faculty of the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, where she developed the Writing Walk-In Service, and in 2006 taught writing to premedical students--including a few poets--at Cornell’s branch campus in Doha, Qatar.
See Mary's AGNI page.