Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Evidence by Mary Oliver

My friend Jane introduced me to the work of Mary Oliver. She had seen the author give a reading and thought that I too, would like Ms. Oliver’s poetry. Jane was like that, thoughtful, tremendously intelligent and often opening my mind to new things. Unfortunately, Jane didn’t get to see this newer collection, as she died a few days after surgery, many years ago. I still miss her.
But she was right that I would like the nature oriented poetry. Oliver’s work is similar to Robert Frost, but with more cynicism and humor. She sees the wonder of life, not just in nature, but also in music, words and friendship. The natural world is often a metaphor for other things, such as memories and loss, a hummingbird who used to visit her orchard or a gosling who didn’t grow. How time and seasons go on without us. There are lots of birds; egrets, mockingbirds, swans, also other animals, like wolves, deer, moose and a mink.
Oliver, who has won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, has an interesting view of religion:
“If God exists he isn’t just churches and mathematics.
He’s the forest, He’s the desert.
He’s the ice caps, that are dying.
He’s the ghetto and the Museum of Fine Arts.”

She also has a slightly prickly relationship with people, admitting things that most people don’t. Such as describing a neighbor as “…a young man I like, though with some difficulty.”
The title poem was longer and structured a bit different than the others in the book, divided into 3 sections and full of proverbs. The first part is about the egalitarian beauty and mystery in the world, “Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” The second focuses on the danger and obstacles in life and how the past influences everything, “Memory:a golden bowl or a basement without light.” The last section is about the contradiction of people’s actions and a reprimand, “I ask you again:if you have not been enchanted by this adventure–your life–what would do for you?”
The insights and questions contained in this book makes it seem like much more than it’s slim size. If I wrote poetry, this is the kind I would strive for. Thankfully, the author is quite prolific with nearly 30 books published. This is one of her best, not least because it holds one of my favorite lines, “Each of us leaves an unfinished life.” Like Jane.

Beacon press 2009 74 pp. ISBN-13:978-0-8070-6898-4

5 comments on “Evidence by Mary Oliver

  1. ChrisCross53
    May 16, 2011

    Thank you Jackie. I haven’t come across Mary Oliver, but I like Robert Frost, and enjoyed the snippet you included, and the way it make me think about life, so I’m off to trawl the internet for a second-hand copy!
    A great start to poetry week – can’t wait for the other posts.

  2. john latham
    May 16, 2011

    A great review which is thought-provoking and of considerable interest. I am looking forward to the rest of the week.
    Many thanks,

  3. rosyb
    May 16, 2011

    I agree this was a lovely piece and very personal too. I am sorry to hear about your friend who obviously introduced people to so many things. Lively curious people like that make so much difference to have around.

    I liked this in particular “She also has a slightly prickly relationship with people, admitting things that most people don’t. Such as describing a neighbor as “…a young man I like, though with some difficulty.””

    The poet sounds like quite a character even from the few lines quoted here.

  4. kirstyjane
    May 22, 2011

    What a great tribute to Mary Oliver, and to your friend, Jane. Thank you very much for sharing this, and for organising Poetry Week 2012!

  5. Hilary
    May 22, 2011

    What a lovely review, Jackie. I didn’t know this poet, and it seems to me strange on reflection that a writer who is so notable in the USA is not better known over here. Your piece was full of heartfelt appreciation of your dear friend, and the poet she introduced to you.

    Like Rosy, I loved the line about liking the young neighbour, ‘though with some difficulty’. How many people (myself included) would not put themselves to the trouble? Mary Oliver sounds like someone worth knowing.

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