I don't typically review books by "established" artists, but this quiet little collection really hit me at the right time in my life, so here's a little write-up as thanks to the cosmic poetic gods for dropping Mary O onto my bookshelf.
Right out of the gate I feel this eastern sense of calm in her work, a zen Taoistic balance between all of human nature and all the natural forces of the earth, the ocean or trees or running creeks made both personal and somehow indifferent, the sort of relationship where we feel a driving impulse to interact with our environment while it could take us or leave us, and almost knows it would be better off without, bluntly hinted at in “I Go Down to the Shore” when the sea says “in its lovely voice / Excuse me, I have work to do.”
And yet she finds a joy and passion in these creatures and earth-things that would carry on without us. There is a comfort there that, perhaps, we cannot find in our fellow humans, who always seem to want something or play games. There is also an immediacy in the stoic arms of nature. You place yourself there and the impact, good or bad or in between, takes place right away. The effects are felt, the changes begin whether you know it or not. Take a long walk by a lake or ocean. You already know you won't be the same afterward. This immediacy can its own kind of peace, as well as revelations. It dawns on her that the way the flowers blaze back at the sun is a prayer all its own. It amazes her the way a bird sings with such enthusiasm. Little realizations we wouldn't get sitting in a Starbucks or walking through the mall.
It may be “quaint” to write "nature" poems about these simple morning discoveries, but in a life of 24-hour news about vitriol, hate, spitefulness, destruction, and anguish, I find there is no longer any quaintness in quietness. It's a vital thing. These are poems of searching, of meaning, and every small discovery of nature’s indifferent and rapturous beauty is a moment more when we can consider ourselves rescued from the hell of it all.
This is my first experience reading a full Mary Oliver collection. It won’t be my last.
- James H Duncan