A private person by nature, Mary Oliver (1935-2019) gave very few interviews over the years. Instead, she preferred to let her work speak for itself. And speak it has, for the past five decades, to countless readers. The New York Times recently acknowledged Mary Oliver as "far and away, this country's best-selling poet." Born in a small town in Ohio, Oliver published her first book of poetry in 1963 at the age of 28; No Voyage and Other Poems, originally printed in the UK by Dent Press, was reissued in the United States in 1965 by Houghton Mifflin. Oliver has since published twenty books of poetry and six books of prose. As a young woman, Oliver studied at Ohio State University and Vassar College, but took no degree. She lived for several years at the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay in upper New York state, companion to the poet's sister Norma Millay. It was there, in the late '50s, that she met photographer Molly Malone Cook. For more than forty years, Cook and Oliver made their home together, largely in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where they lived until Cook's death in 2005. Over the course of her long and illustrious career, Oliver has received numerous awards. Her fourth book, American Primitive, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984. She has also received the Shelley Memorial Award; a Guggenheim Fellowship; an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Achievement Award; the Christopher Award and the L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award for House of Light; the National Book Award for New and Selected Poems; a Lannan Foundation Literary Award; and the New England Booksellers Association Award for Literary Excellence. Oliver's essays have appeared in Best American Essays 1996, 1998, 2001; the Anchor Essay Annual 1998, as well as Orion, Onearth and other periodicals. Oliver was editor of Best American Essays 2009. Oliver's books on the craft of poetry, A Poetry Handbook and Rules for the Dance, are used widely in writing programs. She is an acclaimed reader and has read in practically every state as well as other countries. She has led workshops at various colleges and universities, and held residencies at Case Western Reserve University, Bucknell University, University of Cincinnati, and Sweet Briar College. From 1995, for five years, she held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching at Bennington College. She has been awarded Honorary Doctorates from The Art Institute of Boston (1998), Dartmouth College (2007) and Tufts University (2008).
Oliver, an award-winning "nature poet" with an eclectic following, here reveals an early desire that may come as a surprise to some readers: "I had such longing for virtue, for company./ I wanted Christ to be as close as the cross I wear. I wanted to read and serve, to touch the altar linen." Some poems address God, while others discuss the world: a delicate moth, a dear friend, the dog, Percy. Bereft after the death of her longtime partner, Oliver finds strength in a stoic struggle toward pure love that transcends one person. In this frame of mind, even a late-day walk in a snow storm brings comfort: "this world,/ which is falling apart now,/ which is white and wild,/ which is faithful beyond all our expressions of faith." In these self-effacing poems, Oliver continues her work of loving the world, acknowledging that not all love is returned and that "in matters of love/ of this kind/ there are things we long to do/ but must not do." For all collections.-E.M. Kaufman, Dewey Ballantine LLP Law Lib., New York Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Consoling, and intense interaction with the natural world abounds in the 43 poems of Pulitzer Prize-winner Oliver's new collection, as her many readers might expect. The trees whisper, a ribbon snake imparts lessons and the poet is likened to a swimming otter. What has changed, though, is that Oliver's new work reflects her faith in God and her grief over the death of her longtime partner. Those who do not share her brand of faith may or may not find its terms difficult to accept-"Everything is His./ The door. The door jamb"-but the loss of a loved one is more universal: of grief, she writes, "I went closer, / and I did not die." Still, many of these poems mention or court cataclysmic loss while refusing to dwell in it. At times, Oliver's will-to-gratitude can feel like preaching or admonishment; Oliver describes a luna moth with "a pale green wing whose rim is like a musical notation," before adding, "Have you noticed?" The role of danger or evil in this Eden is mostly unacknowledged: "... the things of this world / ... are kind, and maybe// also troubled." (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
To read Thirst, is to feel gratititude for the simple fact of being alive. This is not surprising, as it is the effect [Oliver's] best work has produced in readers for the past 43 years. --Angela O'Donnell, America Magazine
"Mary Oliver moves by instinct, faith, and determination. She is among our finest poets, and still growing." --Alicia Ostriker, The Nation "It has always seemed, across her [many] books of poetry, . . . that Mary Oliver might leave us at any minute. Even a 1984 Pulitzer Prize couldn't pin her to the ground. She'd change quietly into a heron or a bear and fly or walk on forever." --Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times "Mary Oliver. In a region that has produced most of the nation's poet laureates, it is risky to single out one fragile 71-year-old bard of Provincetown. But Mary Oliver, who won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1983, is my choice for her joyous, accessible, intimate observations of the natural world. Her Wild Geese has become so popular it now graces posters in dorm rooms across the land. But don't hold that against her. Read almost anything in New and Selected Poems. She teaches us the profound act of paying attention--a living wonder that makes it possible to appreciate all the others."--Renee Loth, Boston Globe