A private person by nature, Mary Oliver has given very few interviews over the years. Instead, she prefers 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 many works of poetry and 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 currently lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the inspiration for much of her work. Beacon Press maintains a Mary Oliver website, maryoliver.beacon.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/poetmaryoliver.
This collection is drawn from seven previous books and includes 30 new poems (written in 1991 and 1992). Since her Pulitzer Prize-winning American Primitive ( LJ 2/15/83), Oliver has continued to examine the natural world and its mysteries. There is a delightful, almost naive voice speaking in ``A Certain Sharpness in the Morning Air,'' where encountering a skunk with ``the white stripe like a river/ running down its spine'' becomes an occasion for celebrating the shaggy ``wild life of the fields.'' Oliver's ability to fashion an image is evident in ``Water Snake,'' where the shy reptile looks at the poet with ``gravel eyes'' and probes the air with ``the feather of his tongue.'' Other creatures inspire poems, as do lilies, ponds, skunk cabbage, and moccasin flowers. But these are more than odes to nature. Oliver writes with a sure touch and a simple elegance of other concerns: the acceptance of fate, the shortness of life, the inevitability of loss and suffering. Her poems express the human need to be at home in the world until we rise and fall ``into something better.''-- Francis Poole, Univ. of Delaware Lib., Newark
"One of the astonishing aspects of Oliver's work is the consistency of tone over this long period. What changes is an increased focus on nature and an increased precision with language that has made her one of our very best poets... There is no complaint in Ms. Oliver's poetry, no whining, but neither is there the sense that life is in any way easy... These poems sustain us rather than divert us. Although few poets have fewer human beings in their poems than Mary Oliver, it is ironic that few poets also go so far to help us forward." Stephen Dobyns, New York Times Book Review "I have always thought of poems as my companions - and like companions, they accompany you wherever the journey (or the afternoon) might lead... My most recent companion has been Mary Oliver's "The Leaf and the Cloud"... It's a brilliant meditation, a walk through the natural world with one of our preeminent contemporary poets." Rita Dove, Washington Post"
This collection brings together poetry from eight of Oliver's previously published books and 30 new poems. In all of her work, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning American Primitive , Oliver, ``full of curiosity,'' writes about the natural world, engaging the entwined processes of life and death. ``Amazement'' figures in her persistent attention to things seen: ``If you notice anything / it leads you to notice / more / and more.'' Description then leads to meditation, a leap beyond the material world. Fundamentally religious in impulse, many of the poems move quickly away from concrete description. Metaphors are not quite grounded in the real; rather, they are asserted, declared. Of a bear the one poem's speaker notes, ``all day I think of her-- / her white teeth, her wordlessness, her perfect love.'' Even though this bear flicks the grass with her tongue, sharpens her claws against the ``silence/of the trees,'' the reader cannot quite see her. It's as if Oliver reports on mysteries rather than embodying them. And so, despite its undeniable music, her work too often becomes rhetorical; too often its earnestness turns preachy and its feeling becomes sentimental. (Oct.)