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. Over the course of her long and illustrious career, Oliver received numerous awards. Her fourth book, American Primitive, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984. She 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.
Balance means everything to Pulitzer Prize-winning Oliver (House of Light), and in this brief, evocative gathering of poetry and prose she continues to characterize and share her sense of balance, whether meaning a verbal equilibrium or an educated sense of nature's order. ``In the Blackwater Woods,'' for example, a 14-part poem, moves outward from ``the center of the universe,'' a ``woodshed/ which I keep filling,'' to the far point where matter can vanish. In ``At the Lake'' Oliver chooses to address balance in aural terms with an opening series of off-rhymes that both tilt the poem and help to unify it. Elsewhere, the writer observes the balances about her: the prose poem ``Snails'' explores balance as seen in the point of connection that links a narrator and the snails she watches. Oliver is a cool and modest presence in the world her poems summon. Sometimes, she is a festively whimsical one. But neither her modesty nor her shows of whimsy are more interesting than the deft, clear, unpredictable path she traces between them. (Nov.)