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Posts Tagged ‘Contemporary American Poetry’

My first poetry collection of the year – ‘American Primitive’ by Mary Oliver 🙂 I got it last week and dropped what I was reading and started reading this. I finished reading it yesterday. Here is what I think.

American Primitive By Mary Oliver

‘American Primitive’ is a collection of fifty poems. It is classic Mary Oliver – it has mostly poems on nature – on animals, plants, trees, the sky, the sea and other beautiful things. 

In a typical Mary Oliver poem – if there is any such thing – there is a heroine who comes out of the forest, or who is taking a stroll, sometimes with her partner or lover and sometimes with her child and sometimes she spots our poet looking at her and then we realize that our heroine is not human, but she is a deer, or a coyote or a bear or a duck or sometimes even a grasshopper or a damsel-fly and in rare cases even a ray of moonlight (“Yet over the bed of each of us moonlight throws down her long hair”). In some poems we don’t know who the heroine is – we just read about what she does. 

Some of the poems are epic (epic = more than a page long) – the story starts slowly and then there are sparklers and fireworks and then it fades away gently in the end like the coda of a beautiful, melodious song. One of my favourite poems from the book which was like this was ‘Humpbacks’. 

In one poem called ‘John Clapman’ there was an interesting character who made me remember the character called Tom Bombadil from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ “everywhere he went the apple trees sprang up behind him lovely as young girls.”

In the first half of the book, I liked lines from nearly every poem, but I had only one favourite poem. In the second half, the book came on its own for me, and I liked nearly every poem.

There are beautiful lines throughout the book, like this :

“The rain rubs its shining hands all over me”

And this :

“Now you are dead too, and I, no longer young, know what a kiss is worth”

And this :

“there is no end, believe me! to the inventions of summer, to the happiness your body is willing to bear”

And this :

“To live in this world you must be able to do three things : to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go”

Well, no more spoilers. You should read the book to experience the joy I did. 

I will leave you with some of my favourite poems from the book.

 

Morning at Great Pond

 

It starts like this :

forks of light

slicking up

out of the east,

flying over you,

and what’s left of night –

its black waterfalls,

its craven doubt –

dissolves like gravel

as the sun appears

trailing clouds

of pink and green wool,

igniting the fields,

turning the ponds

to plates of fire.

The creatures there

are dark flickerings

you make out

one by one

as the light lifts –

great blue herons,

wood ducks shaking

their shimmering crests –

and knee-deep

in the purple shallows

a deer drinking:

as she turns

the silver water

crushes like silk,

shaking the sky,

and you’re healed then

from the night, your heart

wants more, you’re ready

to rise and look!

to hurry anywhere!

to believe in anything.

 

 

A Meeting

 

She steps into the dark swamp

where the long wait ends.

 

The secret slippery package

drops to the weeds.

 

She leans her long neck and tongues it

between breaths slack with exhaustion

 

and after a while it rises and becomes a creature

like her, but much smaller.

 

So now there are two. And they walk together

like a dream under the trees.

 

In early June, at the edge of a field

thick with pink and yellow flowers

 

I meet them.

I can only stare.

 

She is the most beautiful woman

I have ever seen.

 

Her child leaps among the flowers,

the blue of the sky falls over me

 

like silk, the flowers burn, and I want

to live my life all over again, to begin again,

 

to be utterly

wild.

 

 

The Plum Trees

 

Such richness flowing

through the branches of summer and into

 

the body, carried inward on the five

rivers! Disorder and astonishment

 

rattle your thoughts and your heart

cries for rest but don’t

 

succumb, there’s nothing

so sensible as sensual inundation. Joy

 

is a taste before

it’s anything else, and the body

 

can lounge for hours devouring

the important moment. Listen,

 

the only way

to tempt happiness into your mind is by taking it

 

into the body first, like small

wild plums.

 

The Kitten

 

More amazed than anything

I took the perfectly black

stillborn kitten

with the one large eye

in the center of its small forehead

from the house cat’s bed

and buried it in a field

behind the house.

 

I suppose I could have given it

to a museum,

I could have called the local

newspaper.

 

But instead I took it out into the field

and opened the earth

and put it back

saying, it was real,

saying, life is infinitely inventive,

saying, what other amazements

lie in the dark seed of the earth, yes,

 

I think I did right to go out alone

and give it back peacefully, and cover the place

with the reckless blossoms of weeds.

 

Have you read ‘American Primitive’? What do you think about it? Which of the above poems is your favourite? 

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When I heard that Mary Oliver’s new poetry collection ‘Blue Horses’ has come out, I couldn’t wait to get it and read it. I read it in one breath. Here is what I think.

Blue Horses By Mary Oliver

‘Blue Horses’ has thirty-eight poems. They are on topics which are close to Mary Oliver’s heart – nature, plants, trees, flowers, animals, insects, seasons. There are also poems on love, art, yoga, spirituality and other everyday topics. Each poem is different – each has a different number of lines, some are short some are long, there is no consistency in terms of form and structure – but all of them are beautiful. If one is new to Mary Oliver, one would expect that at some point she would unfurl all the poetic pyrotechnics and dazzle the reader – something that might intimidate the non-specialist reader of poetry – but one would be wrong. Mary Oliver doesn’t bother with metre and rhyme and rhythm and alliteration and the iamb and the dactyl and the trochee. She just writes one beautiful poem after another in free verse which is accessible to the general reader and touches our hearts with beautiful images and thoughts and in the process makes it look so deceptively simple, like the best poets do.

I loved every poem in the book. Here are a few of my favourites.

 

What I Can Do

 

The television has two instruments that control it.

I get confused.

The washer asks me, do you want regular or delicate?

Honestly, I just want clean.

Everything is like that.

I won’t even mention cell phones.

 

I can turn on the light of the lamp beside my chair

where a book is waiting, but that’s about it.

 

Oh yes, and I can strike a match and make fire.

 

 

No Matter What

 

No matter what the world claims,

its wisdom always growing, so it’s said,

some things don’t alter with time :

the first kiss is a good example,

and the flighty sweetness of rhyme.

 

No matter what the world preaches

spring unfolds in its appointed time,

the violets open and the roses,

snow in its hour builds its shining curves,

there’s the laughter of children at play,

and the wholesome sweetness of rhyme.

 

No matter what the world does,

some things don’t alter with time.

The first kiss, the first death.

The sorrowful sweetness of rhyme.

 

 

 

If I Wanted a Boat

 

I would want a boat, if I wanted a

boat, that bounded hard on the waves,

that didn’t know starboard from port

and wouldn’t learn, that welcomed

dolphins and headed straight for the

whales, that, when rocks were close,

would slide in for a touch or two,

that wouldn’t keep land in sight and

went fast, that leaped into the spray.

What kind of life is it always to plan

and do, to promise and finish, to wish

for the near and the safe? Yes, by the

heavens, if I wanted a boat I would want

a boat I couldn’t steer.

 

 

 

Do Stones Feel?

 

Do stones feel?

Do they love their life?

Or does their patience drown out everything else?

 

When I walk on the beach I gather a few

white ones, dark ones, the multiple colors,

Don’t worry, I say, I’ll bring you back, and I do.

 

Is the tree as it rises delighted with its many

Branches,

each one like a poem?

 

Are the clouds glad to unburden their bundles of rain?

 

Most of the world says no, no, it’s not possible.

 

I refuse to think to such a conclusion.

Too terrible it would be, to be wrong.

Have you read ‘Blue Horses’? What do you think about it? 

Other reviews

Emily (from Books, the Universe and Everything)

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