Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Swan by Mary Oliver

My two favourite poets are Carol Ann Duffy and Mary Oliver. What draws me to their work? Initially, it was the fact that they are lesbians, but the reasons I celebrate each new volume they publish are Duffy's witty irreverence and Oliver's tender reverence.

Oliver's Swan: Poems and Prose Poems (2010) is as wonderful as I've come to expect from her, "a literature of praise" for "this pretty, this perilous world." Each leaf "has a song in it" and the stones have heartbeats. The trees welcome her wanderings: "cool, beloved the household / of such tall, kind sisters."

Oliver explains why she goes alone into the woods: "I don't really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours." (from "How I Go to the Woods"). She goes on to say: "If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much." I feel like I've walked at Oliver's side after reading her words. I feel loved, even though Oliver does not know me, and grateful for the opportunity to experience the world through her senses. She reminds me that we belong to the earth and the "tissue of our minds is made of it."

Several poems are in elegy to her dog, Percy, who died in 2009. In "The Sweetness of Dogs," Oliver asks: "And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?" Yes, I think have. In Oliver's words, it exists because "joy is not meant to be a crumb." I will reread these poems often.

Readalikes: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard.

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