Friday, March 10, 2017

Short Book Reviews: Prose Poetry to Savor

Mary Oliver has been one of my favorite poets since I read her poem, “The Journey,” at just the right
time in my life. I was delighted to see her new collection, “Upstream,” and I was not disappointed. Surprised a bit by the prose format, but not disappointed. The trick is to read these entries as if they were in “poetical” form, that is broken down into short lines, to be read slowly and savored, not your usual essays that you can gloss over with some version of speed-reading, grabbing for the main concept and not the subtleties of language and imagery. As with “proper” poetry, the journey is the heart of the piece, and phrases that ring in the mind like sweet bells or brash sirens can be found everywhere. The poems form a loose sort of journey centered around a cabin in the woods near a pond (somewhere in New England, I suppose), through the seasons and with digressions into the life and work of Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others. I love what she has to say about them and how — especially in the cases of Emerson and Whitman — she weaves those observations into the context of the natural world that was theirs as well. Just as “The Journey” struck me in the right way at the right time, Upstream carried me along through the final illness and death of our dog. Not a big thing in the grand scheme of things, but neither is a turtle laying her eggs, a wounded gull, or building a little house by hand, or any of the other things portrayed so beautifully in Oliver’s work.


Wild Geese 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes, 
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting 
over and over announcing your place 
in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver
published by Atlantic Monthly Press
© Mary Oliver

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