Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Mary Oliver's Thirst

I picked up Mary Oliver’s book of poems, Thirst, from my local library. I have been coveting this book since it was published in 2006 and when I finally see it at the book-store it is always when I am broke and only browsing. I was thrilled to finally see it on my library’s shelves so that I could finally set down and read this book which is dedicated to the love of her life who passed away in 2005, Molly Malone Cook.

For those of you unfamiliar with Mary Oliver, she is well known for her poems about nature, essays, and prose. She was born September 10th in 1935 and lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts. She has won the Pulitzer Prize (in 1984) and the National Book Award in 1992. She even sold out an entire auditorium for one of her readings yet she is known to be a recluse in that she is very quiet and shy about her private life. Mary Oliver is well respected in the literary community and I hope that if you are not already familiar with her writing that you will pick up any volume of her work you find among the shelves in your own local library or book-store.

For Thirst, this volume focuses on her reflections about her loved one’s absence and how she copes with it. The poems are as beautiful as always in regards to poems from her other volumes. We are greeted by a poem titled “Messenger” in which she writes the line “My work is loving the world.” She goes on to explain her focus in life: “Let me/keep my mind on what matters,/…which is mostly standing still and learning to be/astonished.” She goes on to describe the joys found in nature, and while this may seem typical of her usual volume of poems this collection gives way to grief and her prayers to God as a way to cope with her loss.

In her poem, “Those Days” she describes Ms. Cook simply and lovingly. “When I think of her I think of the long summer days/she lay in the sun,/...how we/spread our blanket, and friends came/” and when Ms. Oliver grew restless she would go for walks in the woods and return to their home where she waited, “my glorious welcoming, tan and hungry and ready to tell/the hurtless gossips of the day…” She describes them as a pair in the ending line which I think is the most beautiful line in the poem: “until our lives they trembled and shimmered/everywhere.” This poem is a glimpse into Oliver’s personal life we rarely see and so this is a poem I treasure in the collection.

Though there are poems that address God directly, I enjoyed her poem titled “Praying” that is a little more generalized simply because it seems to address the collective need of humankind to appeal to a power greater than themselves in times of need. The point of the poem is to say that prayer does not need to be fancy or difficult, “a few words together and don’t try/to make them elaborate, this isn’t/a contest…” She ends with a simple idea that prayer is another way to say “thank you” and allow the greater power a chance to enlighten us. Out of all the poems that reference God this one is my favorite. I hope you will enjoy it, too, when you see it.

Poems on audio also provided along with biographical information at Poetry Foundation link below:
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poet.html?id=5130

Poets.org also has biographical information and links to her poems at the link below:
http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/265

Thanks always for dropping by and reading, please stop by tomorrow for more Poems
Found by Poet Hound…

5 comments:

grh said...

Oliver is an extraordinary poet. Her lines carry more music than anyone else I can think of. Her images affect one with quiet astonishment. And the foundation of her poems is joy in life. There's no wonder she's so widely loved.

Poet Hound said...

GRH: Ditto! ;-)

Talia said...

I'm not a fan of Oliver, though I admit to not reading her much. Indeed, her poems are "quiet," and I think I tend to enjoy the louder ones...but I like Franz Wright and he's pretty quiet...

to each his own.

The Wandering Reader said...

I LOVE Oliver's poems, specifically Dream Work; I swear that book changed my life.

Her verses are so lyrical, but they are also so clean (meaning, they aren't filled with a bunch of stylistic fluff). While I love Olds for many of the same reasons, I find that she can be hard to understand at times. I think that Oliver brings many of her poems full cirlce, making it easier for her readers to understand what she is trying to say.

Thanks so much for the great post!

Poet Hound said...

Talia,
I didn't really read her poems until my father-in-law bought me a set of her poetry books and I've grown to enjoy them. Perhaps I'll make a convert out of you someday.

The wandering reader,
You are very welcome, thanks for your input. I haven't read too much of Sharon Olds and hope to find her poetry books in the library next time I go so I can get a feel for her work, too.