I've heard a great number of Mary Oliver's poems throughout my years in creative writing programs. I have never heard one I didn't not love. I was enthusiastic to finally read a complete volume of her work and I picked Why I Wake Early for no reason whatsoever. It was just the first to grab my attention.
I didn't love this collection the way I'd hope I would. There are several possible reasons for this. Perhaps this isn't Oliver's best collection. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood. Or maybe Oliver's work is best when read aloud. There were many great moments in Why I Wake Early, but there were also several times when I felt the imagery was cloying. At times I felt like I was reading a collection of Ruth Bell Graham, a poet who wrote some beautiful and inspiring poems, but who isn't particularly known for her innovative verse. And so I feel like I missed something. I blame myself. Nevertheless, Oliver's poetry was beautiful and certainly full of skill. I just didn't connect fully. Because I loved everything I'd heard before this and because I'm sure it was all my fault I didn't relate, I'm compromising on my rating and promising that I'll give Oliver another try someday in the near future.
Mary Oliver really is a magnificent poet - her images of nature conjure up perfect visuals of whatever natural scene she's describing. I do tend to find her poetry very intellectual as opposed to emotional (Charles Bukowski; Pablo Neruda - two of my favourite poets whose work is molten with emotions). However, despite this somewhat austere element to her poetry, her collections are always a worthwhile read and HOUSE OF LIGHT is no exception. Some favourites from the book:"Spring"; "The Hermit Crab"; "The Kingfisher" and the unforgettable, amazing and brilliant "The Summer Day" (with the exquisite ending couplet that resonates so deeply no matter how many times I read it "...Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?")
Warning: some morbid thoughts ahead.
Mary Oliver celebrates the nature of dogs in this little book of poetry, and to a lesser extent, the nature of our relationship with our pets. I have some fundamental disagreement with her views about keeping them unleashed and letting them roam free, though. Perhaps she’s never seen someone’s pet in the road with his guts smeared on the pavement, or walked through a city animal shelter full of half-starved strays, and had to choose just one, only one, to take home, or had to watch in horror from the sidewalk as a pack of coyotes snatched her small unleashed dog from the woods at the edge of a suburban park. Perhaps she hasn’t read the articles of grandmothers being mauled by packs of loose dogs while out on a walk. From her poems, it sounds as though she lives in an idealized, Mr. Rogers-esque small seaside town where all the loose dogs are friendly and have a loving home where they’re well-fed and there are no speeding cars.
Still, there are some gems to be found in her work, and Stubbs listened attentively while I read them to him. Bells was unimpressed, though, if her snoring could be interpreted as literary criticism.
I read this for Task the Fourth: The Gift Card square, in The Twelve Tasks for the Festive Season challenge: “Read a book that you either received as a gift or have given as a gift.” I received this book as a Christmas gift last year from my sister.