Search - List of Books by Mary Oliver
"I worked probably 25 years by myself, just writing and working, not trying to publish much, not giving readings." -- Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver (born September 10, 1935) is an American poet who has won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. The New York Times described her as "far and away, this country's [America's] best-selling poet".
"Almost anything is too much. I am trying in my poems to have the reader be the experiencer. I do not want to be there. It is not even a walk we take together.""As a child, what captivated me was reading the poems myself and realizing that there was a world without material substance which was nevertheless as alive as any other.""I have a notebook with me all the time, and I begin scribbling a few words. When things are going well, the walk does not get anywhere; I finally just stop and write.""I have a notion that if you are going to be spiritually curious, you better not get cluttered up with too many material things.""I love the line of Flaubert about observing things very intensely. I think our duty as writers begins not with our own feelings, but with the powers of observing.""I simply do not distinguish between work and play.""I was very careful never to take an interesting job. If you have an interesting job, you get interested in it.""If I've done my work well, I vanish completely from the scene. I believe it is invasive of the work when you know too much about the writer.""In college, you learn how to learn. Four years is not too much time to spend at that.""My first two books are out of print and, okay, they can sleep there comfortably. It's early work, derivative work.""Poetry isn't a profession, it's a way of life. It's an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that.""So this is how you swim inward. So this is how you flow outwards. So this is how you pray.""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.""To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.""When it's over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.""Writers sometimes give up what is most strange and wonderful about their writing - soften their roughest edges - to accommodate themselves toward a group response."
Mary Oliver was born to Edward William and Helen M. V. Oliver on September 10, 1935, in Maple Heights, Ohio, a semi-rural suburb of Cleveland. Her father was a social studies teacher and an athletics coach in the Cleveland public schools. She began writing poetry at the age of 14, and at 17 visited the home of the late Pulitzer Prize winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, in Austerlitz, upper New York state. She and Norma, the poet’s sister, became friends and Oliver “more or less lived there for the next six or seven years, running around the 800 acres like a child, helping Norma, or at least being company to her” and assisting with organising the late poet's papers. On a return visit, in the late '50s, Oliver met photographer Molly Malone Cook, who would become her partner for over forty years. In Our world she says “I took one look and fell, hook and tumble." She recalls also "I too fell in love with the town, that marvelous convergence of land and water; Mediterranean light; fishermen who made their living by hard and difficult work from frighteningly small boats; and, both residents and sometime visitors, the many artists and writers.[...] M. and I decided to stay.” Oliver briefly attended both Ohio State University and Vassar College in the mid-1950s, but did not receive a degree at either college.
Adult Life and Career more less
Oliver’s first collection of poems, Voyage, and Other Poems, was published in 1963, when she was 28. During the early 1980s, Oliver taught at Case Western Reserve University. Her fifth collection of poetry, American Primitive, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984. She was Poet In Residence at Bucknell University (1986) and Margaret Banister Writer in Residence at Sweet Briar College (1991), then moving to Bennington, Vermont, where she held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching until 2001. She won the Christopher Award and the L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award for her piece House of Light (1990) and New and Selected Poems (1992), won the National Book Award. Oliver's work turns towards nature for its inspiration and describes the sense of wonder it instills in her. “When it’s over", she says, "I want to say: all my life / I was a bride married to amazement. / I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.” (“When Death Comes” from New and Selected Poems (1992). Her collections Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems (1999), Why I Wake Early (2004), and New and Selected Poems, Volume 2 (2004) build the themes. The first and second parts of Leaf and the Cloud are featured in The Best American Poetry 1999 and 2000, respectively and her essays appear in Best American Essays 1996, 1998 and 2001.
Oliver and Molly Malone Cook, her partner of forty years and literary agent, made their home together, largely in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where they lived until Cook's death in 2005, and where Oliver still lives. Greatly valuing her personal privacy, Oliver has given very few interviews, saying she prefers for her writing to speak for itself.
Poetic Identity more less
Mary Oliver’s poetry is grounded in memories of Ohio and her adopted home of New England, setting most of poetry in around Provincetown since she moved there in the 1960s. Influenced by both Whitman and Thoreau, she is known for her clear and poignant observances of the natural world. Her creativity is stirred by nature, and Oliver, an avid walker, often pursues inspiration on foot. Her poems are filled with imagery from her daily walks near her home: shore birds, water snakes, the phases of the moon and humpback whales. In Long life she says "[I] go off to my woods, my ponds, my sun-filled harbor, no more than a blue comma on the map of the world but, to me, the emblem of everything.” She commented in a rare interview “When things are going well, you know, the walk does not get rapid or get anywhere: I finally just stop, and write. That’s a successful walk!” She says that she once found walking herself in the woods with no pen and went later hid pencils in the trees so she would never be stuck in that place again. She often carries a 3-by-5-inch hand-sewn notebook for recording impressions and phrases. Maxine Kumin calls Oliver "a patroller of wetlands in the same way that Thoreau was an inspector of snowstorms."
Oliver has also been compared to Emily Dickinson, with whom she shares an affinity for solitude and interior monologues. Her poetry combines dark introspection with joyous release. Although she has been criticized for writing poetry that assumes a dangerously close relationship of women with nature, she finds the self is only strengthened through an immersion with nature. Oliver is also known for her unadorned language and accessible themes. The Harvard Review describes her work as an antidote to "inattention and the baroque conventions of our social and professional lives. She is a poet of wisdom and generosity whose vision allows us to look intimately at a world not of our making."
Critical Reviews more less
Maxine Kumin describes Poet Mary Oliver in the Women's Review of Books as an "indefatigable guide to the natural world, particularly to its lesser-known aspects." Reviewing Dream Work for The Nation, critic Alicia Ostriker numbered Oliver among America's finest poets: "visionary as Emerson [ she is] among the few American poets who can describe and transmit ecstasy, while retaining a practical awareness of the world as one of predators and prey." New York Times reviewer Bruce Bennet, stated that the Pulitzer Prize winning collection American Primitive, "insists on the primacy of the physical" while Holly Prado of Los Angeles Times Book Review noted that it "touches a vitality in the familiar that invests it with a fresh intensity."
Vicki Graham suggests Oliver over-simplies the affiliation of gender and nature "Oliver’s celebration of dissolution into the natural world troubles some critics: her poems flirt dangerously with romantic assumptions about the close association of women with nature that many theorists claim put the woman writer at risk." In her article “The Language of nature in the Poetry of Mary Oliver,” Diane S. Bond echos that “few feminists have wholeheartedly appreciated Oliver’s work, and though some critics have read her poems as revolutionary reconstructions of the female subject, others remain skeptical that identification with nature can empower women.” In The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review, Sue Russell notes that “Mary Oliver will never be a balladeer of contemporary lesbian life in the vein of Marilyn Hacker, or an important political thinker like Adrienne Rich; but the fact that she chooses not to write from a similar political or narrative stance makes her all the more valuable to our collective culture.”
Selected Awards and Honors more less
- 1969/70 Shelley Memorial Award (1969/70) from the Poetry Society of America.
- 1980 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship
- 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1984) for American Primitive
- 1992 National Book Award for Poetry for New and Selected Poems
- 1998 Lannan Literary Award for poetry
- 1998 Honorary Doctorate from The Art Institute of Boston
- 2007 Honorary Doctorate Dartmouth College
- 2008 Honorary Doctorate Tufts University
- 1963 No Voyage, and Other Poems (Dent (New York, NY), expanded edition, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1965.
- 1972 The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems Harcourt (New York, NY)
- 1978 The Night Traveler Bits Press
- 1978 Twelve Moons Little, Brown (Boston, MA),
- 1979 Sleeping in the Forest Ohio Review Chapbook
- 1983 American Primitive Little, Brown (Boston, MA)
- 1986 Dream Work (Atlantic Monthly Press (Boston, MA)
- 1987 Provincetown Appletree Alley, limited edition with woodcuts by Barnard Taylor
- 1990 House of Light (Beacon Press (Boston, MA)
- 1992 New and Selected Poems Beacon Press (Boston, MA),
- 1994 White Pine: Poems and Prose Poems Harcourt (San Diego, CA)
- 1995 Blue Pastures Harcourt (New York, NY)
- 1997 West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems' 'Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA)
- 1999 Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA)
- 2000 The Leaf and the Cloud Da Capo (Cambridge, MA), (prose poem)
- 2002 What Do We Know Da Capo (Cambridge, MA)
- 2003 Owls and Other Fantasies: poems and essays Beacon (Boston, MA)
- 2004 Why I Wake Early: New Poems Beacon (Boston, MA)
- 2004 Blue Iris: Poems and Essays Beacon (Boston, MA)
- 2005 New and Selected Poems, volume two Beacon (Boston, MA)
- 2005 At Blackwater Pond: Mary Oliver Reads Mary Oliver (audio cd)
- 2006 Thirst: Poems (Boston, MA)
- 2007 Our World with photographs by Molly Malone Cook, Beacon (Boston, MA)
- 2008 The Truro Bear and Other Adventures: Poems and Essays
- 2008 Red Bird Beacon (Boston, MA)
- 2009 Evidence Beacon (Boston, MA)
- 2010 Swan: Poems and Prose Poems (Boston, MA)
Non-fiction books and other collections
- 1992 A Poetry Handbook Harcourt (San Diego, CA)
- 1998 Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA)
- 2004 Long Life: Essays and Other Writings Da Capo (Cambridge, MA)
Total Books: 78
Further Reading more less
- McNew, Janet "Mary Oliver and the Tradition of Romantic Nature Poetry," Contemporary Literature 30:1 (Spring 1989)
- Graham, Vicki "Into the Body of Another: Mary Oliver and the Poetics of Becoming Other," Papers on Language and Literature 30:4 (Fall 1994), pp352-353, pp366-368
- Russell, Sue "Mary Oliver: The Poet and the Persona," The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review 4:4 (Fall 1997), pp21- 22