So I've finished American Primitive by Mary Oliver, a book published (in one of its editions) the year of my birth!
What makes me sad is that the first thing I landed on when I was looking for the cover art for this post was another blog saying they didn't really care for these poems or for nature poetry (maybe) in general.
While the line breaks are short and certainly seem to reflect a more "vintage" aesthetic, this the book of poetry that I luckily avoided during my MFA program. Because Mary Oliver's voice, what she seeks to do in poetry and what she accomplishes, where she looks for truth, are so similar to one of the strains of my own writing that if I had found this book then I might never have found my own voice. My first, egotistical, thought when I finished this book was "she reminds me of me!"
Mary Oliver's poems are infused with a bodily sensuousness, a preocupation with the bodily and the natural. She looks unflinchingly at the blood and guts of a pastoral world that is traditional sentimentalized. There is loveliness, heartache, strength, cruelty, and the basic inescapable truth that we are animals.
Maybe it's the "Back to Nature" throwback in me, but I think that everything about our modern, and then contemporary lives is designed to make us forget this. (I say "back to nature," although I would NEVER live in a yurt, but when I was a teen I was obsessed with, and memorized how, to homestead.) I mean, everything is sanitized, or fetishized, and it's totally perverse to me. People use "animal" as an insult. But for all that humans need to feed their minds and souls, it's the worst kind of foolishness to think we can ignore or dam up the needs of our animal bodies and be our healthiest selves. An animal is content in the form it was created--it knows no other. And there is a joy in that, and in Mary Oliver's poetry, of accepting as part of our humaness our physical natures. We are not angels--lucky us!