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Mary Oliver's poems like to talk to us. Now, of course, most every poem is meant to have a reader (or listener), but few are so direct about addressing their audience. The speaker of Mary Oliver's poems will take you aside, point things out to you, give you advice. Her language, though often reaching brilliant descriptions through unexpected combinations of images and words, is rooted in a simplicity and directness. She tells it like it is.
And people really go for it. After all, she's won a lot of praise for her work—the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and more. Plus she gets props by being included in just about every anthology of contemporary poetry there is. And get this: people actually read her poems. That's quite a feat for poets nowadays. Just about every bookshop you can find will carry a whole slew of Mary Oliver works, and they keep flying off the shelves.
Why is that? Well, for one thing, Mary Oliver is all about awareness. In her poetry, she likes to point out all those little details in the world around her speakers that we modern, hyper-scheduled, over-busy, frantic folks might miss. That's just what she does in her 2001 book-length poem The Leaf and the Cloud. The first section, "Flare," mingles imagery of memory, the natural world, and grief to introduce a book that questions the very nature of all these things—how they're connected, and how we can relate to them. And if you like what you read here, you just might want to read all of The Leaf and the Cloud. We promise: it won't disappoint.
Admit it: you've struggled to get over a loss. Maybe you've got this memory that you can't shake and you feel like all this thinking about the past is taking away from your experience of day-to-day life. Well in this poem you've got a wise friend who knows just what you're feeling. Even better, she's got some stories, insights and suggestions for you, to help you "rise up from the stump of sorrow" (12.9) and be joyful and connected with the present.
Along the way, she weaves in thoughts about our relationship with the world, desire, death, and even the nature of poetry, this very thing that she's using to communicate with you. What more could you ask? Well, we're not sure. We're still finding new and interesting connections, and this is probably our hundredth time reading the poem. So dig in, dear Shmoopers, and open your minds.
Mary Oliver on Poets.org
That means she's a poet with a capital P.
Get the Goods
Her publisher's site can point you in the right direction for all things Mary.
Mary Oliver is a Modern American Poet
Or so says Modern American Poetry. Click through for criticism and other resources.
Mary, with Canine
Totally adorable, no?
Readings in Nature
The woods in her poems are lovely, dark, and deep.
Chat it up with Ms. O
Or, failing that, you could eavesdrop on this conversation.
We couldn't find an audio version of "Flare" (and if you find one, tell us!), so you'll just have to settle for hearing a few of her other poems from the horse's mouth.
"Flare"'s Natural Habitat
Take a look inside The Leaf and the Cloud.
A Poet on Poetry
Want to know Mary Oliver's thoughts on the craft of poetry?
Then be sure to check out Maria Shriver's interview with Mary, on Oprah.com.