Friday, January 02, 2015

Blue Horses and A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver is quickly becoming one of my favorite poets.  Her latest collection, Blue Horses, pleases the eye and ear every bit as much as all of her previous works I have read.

As is true of many of her poems, Oliver focuses on nature.  The selections in this collection, however, seem quite a bit more philosophical than most of the others I have experienced.  For example, the first poem in the collection combines these two ideas.  In “After Reading Lucretius, I Go to the Pond,” Oliver writes, “The slippery green frog / that went to his death / in the heron’s pink throat / was my small brother, // and the heron / with the white plumes / like a crown on his heard / who is washing now his great sword-beak / in the shining pond / is my tall brother. // My heart dresses in black / and dances” (1). 

I also love the humor in her poems, particularly “First Yoga Lesson.”  “‘Be a lotus in the pond,’” she said, “‘opening / slowly, no single energy tugging / against another but peacefully, / all together’.” // I couldn’t even touch my toes. / “‘Feel your quadriceps stretching?’” she asked. / Well, something was certainly stretching. // Standing impressively upright, she / raised one leg and placed it against / the other, then lifted her arms and / shook her hands like leaves.  “Be a tree,’” she said. // I lay on the floor, exhausted. / But to be a lotus in the pond / opening slowly, and very slowly rising -- / that I could do” (7).

As always, Oliver’s poems contain vivid images, which take the reader onto the floor, on a mat, stretching.  She accomplishes this feat over and over with the plainest of language.  I can’t get enough of her way with words.

When I found Blue Horses, I noticed a slim volume by Oliver nearby: A Poetry Handbook.  I am so sorry I missed this explication of all the intricacies of poetry originally published in 1994.  I recommend this slim volume for anyone interested in poetry.  I found her Introduction highly informative.  Here a few random paragraphs.  Oliver writes, “Everyone knows that poets are born and not made in school.  This is true also of painters, sculptors, and musicians.  Something that is essential can’t be taught; it can only be given, or earned, or formulated in a manner too mysterious to be picked apart and redesigned for the next person. // Still, painters, sculptors, and musicians require a lively acquaintance with the history of their particular field and with past as well as current theories and techniques.  And the same is true of poets.  Whatever can’t be taught, there is a great deal that can, and must be learned.”   
Oliver says she wrote this book, “in an effort to give the student a variety of technical skills -- that is options.  It is written to empower the beginning writer who stands between two marvelous and complex things – an experience (or an idea or a feeling), and the urge to tell about it in the best possible conjunction of words.

Just a smidgeon over 200 pages, these two works by Mary Oliver – Blue Horses: Poems and A Poetry Handbook – are excellent starting points for those curious about what makes a poem a poem and handy guides for those who want to sharpen their skills.  Both 5 stars

--Chiron, 12/31/14

1 comment:

Julia Hones said...

I love Mary Oliver's poetry too.