Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Blue Horses, by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver's poems generally blend observations of nature and spiritual questions in language that is descriptive yet elegant. Some of the works in her current collection, Blue Horses, reflect her customary concerns, including her penchant for poems about birds. But she also branches out to the experiences of falling in love as an older woman, illness, and art (in the title poem she imagines stepping into a Franz Marc painting). She also writes about angels, stones, and not mowing the grass.  On the other hand, she mostly eschews the political poems that her Red Bird collection featured (see review at http://novelconversations.blogspot.com/2014/06/red-bird-by-mary-oliver.html).

Oliver writes in a variety of forms, which I am too unschooled to name. In one of my favorite poems, "No Matter What," each of the three stanzas (of various lengths) begins with a line in which only the verb varies: "No matter what the world claims,"  "No matter what the world preaches," No matter what the world does."  In each stanza, she recounts things that don't vary with time--the changing of the seasons, the laughter of children at play, the first kiss, the blooming of flowers, the first death--closing with a line that varies only in its adjective:  "And the flighty sweetness of rhyme," "And the wholesome sweetness of rhyme," "The sorrowful sweetness of rhyme." It's quite lovely and I enjoyed not only the poem but the challenge to think about different aspects of something (sweetness) that might normally seem rather unvarying.

As I say with nearly every poetry collection I read, not every poem in Blue Horses moved me, but there are enough captivating images and language to make the volume worth picking up.

Favorite passage:
"What We Want"

In a poem
people want
something fancy,

but even more
they want something
made plain,

easy to swallow--
not unlike a suddenly
harmonic passage

in an otherwise
difficult and sometimes dissonant

even if it is only
for the moment
of hearing it.

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