Evidence: Poems, by Mary Oliver
Beacon Press, 2009

From the book jacket:

Inspired by the familiar lines from William Wordsworth, “To me the meanest flower that blows can give / Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears,” Evidence is a collection of 47 new poems on all of Mary Oliver’s classic themes. She writes perceptively about grief and mortality, love and nature, and the spiritual sustenance she draws from their gifts.

Ever grateful for the bounty that is offered to us daily by the natural world, Oliver is attentive to the mysteries it imparts. The arresting beauty she finds in rivers and stones, willows and field corn, the mockingbird’s “embellishments” or the last hours of darkness permeates her poems. Her newest volume is imbued through and through with that power of nature to, in Oliver’s words, “excite the viewers toward sublime thought.”

A Note from Terrain.org’s Editor

I’ve long been a fan of Mary Oliver, beginning with the Pulitzer Prize-winning American Primitive, which I consider one of the most influential volumes of American poetry, and one of the best. I picked it up while perusing poetry collections at the Boulder Bookstore, early in my own writing career. Since then, Oliver — along with A.R. Ammons — is the poet I’ve turned to the most for the pure joy of reading her poetry, for inspiring my own, and for sharing.

But I admit I received her newest collection with some apprehension, because I’ve been mostly¬† disappointed in her newest work. While many of the poems are still wonderful, I’ve sensed a decline in her work — as well as a reliance on a formula that worked so well in her first several books but now feels, well, formulaic.

My take, then, on Evidence? I think it is her strongest book in quite some time. No doubt several of the poems work even as they fall into that predictable formula. But I find the most pleasure in the longer poems of the collection, most notably “To Begin With, the Sweet Grass,” the title poem, and “At the River Clarion.” Oliver seems to be expanding her notable repertoire here, and doing so in new, skillful, and exciting ways. To that I say: bravo — Mary Oliver is back!

Evidence is a must-have for any Oliver fan, of course. But I think it is also an essential book for any lover of poetry. It is wide-ranging in form, relentless in its questioning: searing, aspiring, lovely.

About Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver, winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, was recently awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Tufts University. Her 18 previous books of poetry include The Truro Bear and Other Adventures, Red Bird, and New and Selected Poems, Volume One and Volume Two. She lives in Privincetown, Massachusetts.

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