Poet Mary Oliver has often been criticized by feminist critics for her close association of women with nature, an association some believe put the woman poet in danger of losing her identity and ability to create meaningful art. However, Oliver’s poems suggest that such a connection with nature may indeed be a powerful, transformative experience as her poems investigate how one can merge with nature, experience the natural world and its wonders, and discover how to live fully in one’s life. She suggests that we need to look, watch, and feel our experiences more carefully if we are to transcend ordinary moments and find more meaningful ways of knowing and being in the world. For Oliver poetry “is not a miracle;” instead, “[i]t is an effort to formalize (ritualize) individual moments and the transcending effects of these moments into a music that all can use. It is the song of our species” (Blue Pastures 59). Through her poems, Oliver teaches us how to watch and feel more closely our own lives, asking us to transcend daily realities and distractions in order to hear our own songs.
This session takes up discussion of Mary Oliver who has published 19 collections, received the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize and, by some accounts, is one of America’s best-selling and most read poets (see Poetry Foundation). Yet, there is only full book of criticism currently published on her work. Why? What readings of Oliver are we missing? What place does she hold in American letters? What might an ecocritical/ecofeminist reading of Oliver reveal? What influence has she had on American poetics, if any? Is she simply a “nature” poet or does her work expand beyond nature? What draws readers to her writings?
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