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Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver

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Mary Oliver is an American poet who has won the National Book Award
National Book Award
The National Book Awards are a set of American literary awards. Started in 1950, the Awards are presented annually to American authors for literature published in the current year. In 1989 the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization which now oversees and manages the National Book...

 and the Pulitzer Prize
Pulitzer Prize
The Pulitzer Prize is a U.S. award for achievements in newspaper and online journalism, literature and musical composition. It was established by American publisher Joseph Pulitzer and is administered by Columbia University in New York City...

. The New York Times described her as "far and away, this country's [America's] best-selling poet".

Early life


Mary Oliver was born to Edward William and Helen M. V. Oliver on September 10, 1935, in Maple Heights, Ohio
Ohio
Ohio is a Midwestern state in the United States. The 34th largest state by area in the U.S.,it is the 7th‑most populous with over 11.5 million residents, containing several major American cities and seven metropolitan areas with populations of 500,000 or more.The state's capital is Columbus...

, a semi-rural suburb of Cleveland.Her father was a social studies teacher and an athletics coach in the Cleveland public schools. She began writing poetry at the age of 14, and at 17 visited the home of the late Pulitzer Prize winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Edna St. Vincent Millay was an American lyrical poet, playwright and feminist. She received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and was known for her activism and her many love affairs. She used the pseudonym Nancy Boyd for her prose work...

, in Austerlitz, upper New York state.Poetry Foundation Oliver biography. Accessed 2010-09-07"The Land and Words of Mary Oliver, the Bard of Provincetown" July 5, 2009 New York Times. Accessed 2010-09-07 She and Norma, the poet’s sister, became friends and Oliver “more or less lived there for the next six or seven years, running around the 800 acres like a child, helping Norma, or at least being company to her” and assisting with organizing the late poet's papers.

Adult life and career



Oliver’s first collection of poems, Voyage, and Other Poems, was published in 1963, when she was 28. During the early 1980s, Oliver taught at Case Western Reserve University
Case Western Reserve University
Case Western Reserve University is a private research university located in Cleveland, Ohio, USA...

. Her fifth collection of poetry, American Primitive, won the Pulitzer Prize
Pulitzer Prize
The Pulitzer Prize is a U.S. award for achievements in newspaper and online journalism, literature and musical composition. It was established by American publisher Joseph Pulitzer and is administered by Columbia University in New York City...

 for Poetry in 1984. She was Poet In Residence at Bucknell University
Bucknell University
Bucknell University is a private liberal arts university located alongside the West Branch Susquehanna River in the rolling countryside of Central Pennsylvania in the town of Lewisburg, 30 miles southeast of Williamsport and 60 miles north of Harrisburg. The university consists of the College of...

 (1986) and Margaret Banister Writer in Residence at Sweet Briar College
Sweet Briar College
Sweet Briar College is a liberal arts women's college in Sweet Briar, Virginia, about north of Lynchburg, Virginia. The school's Latin motto translates as: "She who has earned the rose may bear it."...

 (1991), then moving to Bennington
Bennington
-People:* Chester Bennington, lead singer of rock bands Linkin Park and Dead by Sunrise* Geoffrey Bennington, Professor of French and Professor of Comparative Literature at Emory University* Ron Bennington, co-host of the Ron and Fez radio show...

, Vermont
Vermont
Vermont is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. The state ranks 43rd in land area, , and 45th in total area. Its population according to the 2010 census, 630,337, is the second smallest in the country, larger only than Wyoming. It is the only New England...

, where she held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching until 2001. She won the Christopher Award and the L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award
L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award
The L.L. Winship/ PEN New England Award is awarded annually by PEN New England to honor a New England author or book with a New England setting or subject. The award was established in 1975 by The Boston Globe in conjunction with PEN to honor the veteran Boston Globe editor Laurence L. Winship. It...

 for her piece House of Light (1990) and New and Selected Poems (1992), won the National Book Award
National Book Award
The National Book Awards are a set of American literary awards. Started in 1950, the Awards are presented annually to American authors for literature published in the current year. In 1989 the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization which now oversees and manages the National Book...

.Oliver's work turns towards nature for its inspiration and describes the sense of wonder it instills in her. “When it’s over", she says, "I want to say: all my life / I was a bride married to amazement. / I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.” (“When Death Comes” from New and Selected Poems (1992). Her collections Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems (1999), Why I Wake Early (2004), and New and Selected Poems, Volume 2 (2004) build the themes. The first and second parts of Leaf and the Cloud are featured in The Best American Poetry 1999 and 2000, respectively and her essays appear in Best American Essays 1996, 1998 and 2001.

On a return visit to Austerlitz, in the late 1950s, Oliver met photographer Molly Malone Cook, who would become her partner for over forty years.In Our world she says “I took one look and fell, hook and tumble." Cook was Oliver's literary agent. They made their home largely in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where they lived until Cook's death in 2005, and where Oliver still lives.Greatly valuing her personal privacy, Oliver has given very few interviews, saying she prefers for her writing to speak for itself.Mary Oliver's Publisher at Beacon Press. Official biography. Accessed 2010-09-07 She recalls "I too fell in love with the town, that marvelous convergence of land and water; Mediterranean light; fishermen who made their living by hard and difficult work from frighteningly small boats; and, both residents and sometime visitors, the many artists and writers.[...] M. and I decided to stay.” Oliver briefly attended both Ohio State University
Ohio State University
The Ohio State University, commonly referred to as Ohio State, is a public research university located in Columbus, Ohio. It was originally founded in 1870 as a land-grant university and is currently the third largest university campus in the United States...

 and Vassar College
Vassar College
Vassar College is a private, coeducational liberal arts college in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York, in the United States. The Vassar campus comprises over and more than 100 buildings, including four National Historic Landmarks, ranging in style from Collegiate Gothic to International,...

 in the mid-1950s, but did not receive a degree at either college.

Poetic Identity



Mary Oliver’s poetry is grounded in memories of Ohio
Ohio
Ohio is a Midwestern state in the United States. The 34th largest state by area in the U.S.,it is the 7th‑most populous with over 11.5 million residents, containing several major American cities and seven metropolitan areas with populations of 500,000 or more.The state's capital is Columbus...

 and her adopted home of New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

, setting most of poetry in around Provincetown since she moved there in the 1960s. Influenced by both Whitman
Whitman
-People:* Whitman , including:*Charles Whitman, tower sniper *Charles S. Whitman, New York politician *Walt Whitman, American essayist and poet *Marcus Whitman, was an American physician and Oregon missionary....

 and Thoreau, she is known for her clear and poignant observances of the natural world. Her creativity is stirred by nature, and Oliver, an avid walker, often pursues inspiration on foot. Her poems are filled with imagery from her daily walks near her home: shore birds, water snakes, the phases of the moon and humpback whales. In Long life she says "[I] go off to my woods, my ponds, my sun-filled harbor, no more than a blue comma on the map of the world but, to me, the emblem of everything.” She commented in a rare interview “When things are going well, you know, the walk does not get rapid or get anywhere: I finally just stop, and write. That’s a successful walk!” She says that she once found walking herself in the woods with no pen and went later hid pencils in the trees so she would never be stuck in that place again.She often carries a 3-by-5-inch hand-sewn notebook for recording impressions and phrases. Maxine Kumin
Maxine Kumin
Maxine Kumin is an American poet and author. She was appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1981-1982.-Early years:...

 calls Oliver "a patroller of wetlands in the same way that Thoreau was an inspector of snowstorms."

Oliver has also been compared to Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson
Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was an American poet. Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, to a successful family with strong community ties, she lived a mostly introverted and reclusive life...

, with whom she shares an affinity for solitude and interior monologues. Her poetry combines dark introspection with joyous release. Although she has been criticized for writing poetry that assumes a dangerously close relationship of women with nature, she finds the self is only strengthened through an immersion with nature. Oliver is also known for her unadorned language and accessible themes.Academy of American Poets. Oliver Biography. The Harvard Review describes her work as an antidote to "inattention and the baroque conventions of our social and professional lives. She is a poet of wisdom and generosity whose vision allows us to look intimately at a world not of our making."

Critical Reviews


Maxine Kumin
Maxine Kumin
Maxine Kumin is an American poet and author. She was appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1981-1982.-Early years:...

 describes Mary Oliver in the Women's Review of Books as an "indefatigable guide to the natural world, particularly to its lesser-known aspects." Kumin, Maxine. "Intimations of Mortality." Women's Review of Books 10: 7 April 1993, p16. Reviewing Dream Work for The Nation
The Nation
The Nation is the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States. The periodical, devoted to politics and culture, is self-described as "the flagship of the left." Founded on July 6, 1865, It is published by The Nation Company, L.P., at 33 Irving Place, New York City.The Nation...

, critic Alicia Ostriker
Alicia Ostriker
Alicia Suskin Ostriker is an American poet and scholar who writes Jewish feminist poetry.Alicia is married to the noted astronomer Jeremiah Ostriker who taught at Princeton University...

 numbered Oliver among America's finest poets: "visionary as Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet, who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century...

 [… she is] among the few American poets who can describe and transmit ecstasy, while retaining a practical awareness of the world as one of predators and prey." New York Times reviewer Bruce Bennet, stated that the Pulitzer Prize winning collection American Primitive, "insists on the primacy of the physical" while Holly Prado of Los Angeles Times Book Review noted that it "touches a vitality in the familiar that invests it with a fresh intensity."
Vicki Graham suggests Oliver over-simplifies the affiliation of gender and nature: "Oliver’s celebration of dissolution into the natural world troubles some critics: her poems flirt dangerously with romantic assumptions about the close association of women with nature that many theorists claim put the woman writer at risk." Vicki Graham, "‘Into the Body of Another’: Mary Oliver and the Poetics of Becoming Other," Papers on Language and Literature 30:4 (Fall 1994), pp352-353, pp366-368 In her article “The Language of Nature in the Poetry of Mary Oliver,” Diane S. Bond echoes that “few feminists have wholeheartedly appreciated Oliver’s work, and though some critics have read her poems as revolutionary reconstructions of the female subject, others remain skeptical that identification with nature can empower women.” In The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review, Sue Russell notes that “Mary Oliver will never be a balladeer of contemporary lesbian life in the vein of Marilyn Hacker, or an important political thinker like Adrienne Rich; but the fact that she chooses not to write from a similar political or narrative stance makes her all the more valuable to our collective culture.”

Selected awards and honors

  • 1969/70 Shelley Memorial Award
    Shelley Memorial Award
    The Shelley Memorial Award of more than $3,500, given out by the Poetry Society of America, was established by the will of the late Mary P. Sears, and named after the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. The prize is given to a living American poet selected with reference to genius and need. The selection is...

     (1969/70) from the Poetry Society of America.
  • 1980 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship 
  • 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
    Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
    The Pulitzer Prize in Poetry has been presented since 1922 for a distinguished volume of original verse by an American author. However, special citations for poetry were presented in 1918 and 1919.-Winners:...

     (1984) for American Primitive
  • 1992 National Book Award for Poetry
    National Book Award
    The National Book Awards are a set of American literary awards. Started in 1950, the Awards are presented annually to American authors for literature published in the current year. In 1989 the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization which now oversees and manages the National Book...

     for New and Selected Poems
  • 1998 Lannan Literary Award for poetry
  • 1998 Honorary Doctorate from The Art Institute of Boston 
  • 2007 Honorary Doctorate Dartmouth College
    Dartmouth College
    Dartmouth College is a private, Ivy League university in Hanover, New Hampshire, United States. The institution comprises a liberal arts college, Dartmouth Medical School, Thayer School of Engineering, and the Tuck School of Business, as well as 19 graduate programs in the arts and sciences...

     
  • 2008 Honorary Doctorate Tufts University
    Tufts University
    Tufts University is a private research university located in Medford/Somerville, near Boston, Massachusetts. It is organized into ten schools, including two undergraduate programs and eight graduate divisions, on four campuses in Massachusetts and on the eastern border of France...

     

Poetry collections

  • 1963 No Voyage, and Other Poems (Dent (New York, NY), expanded edition, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1965.
  • 1972 The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems Harcourt (New York, NY) ISBN 9780151777501
  • 1978 The Night Traveler Bits Press
  • 1978 Twelve Moons Little, Brown (Boston, MA), ISBN 9780316650007
  • 1979 Sleeping in the Forest Ohio Review Chapbook
  • 1983 American Primitive Little, Brown (Boston, MA) ISBN 9780316650045
  • 1986 Dream Work (Atlantic Monthly Press (Boston, MA) ISBN 9780871130693
  • 1987 Provincetown Appletree Alley, limited edition with woodcuts by Barnard Taylor
  • 1990 House of Light (Beacon Press (Boston, MA) ISBN 9780807068106
  • 1992 New and Selected Poems Beacon Press (Boston, MA), ISBN 9780807068182
  • 1994 White Pine: Poems and Prose Poems Harcourt (San Diego, CA) ISBN 9780156001205
  • 1995 Blue Pastures Harcourt (New York, NY) ISBN 9780156002158
  • 1997 West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA) ISBN 9780395850855
  • 1999 Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA) ISBN 9780395850879
  • 2000 The Leaf and the Cloud Da Capo (Cambridge, MA), (prose poem) ISBN 9780306810732
  • 2002 What Do We Know Da Capo (Cambridge, MA) ISBN 9780306812064
  • 2003 Owls and Other Fantasies: poems and essays Beacon (Boston, MA) ISBN 9780807068687
  • 2004 Why I Wake Early: New Poems Beacon (Boston, MA) ISBN 9780807068793
  • 2004 Blue Iris: Poems and Essays Beacon (Boston, MA) ISBN 9780807068823
  • 2004 Wild geese: selected poems, Bloodaxe, ISBN 9781852246280
  • 2005 New and Selected Poems, volume two Beacon (Boston, MA) ISBN 9780807068861
  • 2005 At Blackwater Pond: Mary Oliver Reads Mary Oliver (audio cd)
  • 2006 Thirst: Poems (Boston, MA) ISBN 9780807068960
  • 2007 Our World with photographs by Molly Malone Cook, Beacon (Boston, MA)
  • 2008 The Truro Bear and Other Adventures: Poems and Essays, Beacon Press, ISBN 9780807068847
  • 2008 Red Bird Beacon (Boston, MA) ISBN 9780807068922
  • 2009 Evidence Beacon (Boston, MA) ISBN 9780807068984
  • 2010 Swan: Poems and Prose Poems (Boston, MA) ISBN 9780807068991

Non-fiction books and other collections



Further reading

  • McNew, Janet "Mary Oliver and the Tradition of Romantic Nature Poetry," Contemporary Literature 30:1 (Spring 1989)
  • Graham, Vicki "Into the Body of Another: Mary Oliver and the Poetics of Becoming Other," Papers on Language and Literature 30:4 (Fall 1994), pp352–353, pp366–368
  • Russell, Sue "Mary Oliver: The Poet and the Persona," The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review
    The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide
    The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide is a bimonthly, nationally distributed journal of history, culture, and politics for GLBT people and their allies who are interested in the gamut of social, scientific, and cultural issues raised by same-sex sexuality...

     4:4 (Fall 1997), pp21– 22

External links