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American Primitive Paperback – April 30, 1983

4.2 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Mary Oliver is one of the most celebrated and best-selling poets in America. Her books include Red Bird; Our World; Thirst; Blue Iris; New and Selected Poems, Volume One; and New and Selected Poems, Volume Two. She has also published five books of prose, including Rules for the Dance and, most recently, Long Life. She lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 88 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; 1st edition (April 30, 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316650048
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316650045
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,085 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael J. Mazza HALL OF FAME on May 31, 2002
Format: Paperback
I was really impressed by "American Primitive," the collection of poems by Mary Oliver. I knew that this book was special when I got to the third poem, "The Kitten." This poem about a stillborn kitten stopped me dead in my tracks. Painful yet beautiful, tragic yet transcendent, it sets a powerful tone for the collection as a whole.
And "American Primitive" does indeed strike me as a unified whole. It consists mostly of poems about American wildlife, with some poems that touch on people in United States history. The poems are often about the cycles of life, including birth, death, and loss. In some poems eating becomes a transcendent act that points to the connectedness of all life.
Oliver writes about mushrooms, blackberries, crows, egrets, deer, snakes, whales, and other living things. She also writes about such natural phenomena as snow and sunlight. Her language is often striking and sensuous. I love the lines from "Spring" where she says "The rain / rubs its shining hands all over me." With her attentiveness to the natural world, Oliver reminded me somewhat of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, but she really has a voice and vision all her own in "American Primitive."
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Format: Paperback
To read any poem by Mary Oliver is to be in the presence of the exquisite potential of language for marrying beauty and wisdom. Rarely a poet, so inclined not to impose her view nor her beliefs on anyone, can leave such profound impression on how we may come to see the world. And to read -to live, really- each poem of "American Primitive" is to educate your heart.
Someone said, very appropriately so, that Oliver's poems may have the less humans in them than any contemporary poet's body of work, yet in the case of this magnificent book, two of its most stunning choices -"John Chapman" and "The Lost Children"- has Oliver bring the same keen compassion and awe for the tragic and the gracious in being our kind, that she does when speaking of foxes, mushrooms, or crows and owls.
"John Chapman," for instance, contains some of the wisest lines about being one of us, humans, that you will find in American poetry. Chapman was the real John Appleseed who "thought little, / on a rainy night, / of sharing the shelter of a hollow log touching / flesh with any creatures there" and, yet, as a woman in the poems recalls "he spoke / only once of women and his gray eyes / brittled into ice. "Some / are deceivers," he whispered, and she felt / the pain of it, remembered it / into her old age."
I wonder if Oliver chose him because he lived his life during those times when this country was learning to be this country -and perhaps because of it- we were, for the last time, as close as a species to the rest of nature as we ever had.
"The Lost Children" is also about those times too, yet about those of one kind taken by those who were the natives to this land.
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Format: Paperback
If you don't, you just might find it here. Oliver writes in snatches of brilliant lyrical imagery, yet weaves those bits together without fail into something larger than the reader expects. She is the master at making oblique connections to truths we know subconsciously, and she uses startling, beautiful, and fresh language to do so. When one reads Oliver's poems, it is the equivalent of wandering the streets of a new city amazed by the strange and wonderful sights and smells, only to round a corner and slam into your oldest friend. These poems are ideas your soul already knows, but your mind rarely does. Oliver is the translator between the two.
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By PG on October 28, 2011
Format: Paperback
I don't know how Mary Oliver can write fifty poems about transcendence and nature and not once sound repetitive. Her voice is stunning. Startling, lucid, reverential... just gorgeous.
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I have never felt the aliveness of the world around me, especially the natural world, in any other writing than perhaps, John Muir's writings. Oliver has grace and beauty to share, and an abundance of love and respect for the world of nature. Her poems really are like prayers, or like making love.
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By A Customer on May 8, 1999
Format: Paperback
Anyone having had a close study of the body of human verse would recognize the mastery in Mary Oliver's poetry. American Primitive deserves all of the recognition it has received. It ties the elegance of transcendence to the reality of the contemporary world. It is a celebration of the human being and the human being's life-long companion, nature. Oliver's use of the English languge is polished, well-crafted, and wild. Mary Oliver's work takes its place along side of Kunitz, Milosz, and other contemporary masters. I was licking the pages. And, by the way, "P. Larkin," you're not fooling anyone.
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Reading aloud or in one's head, this "Primitive" primer produces such quiet within. Absolutely beautiful, minimal words with expansive, Robert Lax-like mind-consequences. Bought a second one as a gift and the recipient had the same response without my telling her what my response to Mary Oliver's "Primitive" was. Such a quiet-producing read, per page.
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By A Customer on May 5, 1997
Format: Paperback
"American Primitive" is among the finest books of poetry written by an American author in the last 25 years. The winner of the Pulitzer Prize, it is a precise and lucid notation of the natural world. Oliver does not shun away from the severe brutality of every day yet does not paint the beauty of nature's cycle with any diminishment. It has undoubtedly influenced my own writing and is a book I return to to find some sort of truth in accounting for the way things are
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