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American Primitive Paperback – April 30, 1983

4.2 out of 5 stars 42 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 (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,389 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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American Primitive’ is a collection of fifty poems. It is classic Mary Oliver – it has mostly poems on nature – on animals, plants, trees, the sky, the sea and other beautiful things.

In a typical Mary Oliver poem – if there is any such thing – there is a heroine who comes out of the forest, or who is taking a stroll, sometimes with her partner or lover and sometimes with her child and sometimes she spots our poet looking at her and then we realize that our heroine is not human, but she is a deer, or a coyote or a bear or a duck or sometimes even a grasshopper or a damsel-fly and in rare cases even a ray of moonlight (“Yet over the bed of each of us moonlight throws down her long hair”). In some poems we don’t know who the heroine is – we just read about what she does.

Some of the poems are epic (epic = more than a page long) – the story starts slowly and then there are sparklers and fireworks and then it fades away gently in the end like the coda of a beautiful, melodious song. One of my favourite poems from the book which was like this was ‘Humpbacks’.

In one poem called ‘John Clapman’ there was an interesting character who made me remember the character called Tom Bombadil from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ – “everywhere he went the apple trees sprang up behind him lovely as young girls.”

All in all, it is a great read. Highly recommend.
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