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American Primitive Paperback – April 30, 1983
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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."
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Mary Oliver is a poet for everyone. Wonderful book, thought-inspiring and another of her links into the natural world that surrounds us.Published 10 days ago by Nonesuch
What can you say about Mary Oliver's work?
You will not forget her poems.
You will tell other people to read her. Read more
I can see why this won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. It's a wonderful book. The book was in near perfect condition. Thank you!Published 6 months ago by Brick Horse
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. Read morePublished 8 months ago by localworldtraveler
Oliver won the Pulitzer for this book in 1984 so I was leery whether I’d like it because I prefer her more recent books and Pulitzer-winners tend to try too hard to be significant,... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Mark
I didn't want to give this one star because it seems like the author is being earnest and not pretentious. Read morePublished 12 months ago by D