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Dream Work Paperback – May, 1986
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From Library Journal
In the making of her poems, Oliver wields the most delicate of instruments: precision similes and astonishing metaphors. Though Dream Work , her seventh book, is somewhat less sucessful than Twelve Moons or American Primitive , which won the 1984 Pulitzer Prize, few lyric voices can match hers in paying homage to the natural world. Yet, her "dream works" can be palpably tragic. Inured to the absence of her estranged father ("Rage" and "A Visitor"), Oliver "saw what love might have done had we loved in time." And "Members of the Tribe" is a remarkable address to artists and poets on death and art. There are still too many echoes of James Wright in her workreferences to body, blessing, blossom, and bone. But that is a minor demur against one who is developing into a major poet. J.P. Lewis, Integrative Studies Dept., Otterbein Coll., Westerville, Ohio
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Her poems are wonderingly perceptive and strongly written, but beyond that they are a spirited, expressive meditation on the impossibilities of what we call lives, and on the gratifications of change.” Hayden Carruth
Oliver’s poems are thoroughly convincingas genuine, moving, and implausible as the first caressing breeze of spring.” The New York Times Book Review
One of the astonishing aspects of [Oliver’s] work is the consistency of tone over this long period. What changes is an increased focus on nature and an increased precision with language that has made her one of our very best poets. . . . These poems sustain us rather than divert us. Although few poets have fewer human beings in their poems than Mary Oliver, it is ironic that few poets also go so far to help us forward.” Stephen Dobyns, The New York Times Book Review
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Other poems explore darker themes, and use nature to cope with the transience of life (and the struggle to figure out what to do with it in the meantime). In the beginning of Part II, “One or Two Things” captures a life’s worth of anxiety about the passage of time, opening with “Don’t bother me. / I’ve just / been born.” and ending with the tranquil and perhaps a bit eerie stanza: “For years and years I struggled / just to love my life. And then / the butterfly / rose weightless, in the wind. / “Don’t love your life / too much,” it said, / and vanished / into the world.”
The central tension of the collection might best be captured in the first poem of the book. “Dogfish” introduces the speaker’s main struggle stating, “I wanted / the past to go away, I wanted / to leave it, like another country; I wanted / my life to close, and open / like a hinge, like a wing….I wanted / to hurry into the work of my life; I wanted to know, / whoever I was, I was / alive for a little while.” What carries through all of the pieces in Dream Works is an answering vision of self-exploration and meaning making through interaction with nature profoundly but simply rendered.