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Dream Work Paperback – May, 1986
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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
Dream Work, a collection of forty-five poems, follows both chronologically and logically Mary Oliver's American Primitive, which won the Pulitzer Prize for the finest book of poetry published in 1983 by an American poet. The depth and diversity of perceptual awareness--so steadfast and radiant in American Primitive--continue in Dream Work. Additionally, she has turned her attention in these poems to the solitary and difficult labors of the spirit--to accepting the truth about one's personal world, and to valuing the triumphs while transcending the failures of human relationships.
Whether by way of inheritance--as in her poems about the Holocaust--or through a painful glimpse into the present--as in "Acid," a poem about an injured boy begging in the streets of Indonesia--the events and tendencies of history take on a new importance also. More deeply than in her previous volumes, the sensibility behind these poems has merged with the world. Mary Oliver's willingness to be joyful continues, deepened by self-awareness, by experience, and by choice.
"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
Mary Oliver was born in 1935 in Cleveland, Ohio. Among the awards and prizes she has received are the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Shelley Memorial Award, a Guggenheim, and an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Achievement Award. Her collection of poetry American Primitive received the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and New and Selected Poems received a National Book Award in 1992. Ms. Oliver has served on the faculties of Case Western Reserve, Bucknell, the University of Cincinnati, Sweet Briar College, and Duke University. She currently lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts and teaches literature at Bennington College.
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.