In the last essay in BLUE PASTURES, entitled “The Poet’s Voice,” Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver explores her understanding of the meaning and purpose of poetry. Central to her poetics is the idea that, in the poetry she most admires as well as in her own work, the writer vanishes, allowing the reader to enter the poem, to become the “I” of the poem, and to reenact the experience that gave it birth. Like her poetry, the sixteen essays in BLUE PASTURES demonstrate the magical paradox of poetic voice, which somehow becomes most itself by vanishing. The voice that speaks in these lovely prose pieces will be unmistakable to readers familiar with the eight volumes of Mary Oliver’s poetry.
In “Staying Alive,” the post tells readers that during a difficult childhood she quickly found two blessings: the natural world and the world of writing, which have sustained her ever since. All the essays in BLUE PASTURES center around one or both of these themes. The book opens with a piece called “Of Power and Time,” which is about creativity and its requirements. “Pen and Paper and a Breath of Air” describes and excerpts the notebooks whose random jottings become raw material for her poems. Several other essays are about the poet’s cherished literary companions: Walt Whitman, John Muir, Henry Beston, J. Henri Fabre, Edna St. Vincent Millay.
The remaining essays reflect the natural world in which Oliver lives immersed—the worlds of owls, foxes, ponds, herons, the “blue pastures” of the sea and the flotsam and jetsam of its shores—written, like her poetry, with that breathtaking, clear-eyed, shining accuracy that sees and evokes what is luminous and eternal washed up with orange peels on the beach.
The essays in BLUE PASTURES will greatly enhance any reader’s appreciation and understanding of Mary Oliver’s poetry, as well as demonstrating that she is a poet who can also write superb prose.