Mary Oliver, who passed away this January, remains one of this country’s most popular poets. She won both the National Book Award for Poetry and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. On a more personal level, I feel a connection to her work because she was born in northeast Ohio, near where I live.
Oliver frequently uses themes of nature in her work, so it is not really a surprise that she has an entire book of poems about dogs. Published in 2013, Dog Songs contains many poems about canines in general as well as some specific dogs in Oliver’s life. There are also beautiful sketches of dogs throughout the book.
Her simple, unadorned structures and word choice fit the topic very well. You can easily see her familiarity with and love for dogs coming through. From the very first poem I could see how she uses the motif of dogs to discuss issues of identity, love, living well, and even what it means to be human.
One of the poems that spoke to me immediately was “Her Grave,” as I am also dealing with a recent loss of a pet. The lines that really struck me:
She roved ahead of me through the fields, yet would come back,
or wait for me, or be somewhere.
Now she is buried under the pines.
Specifically, it’s that “be somewhere” that got me. It seems to me that the essence of grief is distilled into those two little words. Jolee, my cat, used to be somewhere. He existed. And now he is not, does not. As simple as that.
I may have cried a bit while reading some of these poems. But that’s good. I think poetry is one of the most powerful tools for processing emotions, both reading and writing it. I’m happy that reading this book made me get up out of bed in the night and find pen and paper to write a poem myself before it slipped out of my head. (You’ll be reading that one a little later this month.)
If you are not familiar with Oliver’s work, now is a great time to check it out since April is National Poetry Month. Let me know which poem of hers is your favorite!