OWLS AND OTHER FANTASIES: Poems and Essays

Mary Oliver, Author . Beacon $22 (88p) ISBN 978-0-8070-6868-7

Alternating poems, short essays and drawings of feathers, Oliver's 12th collection is strongest and most direct when using the first person to show the second a path to the good life: "You do not have to be good./ You do not have to walk on your knees/ for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting/ You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves." Many of the poems take up moments of attention to, and are titled for, birds: goldfinches "having a melodious argument"; hummingbirds as "tiny fireworks"; herons "in the black, polished water"; starlings "Chunky and noisy/ but with stars in their black feathers"; and the local crow, of whom she says "I have never seen anything brighter." Oliver won a Pulitzer Prize for American Primitive (1984) and a National Book Award for New and Selected Poems (1992). If this book lacks some of the urgency of earlier work, it has been replaced by a confidence that seems less about writing highly crafted poems than about rendering the moment, whether of observation or imagination, simply and easily, whether in prose or verse. As an essay on a "black-backed gull" Oliver rescued puts it, "no matter how hard I try to tell this story, it's not like it was," but the best of these 28 pieces seem to get close. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 07/21/2003
Release date: 09/01/2003
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