Red bird came all winter / firing up the landscape / as nothing else could. So begins Mary Oliver's twelfth book of poetry, and the image of that fiery bird stays with the reader, appearing in unexpected forms and guises until, in a postscript, he explains himself: "For truly the body needs / a song, a spirit, a soul. And no less, to make this work, / the soul has need of a body, / and I am both of the earth and I am of the inexplicable / beauty of heaven / where I fly so easily, so welcome, yes, / and this is why I have been sent, to teach this to your heart."
This collection of sixty-one new poems, the most ever in a single volume of Oliver's work, includes an entirely new direction in the poet's work: a cycle of eleven linked love poems-a dazzling achievement. As in all of Mary Oliver's work, the pages overflow with her keen observation of the natural world and her gratitude for its gifts, for the many people she has loved in her seventy years, as well as for her disobedient dog, Percy. But here, too, the poet's attention turns with ferocity to the degradation of the Earth and the denigration of the peoples of the world by those who love power. Red Bird is unquestionably Mary Oliver's most wide-ranging volume to date.
About the Author
A private person by nature, Mary Oliver (1935–2019) gave very few interviews over the years. Instead, she preferred to let her work speak for itself. And speak it has, for the past five decades, to countless readers. The New York Times recently acknowledged Mary Oliver as “far and away, this country’s best-selling poet.” Born in a small town in Ohio, Oliver published her first book of poetry in 1963 at the age of 28; No Voyage and Other Poems, originally printed in the UK by Dent Press, was reissued in the United States in 1965 by Houghton Mifflin. Oliver has since published twenty books of poetry and six books of prose. As a young woman, Oliver studied at Ohio State University and Vassar College, but took no degree. She lived for several years at the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay in upper New York state, companion to the poet’s sister Norma Millay. It was there, in the late ’50s, that she met photographer Molly Malone Cook. For more than forty years, Cook and Oliver made their home together, largely in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where they lived until Cook’s death in 2005. Over the course of her long and illustrious career, Oliver has received numerous awards. Her fourth book, American Primitive, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984. She has also received the Shelley Memorial Award; a Guggenheim Fellowship; an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Achievement Award; the Christopher Award and the L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award for House of Light; the National Book Award for New and Selected Poems; a Lannan Foundation Literary Award; and the New England Booksellers Association Award for Literary Excellence. Oliver’s essays have appeared in Best American Essays 1996, 1998, 2001; the Anchor Essay Annual 1998, as well as Orion, Onearth and other periodicals. Oliver was editor of Best American Essays 2009. Oliver’s books on the craft of poetry, A Poetry Handbook and Rules for the Dance, are used widely in writing programs. She is an acclaimed reader and has read in practically every state as well as other countries. She has led workshops at various colleges and universities, and held residencies at Case Western Reserve University, Bucknell University, University of Cincinnati, and Sweet Briar College. From 1995, for five years, she held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching at Bennington College. She has been awarded Honorary Doctorates from The Art Institute of Boston (1998), Dartmouth College (2007) and Tufts University (2008).
Mary Oliver, who won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry, is my choice for her joyous, accessible, intimate observations of the natural world . . . She teaches us the profound act of paying attention—a living wonder that makes it possible to appreciate all the others.—Renée Loth, Boston Globe
"It has always seemed . . . that Mary Oliver might leave us any minute. Even a 1984 Pulitzer Prize couldn't pin her to the ground. She'd change quietly into a heron or a bear and fly or walk off forever. Her poems contain windows, doors, transformations, hints on how to escape the body; there's the 'glamour of death' and the 'life after the earth-life.' This urge to be transformed is yoked to a joy in this moment, this life, this body."—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
"'My work is loving the world,' Oliver tells us . . . She has always done that work . . . in poems of considerable beauty. Now she rises, not above the world, but through it."—Jay Parini, The Guardian