Across the Page: Poetry Collections


This month’s Across the Page features four noteworthy poetry
collections, including: Mary Oliver’s new release, Evidence; Audre Lorde’s The Black Unicorn; Marilyn Hacker’s Desesperanto, and British poet laureate
Carol Ann Duffy’s Rapture.

Evidence by Mary Oliver (Beacon)

Mary Oliver’s new collection of poetry, Evidence, includes forty-six poems that show why this prolific
writer is so beloved and respected.

Evidence is
Oliver’s nineteenth book of poetry and though the poems pick up on her familiar
themes of nature, spirituality, love and humanity, she continues to offer a
fresh perspective and to encourage readers to “behold/ the reliability and the
finery and the teachings/ of this gritty earth gift.”

Oliver may be an optimist, but she is not a blind optimist.

She recognizes the beauty in
the world alongside humanity’s inability to maintain or care for it. She understands the heart’s music (“My heart,
that used to pump along so pleasantly”), but also knows that there are times
when a “wild man” can take over the orchestra and wreak havoc.

Evidence begins
with an epigraph by Kierkegaard, “We create ourselves by our choices,” and,
indeed, many of the poems in the collection focus on the choice of perception —
how we chose to see and absorb, love and disregard, the world and those around

In the poem, “Li Po and the Moon,” Oliver examines this
struggle on several different levels:

There is the story of the old Chinese poet:
at night in his boat he went drinking and dreaming
and singing

then drowned as he reached for the moon’s reflection.
Well, probably each of us, at some time, has been

Not the moon, though.

Many of the poems in Evidence
also focus on the moments or transitions in life where our perspective
begins to change. In “Halleluiah,”
Oliver explains that “Everyone should be born into this world happy/ and loving
everything./ But in truth it rarely works that way.” She admits that she has
spent her life “clamoring” for happiness, and then the poem poses several
questions to the reader:

And have you too been trudging like that, sometimes
forgetting how wondrous the world is
and how miraculously kind some people can be?

Oliver is known for her depictions of animals and her
ability to use them to reflect larger question of spirituality. In “Almost a Conversation,” she imagines
talking to an otter and examines their slow process of learning how to trust
and understand each other through body language:

He has no words, still what he tells about his life
is clear.
He does not own a computer.
He imagines the river will last forever.
He does not envy the dry house I live in.
He does not wonder who or what it is that I worship.
He wonders, morning after morning, that the river
is so cold and fresh and alive, and still
I don’t jump in.

Evidence is a
beautiful book filled with poems that force the reader to slow down, reflect,
and, yes, even see the world through a more generous and appreciative lens.

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