Tag Archives: Mary Oliver



The language of landscape never ceases to fascinate me.

I love to look at the atlas of the Tama County, Iowa where I grew up. Waterways have mostly commonplace names as Wolf Creek, Twelve Mile Creek, Salt Creek, Otter Creek, Deer Creek, Pleasant Creek, Four Mile Creek, Coon Creek, Iowa River, Elk Run, Sugar Creek, Raven Creek and Crystal Creek to name some. It is easy to imagine how such names came to be. Wherever I go, I watch for the names of rivers and creeks.

Otter Creek

In one of my favorite Elizabeth Bishop poems, “The Moose,” she names the Bass River, and Tantramar marshes with which she associates the smell of salt hay.

Tantramar Marshes

In her poem, “Life Story,” Mary Oliver tells us she lived by Little Sister Pond. Often in her writing she identifies the landscape.

As you know the language of landscape goes well-beyond place names. In her poem “Field Guide for Wildlife Clinics”, Janisse Ray reminds readers of the landscape she has roamed with such words and phrases as “Boreal forests”, “Eastern deciduous slopes”, …”The relief of waves lapping a beach.” And at greater length from the poem “Noticing”. “The bay recedes, abandoning more of its red-pebbled beach, leaving rocks blanketed with orange seaweed. Notice how, back along the cliff, white asters with gold disks bloom in pockets of loose mineral, and the strange branched milkweed hangs with frittalaries (She likely means a lily-like flower)

butter-tubs, Yorkshire, England

The place of the title of the poem quoted below is in Yorkshire England where the writer, an Iowa native who became a resident of the northeast and a well-known poet, clearly spent some time. The flyleaf of her Collected Poems of Amy Clampitt reminds us her themes are often place and displacement. “She wrote with lasting and deep feeling about all sorts of landscapes – the prairies of her Iowa childhood, the fog-wrapped coast of Maine, and places she visited in Europe.”

From “At Muker, Upper Swaledale”

As Muker Beck aswirl, hurtling
to enter the River Swale: peat-
dark in spate, hour by hour
engorged with braidings, with
sheeted seethings of rainfall

fallen yet again: the trickle
of the damp’s wrung increment
down limestone’s fluted hollows
(buttertubs is what the locals
call them) that pock the pass

along the road to Askrigg––

Authors whose work is quoted and who write lovingly of the landscape include: Elizabeth Bishop, Mary Oliver, Janisse Ray and Amy Clampitt.

Novelists also use the language of landscape effectively, but since April is Poetry Month, it seems the time to focus on the poets.

I encourage you to read any of these poets as they bring to life the world around us. Some poems from these authors can usually be found on the internet by using your browser. April an appropriate month to investigate these writings. Some of these landmarks may not always be with us. This seems so here in America.

I’m especially enjoying some of Clampitt’s work this month. I hope you’ll seek her out, or any of the others that interest you. Perhaps you have another poet whose writing about landscape you want to bring to our attention. Thank you for doing so.

Note: I originally worked on this post for the writing page of this blog, but I am so revived by reading some of the poetry in preparation, most particularly Amy Clampitt, that I decided to post this on the home page. Though I can’t say I remember ever meeting Ms. Clampitt, two of her brothers and their families were friends of my Dad’s and they often met at regional fairs where they and my father both showed their prize Milking Shorthorn Cattle. While Amy Clampitt probably did not forget she was the child of pioneer Iowa farmers, much of her writing is about other places she called home, and places she visited in her extensive travels.




Janisse Ray

I’m so excited. Janisse will be at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids next week. Most likely I will be able to hear her speak. I can’t wait. I look forward to picking up a copy of her memoir, “Ecology of A Cracker Childhood.”

Yes, I’ve written about this author before. I’m a big fan. I read her poems in “A House of Branches.” Her lyric poetry is beautiful and reading her poems always brightens my day.

I’ll share a line from her poem “Waiting In the Dark” because Jerry would have loved this. “Some nights when news is bad in the world/ we go out and look at the sky, which is dark even before the work day ends/save for pinpoints of stars and sometimes/ an ivory disk sailing across it/over the shoulder of *Wantastiquet.

Much of Ms. Ray’s more recent writing has been non-fiction: “The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food.”, “Drifting into Darian: A Personal and Natural History of the Altamaha River” (in Georgia), and a memoir, “Ecology of a Cracker Childhood”. All of her writing is poetic. Her voice, the ebb and flow of her sentences, all is music to the ear.

If anyone would like to borrow “The Seed Underground” or “Drifting into Darian”, I would be happy to send to you. I want everyone who is interested to know her writing. I first became interested in her writing when I read some of her essays about life and natural history in North Florida.

Perhaps you’ll hear more about her after I attend the conference.

*Wantastiquet= a mountain in New Hampshire or Vermont


Mary Oliver

I find Mary Oliver’s books the easiest poetry to buy and to read. In the last poetry book giveaway, someone won one. I still have three left, but do not yet own her newest volume, which I believe is titled “Felicity”, released last year.

She’s a special poet. She keeps writing. We keep buying.

I purchased her slim volume “A Thousand Mornings” in 2013 at Prairie Lights in Iowa City. And I wrote a notation on the front flyleaf: I want to read more poems. Flipping through the pages, I definitely want/need to read more.

In 2010 I purchased “Evidence.” Mary Oliver lives in Provincetown, MA and many of the poems in this volume seem to tell of the natural gifts she experiences in that area. This summer I hope to travel there and see some of the things Mary Oliver sees.

If I could only pay attention in the profound manner in which she engages! She observes quietly and with great appreciation, so great it allows the reader to see as she does. She writes, “Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous to be understood.”

And the book with the warm red jacket, “The Truro Bear and Other Adventures.” I do not know how these writings came to be collected in this volume, which includes new and classic poems and several essays. I have read little here though I could not wait to purchase it. I’m moving it to the top of the stack and after I have read some of these sustaining works, I will strive to learn how they came to be collected in one place.


Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry writes fiction, poetry and essays. I believe his latest book of poetry is “This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems.” Any and all of his writings offer something of interest.

I have an old volume of his collected Poems 1957 to 1982. Here I often find sustaining comfort. I enjoy reading his early poems as much as later ones.

His Sabbath poems are not about the Sabbath, but written as he looks out a window on quiet Sunday mornings and contemplates the view and what comes to mind. I think I gave my copy of Sabbath Poems to a blog reader in a previous poetry giveaway.

I close out this post with a quote from one of my favorite of his poems from the book “Leavings.” So often he writes of gratitude, how strongly we feel it, sometimes how we forget. “We forget the land we stand on and live from.”

But then, shifting through the pages, I see a poem I love even more. Just a few lines from this untitled poem: “Mowing the hillside pasture–where the flowers of Queen Anne’s lace /float above the grass, the milkweeds/flare and bee balm, cut, spices/the air…..”



“I tremble with gratitude
for my children and their children…”

This opening from a Wendell Berry poem brought to mind the heart full of thankfulness I felt at our recent family reunion. Though we don’t often think of summer as the time to read poetry, I do believe anytime is a time for poetry. It lifts the heart and soul.

So, now in the center of summer, readeatlive.com/blog is giving away five books of poetry. All have been used by this poetry reader and there are occasional notations. Still, they are gifts to be enjoyed. You could be one of the lucky winners.

Enter by commenting on this post. Click on the word “Replies” at the top of the post under the title. Finish this sentence: I would like to win a book of poetry because…..
Or say anything you would like to say. Entries will close at midnight on Friday, June 10 and poetry volumes for the winners will be mailed early the next week.

Among the poets whose work you could win are Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry and Pulitzer winner Louise Gluck, as well as others.

From Mary Oliver – “Take your busy heart to the art museum and the chamber of commerce but take it also to the forest.” That’s what a poem can do for you.

Good luck. Thanks for entering the contest.



Here are five books published this past year, books not written about at length on this blog. I recommend any and all of them. Three are novels, one a collection of short stories, and one a book of poetry.


Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. This is the follow-up to her tremendously successful Wolf Hall. Henry the VIII and Thomas Cromwell live on these pages, more real than in real life. Perhaps politics in another age is more fascinating than it seems in our own time. The women can be as ferocious as the men.
“His children are falling from the sky.”


Canada by Richard Ford. This story took my breath away. A teen-age boy must fend for himself after his family comes undone. I can’t say why but it held my interest more completely than any other book I read this year.
“First I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed.”


Dear Life by Alice Munro. This volume of short stories won the Nobel Prize in Literature. It is now #1 on the Trade Paperback bestseller list. Alice Munro at her best is not-to-be-missed.
“I lived when I was young at the end of a long road, or a road that seemed long to me.”


The Round House by Louise Erdrich. This is probably my favorite book of 2013. There is suspense and urgency to the tale. The story tells of a teen-age boy who tries to help his mother after she is attacked. It addresses a serious subject, justice on a North Dakota Reservation. I am a great admirer of this author’s writing abilities.
“Small trees had attacked my parents’ house at the foundation.”


A Thousand Mornings: Poems by Mary Oliver. This volume includes a more beautiful poem about a mockingbird than can be imagined. Mary Oliver’s poems heighten experience in the natural world. She is able to capture nature so the world shines. The reader enters that light.
“for he is the thief of other sounds”

Every year there are some books that interest me that I don’t find the time to read. Some, I never even hear about. I love it when a book I missed jumps into my path and brings me a great reading experience. I hope one of these will be that book for you.