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American Primitive [Paperback]

Mary Oliver
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 30 1983
The fifty poems in "American Primitive" make up a body of luminous unity. Mary Oliver's visionary poems enunciate the renewals of nature and the renewals of humanity in love, in oneness with the natural, in union with the things of this world. Lyrical and elegiac, Mary Oliver celebrates the primitiave things of America - the wilderness that survives both within our bodies and outside - in ."..the cords/ of my body stretching/ and singing in the/ heaven of appetite."

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American Primitive + Dream Work + New and Selected Poems, Volume One
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First Sentence
When the blackberries hang swollen in the woods, in the brambles nobody owns, I spend all day among the high branches, reaching my ripped arms, thinking of nothing, cramming the black honey of summer into my mouth; all day my body accepts what it is. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A True Classic of Contemporary Poetry July 9 2004
To read any poem by Mary Oliver is to be in the presence of the exquisite potential of language for marrying beauty and wisdom. Rarely a poet, so inclined not to impose her view nor her beliefs on anyone, can leave such profound impression on how we may come to see the world. And to read -to live, really- each poem of "American Primitive" is to educate your heart.
Someone said, very appropriately so, that Oliver's poems may have the less humans in them than any contemporary poet's body of work, yet in the case of this magnificent book, two of its most stunning choices -"John Chapman" and "The Lost Children"- has Oliver bring the same keen compassion and awe for the tragic and the gracious in being our kind, that she does when speaking of foxes, mushrooms, or crows and owls.
"John Chapman," for instance, contains some of the wisest lines about being one of us, humans, that you will find in American poetry. Chapman was the real John Appleseed who "thought little, / on a rainy night, / of sharing the shelter of a hollow log touching / flesh with any creatures there" and, yet, as a woman in the poems recalls "he spoke / only once of women and his gray eyes / brittled into ice. "Some / are deceivers," he whispered, and she felt / the pain of it, remembered it / into her old age."
I wonder if Oliver chose him because he lived his life during those times when this country was learning to be this country -and perhaps because of it- we were, for the last time, as close as a species to the rest of nature as we ever had.
"The Lost Children" is also about those times too, yet about those of one kind taken by those who were the natives to this land.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Poetry that celebrates the rhythms of life May 31 2002
I was really impressed by "American Primitive," the collection of poems by Mary Oliver. I knew that this book was special when I got to the third poem, "The Kitten." This poem about a stillborn kitten stopped me dead in my tracks. Painful yet beautiful, tragic yet transcendent, it sets a powerful tone for the collection as a whole.
And "American Primitive" does indeed strike me as a unified whole. It consists mostly of poems about American wildlife, with some poems that touch on people in United States history. The poems are often about the cycles of life, including birth, death, and loss. In some poems eating becomes a transcendent act that points to the connectedness of all life.
Oliver writes about mushrooms, blackberries, crows, egrets, deer, snakes, whales, and other living things. She also writes about such natural phenomena as snow and sunlight. Her language is often striking and sensuous. I love the lines from "Spring" where she says "The rain / rubs its shining hands all over me." With her attentiveness to the natural world, Oliver reminded me somewhat of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, but she really has a voice and vision all her own in "American Primitive."
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1.0 out of 5 stars Trash for soft-headed saps Sept. 20 1999
By A Customer
If you're idea of naturalism is wearing Birkenstock sandals, talking about "animal nature in the eyes of wolves" while sipping overpriced twig tea from your local health food store -- well then, this is the book for you. Simplistic metaphors for suburban housewives to nod in appreciation of their own smug self-satisfaction, this collection of muck passing for art is trite and without any enduring significance. Once again low forms of writing have captured the soft, mushy minds of the unthinking and given them the wrapper of meaning without the content. The seriously dysfunctional seem to find some solace in these pages so for that I'll give it a single star... just as long as it keeps them off the streets.
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Three Tenors, Riverdance, Deepak Chopra... Add Mary Oliver to the list of contemporary swill that bloats our self-indulgent and self-important mass culture. The current fad in poetry has been to take care not to make the real, "too real" (and therefore disturbing to most consumers). But to drape it in a gauzy romanticism, making the truths that exist in this world harmless and safe for consumption by an audience who want nothing more than to continue in a sheltered belief of a gentle anthropomorphic world.
The fact that this received a Pulitzer says less about the work and more about the sheer lack of discerning taste on the part of the Pulitzer committee.
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By A Customer
American Primitive won the Pulitzer prize but did not win my heart, my mind, my thoughts. I could not become enthusiastic or excited about the poet's words. They were bland, dull and had no meaning of consequence. None of her poetry struck me as a "mantra", words I would entrust to my soul and would embrace, as part of my living. I was saddened that this was the book that received so much acclaim. Shame, Shame! In contrast to Dream Work, this book is shabby. I am thankful I read Dream Work prior to reading American Primitive. If the sequence had been reversed, I would never have been exposed to the loveliness and sensibility of Dream Work.
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By A Customer
If you don't, you just might find it here. Oliver writes in snatches of brilliant lyrical imagery, yet weaves those bits together without fail into something larger than the reader expects. She is the master at making oblique connections to truths we know subconsciously, and she uses startling, beautiful, and fresh language to do so. When one reads Oliver's poems, it is the equivalent of wandering the streets of a new city amazed by the strange and wonderful sights and smells, only to round a corner and slam into your oldest friend. These poems are ideas your soul already knows, but your mind rarely does. Oliver is the translator between the two.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
Beautiful. A great place to start if a reader has not read Oliver before. Not to be missed.
Published on Feb. 11 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars This Pulitzer Prize winner humbles me.
This book humbles me. I have been writing poetry for many years, and I'm an avid reader of poetry. I am amazed by the level and awareness Mary Oliver brings to the surface of human... Read more
Published on March 31 2000 by R. Frost
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book!
Very powerful use of language,...in a subtle way. The use of image-metaphor to our state of "being" is awesome. Mary Oliver is a brilliant author. Read more
Published on March 28 2000 by kdenzer
5.0 out of 5 stars American Primitive
A wonderful book that moves me everytime I read it. It is a book that explores the natural world and how nature merges with our own internal landscapes. An important book!
Published on March 23 2000 by Michael Spring
5.0 out of 5 stars The elegance of mastery.
Anyone having had a close study of the body of human verse would recognize the mastery in Mary Oliver's poetry. American Primitive deserves all of the recognition it has received. Read more
Published on May 8 1999
1.0 out of 5 stars Hollow, self-satisfied attempt at "Art"
Lacking any sense of cohesion and continuity, these poems jangle the nerves. Oliver vainly attempts to set a tone and, without fail, manages to hit that wrong "note" --... Read more
Published on Nov. 22 1998
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, accesible American poetry.
Mary Oliver's American Primitive is one of the finer books of poetry written in America in the last fifty years. Read more
Published on Sept. 17 1998 by jbridges@haverford.edu
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