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This review is taken from PN Review 180, Volume 34 Number 4, March - April 2008.

PREACHINGS MARY OLIVER, Thirst (Bloodaxe) £8.95
JESSICA FISHER, Frail-Craft (Yale Series of Younger Poets) £10.99 pb

It is hard to believe that Mary Oliver is now seventy-two as she is one of those poets whose verse seems younger than they are. Oliver has always been a nature poet, taking up a spot some place in the middle between the exquisiteness of an Amy Clampitt or a Louise Glück and the poetic Darwinianism of, say, Robinson Jeffers. Oliver is a pantheist, and in her most recent collection a strong sense of religious devotion has explicitly emerged from her descriptions of landscape. Perhaps this is a consequence of aging or loss but, regardless, there is a fervency, and directness - a thirsting, to use her title - in her poems' appeal to God; many of these poems are prayers:

Oh, feed me this day, Holy Spirit, with
the fragrance of the fields and the
freshness of the oceans which you have
made...


Or from the title poem, with its intimations of mortality:

Who
knows what will finally happen or
where I will be sent, yet already I have
given a great many things away, expect-
ing to be told to pack nothing, except the
prayers which, with this thirst, I am
slowly learning.


Overtly religious poems, and Oliver appeals not just to God-in-nature but to the sacrament of the Eucharist, are rare in contemporary America. (Although there is a huge faith-based publishing industry, including verse, that thrives ...


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