If a lynx, that plush fellow,
climbed down a
tree and left behind
his face, his thick neck,
and, most of all, the lamps of his eyes,
there you would have it--
-- Mary Oliver -- "Owl in the Black Oaks", White Pine
Very sharp. Even though Oliver is so economical in her description, I get a strong picture from the passage, a picture of the transformation from lithe, angled lynx to staid, round owl. I think it's the discord in "lamps of his eyes" that nails it: a phrase that clearly looks forward to the owl even though it hasn't yet been announced. If I were writing such lines, I think I would have had a few words about the contrasting characters of the two animals. That would probably be a mistake, but it takes Oliver's tautness to make this clear to me. Always nice to receive a poetic lesson in the morning.
My friend Susan lent me Mary Oliver's White Pine, a collection of poems in traditional and prose format, on the theme of nature in New England (well trodden topic, that). It has been a pleasant read. Oliver is certainly a poet. She manages the necessary combination of aptness and efficiency with language. In developing both qualities, she clearly has learned from Emily Dickinson. It's great to find a contemporary in the American landscape with some poetical aptitude. I've found a few others of some merit by accident, such as Dana Gioia, X.J. Kennedy and Alice Fulton. But in general, reading through contemporary American verse is nothing short of torture. No wonder the public has shrugged off the art. I'm grateful for having been led to Oliver.