New and Selected Poems | Critical Review by Wallace Kaufman

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of New and Selected Poems.
This section contains 352 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Wallace Kaufman

SOURCE: A review of No Voyage, and Other Poems in Agenda, Vol. 4, Nos. 5 & 6, Autumn, 1966, pp. 58-60.

Kaufman is an American educator and writer. In the following excerpt, he finds Oliver's poems in No Voyage, and Other Poems to be more personal than the work of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

In Mary Oliver's poems No Voyage one is tempted to look for the influence of Edna St. Vincent Millay, especially since Miss Oliver was secretary to the poet's sister and lived at the poet's estate. But as any writer knows influence is not so obvious as "What I like I follow".

The person, the mind, in Miss Oliver's poems seems to be a mind with the Millay sensitivity. But she is not cornered by the economics or social conditions that were the warp of so much of Millay's poetry. Miss Oliver's poems are more personal, yet move at a safer distance from the brink of sentimentality. Perhaps it is easier for a good poet to feel sorry for one's society than for one's self.

In tending to her personal life Miss Oliver usually treats herself as just an ordinary human being, though one who is aware of wanting to be more. As she writes one imagines the poet laughing at her subject as an adult laughs at a child dressing in old grown-up clothes and playing house. It is probably not comfortable to see life this way, so of course the poems are not comfortable—psychologically speaking. There are occasional streaks of feminine quaintness in description but over all No Voyage is a very tough minded, clear sighted woman struggling with a real sense of urgency to see some hope in the here and now. For instance these last lines from "The Photograph":

    Ten years away and wondering what to do,
    I search my spirit for some flush of pain.
    But thought by thought the quiet moments fall.
    My heart, my heart is blank as hills of snow!—
    And all time leads us toward that last december …
    I stare upon your crumbling smile and keep you.
    I do not love you now, but I remember.

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This section contains 352 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Wallace Kaufman