Book review: Dog Songs by Mary Oliver

January 10, 2014

Title: Dog Songs
Author: Mary Oliver
Pages: 144

Dog Songs is only the second poetry collection I have read in my life (the other is Bukowski’s Love is a dog from hell). When I read Oliver’s poem The Arrowhead I knew I had found a poet I liked. I began looking for a book of her poetry and finally found Dog Songs.

Although I am fond of dogs I was a bit apprehensive about reading this collection because Oliver is known for her nature poetry and she admitted that the idea for this book came from her agent. As Bukowski says in so you want to be a writer?:

unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.

Well, I shouldn’t have been worried at all, the poems in this book are beautiful. Interspersed with the mostly short poems are illustrations of her various dogs (she has had so many!). My favourite poem is School, part of which goes:

Come, I say, and you go galloping down the sand
to the nearest dead fish
with which you perfume your sweet neck.

Not only am I now a fan of Oliver’s poetry, I am also intrigued by the poet herself – a lesbian woman who lived in a small American seaside town with her partner and their dogs. Her days filled with taking walks through nature and writing achingly beautiful poetry. This NYT review has a wonderful photo of her.

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