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A quick survey of the first lines of the first few poems in Mary Oliver's West Wind makes clear that the poet is an animal lover: "Seven white butterflies/delicate in a hurry," "owl/make your little appearance now," "This morning/the dogs/were romping and stomping," "This morning/two birds/fell down the side of the maple tree," "A band of wild turkeys is coming down the hill" or "The meadowlark, with his yellow breast and a sort of limping flight." These shopworn scenes of the peaceable kingdom inaugurate poems unable to veer off the flower-petal strewn path their openings predicate; their mild-mannered rusticity is disturbed just slightly by ominous undertones of "mossy shadows." We learn that the owl looks down and sees how "everything/trembles/then settles/from mere incidence into/the lush of meaning." Now that's one wise owl.
If only I could believe Oliver's "lush of meaning" is a drunken hunter intent on gunning down the owl, but alas, I know different. Prize winner -- the Pulitzer and National Book Award -- that she is, Oliver is among the ranks of much feted versifiers whose precious, so very "poetic" work appears wholly untouched by a century's worth of cartoons, flame throwers, be-bop drummers and a few dozen revolutions of sensibility. Instead, she offers trite coffee-cup insights: "I don't want to sell my life for money,/I don't even want to come in out of the rain." Or how about: "a black ant traveling/briskly modestly/from day to day from one/golden page to another." Ah, the modest ant. He too, it seems, drinks in the "lush of meaning." As you might need a drink yourself after handling, oh so delicately, Oliver's kitschy knickknacks. -- Salon