BLUE PASTURES

In 15 short prose pieces Pulitzer prizewinning poet Oliver entertains her ``sustaining passions'': love for the natural world and for literature. Only her musings on the latter subject sustains much passion in the reader. Oliver is an inveterate wanderer and noticer, and her observations of the ``wild world'' near her Provincetown home burst with the lush detail of an obsessive notebook-keeper. Whether she's stalking the woods in search of screech owls, cataloging the spoils of a day's beachcombing, or pondering the biodiversity of local ponds, the details add up to little more than pretty writing. The same can be said of notebook excerpts featuring odd lines of poetry, quotes from her reading, and snippets of observation; a cloying preciousness mars these overly long selections, which offer little insight into the poet's intellect but seem, instead, inaccessibly private. This sense contradicts Oliver's requirements for poetry: that it be about the reader, not the writer. Her essays on literaturewhich range from meditations on the creative life and the writing process to considerations of her favorite writers, Wordsworth, Keats, Poe, and especially Whitmanare more successful. Oliver stakes her aesthetic claim early and unequivocally in the book's opening essay, contending that ``the extraordinary is what art is about.'' She bemoans the loss of otherworldliness in modern confessional poetry, which profits from relaxed diction and personal, everyday subject matter (which, she perceptively notes, opened poetry to women and other previously underrepresented groups) at the expense of what she calls the metaphysics of the poem, ``the magical, the heroic, the imaginary existence.'' She questions the polarization separating metered poetry and free verse. Her sound advice to poets is synthesis: Learn the rules of meter before breaking them. Oliver devotees may enjoy the poet's delineation of her creative process. Newcomers would be better served by reading her poetry instead.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-15-100190-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1995

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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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