Those familiar with Oliver’s work will not be caught off guard by her latest, essentially one long piece comprised of seven poems. Each is further broken down into numbered sections in which long and short lines are jumbled together, and stanzaic patterns appear and vanish, seemingly at random. It has the look of “experimental” poetry, but while the arrangement is looser and more expansive than in many of her earlier collections, her subject is the same: the natural world and her (read “our”) spiritual connection to it. Oliver has not yet exhausted the possibilities of nature—her attention to detail is sharp, her descriptions often beautifully apt and touching. At the beginning of the second section, she proclaims, “I am a woman sixty years old and of no special courage.” Such droll moments are rare, but they introduce a welcome humility to work that elsewhere lapses into piety and self-importance, especially in the many catalogues of images. There, the author sounds like a poet more under the spell of Whitman than Frost, who is clearly another influence. This need not be a bad thing, except that it induces sentiments like “I will sing for the iron doors of the prison / and for the broken doors of the poor, / and for the sorrow of the rich, who are mistaken and lonely.” Also bothersome are the frequent references to the poem itself (“Welcome to the silly, comforting poem”). But there is finally little comfort in the pivotal question—“what does it mean, that the world is beautiful”—when we know, as the poet must, that the answer could easily be “nothing.”
Maintains the status quo of Oliver’s previous work, but breaks no new ground.