by Emilie Egger
“We meet wonderful people, but lose them
in our busyness.
We’re, as the saying goes, all over the place.
Steadfastness, it seems,
is more about dogs than about us.
One of the reasons we love them so much.”
Award-winning American poet Mary Oliver recently gave a benefit reading for the
Provincetown Art Association which featured selections from her latest collection of poems, Dog Songs.
The reading took place at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields in Greenwich Village on Wednesday, Oct. 9. About 100 people filled the sanctuary to hear the author read from her newest book and attend a brief reception afterward. Oliver read for about 45 minutes from Dog Songs and a few of her older books, adding supplemental stories to each poem she picked.
Although I wondered if the subject matter of dogs would make for a less-complex collection than her previous work, this latest release from Oliver is just as wise and profound as her previous collections. Oliver’s poetry regularly focuses on themes of nature and spirituality and this new book of poetry is no different. Themes found in her other work, such as forgiveness, loss, love, solitude, companionship also weave their way into this collection of poems.
The focus on dogs becomes a new way through which Oliver invites her readers to relate and understand her greater messages. Additionally, the trope of long walks that appears so often in her poems works exceptionally well in a book of poems devoted to canine companions.
Indeed, the focus of the book is celebrating dogs for their companionship, loyalty, and joy.
“Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor as well as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born. What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs?”
But it is also about so much more than pets:
This collection is not an assortment of simple, straightforward stories about dogs. Dog Songs tells the rich tales of life found in Oliver’s other work that happen to be told through her experiences with her many dogs. Oliver’s poetry is known for its accessibility; the focus on pets in this volume provides yet another way for her audience to access the perennial themes of her work–countless readers will be able to relate to the experiences of having a dog and thereby enter her deep realms of understanding.
Oliver’s presence at the reading was striking. She is a Pulitzer Prize (for American Primitive) and National Book Award winner (New and Selected Poems), as well as many other words. She read calmly but firmly to an adoring and grateful audience.
Like the rest of Oliver’s work, this collection is not overtly political, didactic, or religious. But she portrays her love for her pets and the love she receives from them in return as a transformative experience leading to peace, joy, and the desire to live life fully
As Oliver writes in her poem “Percy Wakes Me,” one of her compositions about a dear long-time pet:
“This is a poem about Percy.
This is a poem about more than Percy.
Think about it.”
— “Percy Wakes Me,” Dog Songs