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A Thousand Mornings

A Thousand Mornings
by Mary Oliver
New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2012
82 pages
Reviewed by Reverend Monica McDowell

Mary Oliver’s new book of poems will be a delight for her fans and an invitation to new readers to delve further into her extensive body of work. This collection provides a bridge of continuity to her past collections through her ongoing celebration of nature. Poems about birds, animals, trees, the ocean, the environment, and her hometown are balanced by poems inspired by a Bob Dylan song, memories, death and rebirth, and spiritual questions of reflection and introspection.

An accomplished poet, Oliver is able to liberate the poem from itself through her careful craft and deft touch. Humor and whimsy are never far from her pen, as seen in the length of the title in contrast to the brevity of the poem itself in “After I Fall Down the Stairs at the Golden Temple” and in her playful rules of poetry in “Three Things to Remember.” Favorites of mine are “Good-Bye Fox,” a dialogue with a fox who observes, “You fuss, we live,” the resplendent “Hurricane,” the devastating yet redemptive “Hum Hum,” and poems about her beloved dog, Percy.

I had the privilege of hearing Oliver read a number of poems from A Thousand Mornings at a recent book festival in Seattle, Washington, USA. Perhaps this biased my enjoyment of the book in hand, as I could hear again, fresh from memory, each poem read in her measured, lilting diction, making each poem thus doubly alive in my mind. At the book festival, Oliver revealed that she has spent five to six hours a day in the woods for years, observing and taking notes, and that she works on a poem forty to sixty times before it is done, illustrating the rich legacy that can be laid simply from deep, worshipful attention. Spiritual directors may find many uses for her poetry, including in rituals and ceremonies and for personal edification.

A Thousand Mornings is a small book of thirty-six poems, a few of them quite short. However, the gems that lie within are well worth the investment. Oliver’s ability to create communion by reconnecting the soul of the reader with the soul of the world in the space of a page is a testimony to her artistic genius. The breadth and depth of her words and the voice of her own soul breathes life into dry bones, touching the common heart of us all.

Reverend Monica McDowell, MDiv, is an ordained minister in Seattle, Washington, USA, practicing as an energy healer, spiritual director, writer, and speaker. The author of My Karma Ran Over My Dogma, You Are Light, and Confessions of a Mystic Soccer Mom, she was the first ordained minister in the USA to be granted civil rights in a federal ruling.

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