Photo courtesy of Penguin Press
Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets, and I am an enthusiastic dog person. So, not surprisingly, I liked her new collection, Dog Songs, immensely.
Oliver is very much a poet of the natural world, and many of the Dog Songs poems celebrate that world as viewed or experienced by a dog. Oliver delights in her dogs’ infinite capacity for joy and love and envies their closer relationship to nature.
Luke, a poem about a dog who loves flowers, ends this way:
“We long to be-
in the heaven of earth-
that wild, that loving.”
Oliver touches upon the theme of wildness and freedom often, and the desire humans have to live as unrestricted as dogs. She once said, “of all the sights I love in this world…very near the top of the list is this one: dogs without leashes.”
The best poems in Dog Songs are the ones in which Oliver describes, simply and elegantly, dogs being dogs. With sparse descriptions, Oliver reflects on the truths of life and the world that we are all connected to. The poem “Percy, Waiting For Ricky” sums up the joyous, spontaneous essence of dogs:
“How would it be to be Percy, I wonder, not thinking, not weighing anything, just running forward.”
The one unimpressive component of the collection is the poems in which Oliver’s writes as if her dog is speaking to her. Perhaps it’s because what I prize so much in dogs is their ability to communicate without using words.
Writing on dogs can be cloyingly sweet and cutesy. Oliver’s dog poems, however, notice the uninhibitedness of dogs, celebrating the effortless connection that the animals have with the natural world. Oliver pleasantly explains in Dog Songs that dogs generously disclose this connection to us when we love them and share worlds with each other.
CJ Trent is the Math Department secretary and lives with Keegan, the best dog in the world.