To fully appreciate the poetry of Mary Oliver, one needs to understand what drives her to compose verse. Fortunately, she has made this easy to accomplish by putting everything into succinct perspective: “I write poems for a stranger who will be born in some distant country hundreds of years from now.”
Such is the stimulus for the massive outpouring of poetry that has served to make Mary Oliver one of the most successful writers to ever come out of the fruitful part of the country known as the Buckeye state. From her Ohio birth in the midst of the Great Depression through her continued publication of collections deep into the early 21st century, Mary Oliver has proven to be one of the most workmanlike of writers to ever reach the greatest heights of success in letters.
Awards and recognition began to fall upon Oliver like a gentle rain from above, starting with her 1980 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. There followed upon this distinction a Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for her collection American Primitive. Less than ten years later, Oliver bookended that win with the other greatest honor available for an American writer when New and Selected Poems earned a National Book Award for poetry.
Unlike many writers, Oliver seemed to hit her stride late in life. With the exception of 2011, at least one new volume of poetry from Oliver appeared every year between 2002 and 2015. In addition to those seventeen collections, she also managed two volumes of essays during the same period. Clearly, that stranger from another country is going to be kept very busy keeping up with Oliver’s fecund imagination.