Red Bird

Mary Oliver, Red Bird
Publisher: Beacon Press
2008, 78 pages, hardcover, $23

mary oliver's poetry collections often explore nature's elements using accessible language that may strike readers as too unadorned for poetry, but it will be difficult for these readers to ignore Oliver's deliberate consideration of form and tension.

In Red Bird, Oliver continues her longstanding examination of the natural world. The red bird that makes an appearance in the title poem flies full circle and makes an appearance in the last poem, "Red Bird Explains Himself." Oliver's red bird, hummingbirds, sparrows, and crows have a transformative effect that leaves readers aware of and grateful for their ability to communicate with the human spirit. In "Red Bird," Oliver begins to demonstrate this communication by connecting nature and humanity:

I am a God-fearing feeder of birds.
I know He has many children,
not all of them bold in spirit.

In "Summer Story," Oliver's narrator collapses natural boundaries by transcending species, stating "So that I feel I am myself / a small bird." Throughout the poem, the narrator acquires the characteristics of the bird: its thin beak and fast heartbeat, even its hunger and nourishment.

In this collection, readers navigate into the familiar territory of nature with the assistance of Oliver's keen observations. Though, in poems like "Invitation," she asks readers to view nature with fresh eyes: "It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote / You must change your life."

Throughout, Oliver comprehensively delves into the complex issues of politics, consumerism, love and aging. In "Self-Portrait," Oliver addresses the frustration associated with aging: "I wish I was twenty and in love with life / and still full of beans." Yet by the end of the poem Oliver has managed, like her red bird, to fly full circle:

though I'm not twenty
and won't be again but ah! seventy. And still
in love with life. And still
full of beans.

Oliver's "simple" language in Red Bird contradicts the complex content expressed in the collection, creating friction that belies an effortless read. Within Oliver's Red Bird, readers will discover a new awareness of the interconnectedness between the natural world and their role as visitors in it.

-Heather K. Robinson


Executive Editor
Tom Grimes

Managing Editor
Jane Hawley

Co-Managing Editor
Reyes Ramirez

Poetry Editor
Jennifer Whalen

Fiction Editor
Stan Rivkin

Nonfiction Editor
Heather Lefebvre

Eric Blankenburg

Copy Editor
Sessa Kratz

Interviews Editor
Amanda Scott

Public Relations Manager
Samantha Tanner

Book Reviews Editor
Mallory Chesser

Blog Editor
Josh Lopez

Assistant Blog Editor
Alicia Salzmann

Sarah Howze
Dan Barton
Niko Kyriakou
Theresa Holden
Brandon Ricks
Casey Winters
Rachel Gray
Lawton Cook
Lauren Bull
Benjamin Seanor
James Deitz
Timothy Dailey
Maggie Ilersich
Stuart Gill
Katrina Goudey
Dorothy Lawrenson
Ram Hinojosa
Meg Griffitts
Jacob Massey
Paul Adams
Allison Myers
Phillip Mandel
John Edgar
Michaela Hansen
Shelby Newsom
Ashton Kamburoff
Graham Oliver

Faculty Advisor
Steve Wilson

Founding Editors
Michael Hart
Evelyn Lauer
Josh Magnuson
Toby Peterson
Michael Wolfe

Advisory Board
Katie Angermeier
Ben Engel
Evelyn Lauer
Herpreet Singh


logo for the CLMP

All photos were taken at the Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center, by Sameera Kapila and Herpreet Singh.

Website design by Sameera Kapila