Blue Pastures, by Mary Oliver
Discretion can be respected in a writer. Here the writer is rather private about her personal life, something I can certainly respect, and feels free to include a great deal of fragments from her prose writings as well as expressing some hot takes and unpopular opinions (more on that below). That is not to say that I agree with everything she says or that I think her writing is necessarily polished enough that this deserves to have been a published book from a major publisher, but I recognize that publishing decisions are not made based no quality but based on whether there is a market for this sort of thing and when it comes to the writings of poet Mary Oliver there is certainly a market for anything that she says, and so this book fits such a market. I thought that this book would be more memoir-like, but it is more of a feast of scraps variety, and not even a feast of scraps, but more like a goulash in which various doubtful ingredients have been put together in hopes of making a stew that can help one to survive the winter. If you like that sort of thing, this book exists.
This book is a short (just over 100 page) collection of various short material, some of it not even paragraph length, about a wide variety of subjects. The author starts by talking about questions of power and time. After that there is a reminisce about a nature excursion at Herring Cove. The author thinks that she would have been friends with Walt Whitman if they had been around at the same time period. There are discussions about owls and the titular essay on blue pastures. The author discusses having friends and companions with a zest for life as well as more discussion about ponds, which makes sense given her fondness for water. The author discusses aspects of her writing technique as well as more random observations on subjects relating to fish. “Staying Alive” is a collection of writing that is extremely fragmented, and “Steepletop” is an interesting look at the affair between Edna St. Vincent Milay and someone named George Dillon. After that the author talks about sand dabs twice, provides a few more words about various topics, and discusses the poet’s voice and how it differs based on when one started writing. The author even manages to say that she hates things being called cute before the book is done.
It should be noted, though, that not all of the hot takes of the author are in fact bad ones. In fact, there are at least some things about this book that I happen to appreciate. If it was not the sort of book that I was exactly looking for or would have preferred, it is at least the sort of book that I can appreciate and understand on its own merits and that is certainly something worth appreciating. I mean, this is not the sort of book that I would be offended to mildly recommend with some caveats, and the author herself does explore memory in a few important aspects. Perhaps most notably, I can say that I appreciate what she has to say about poetry and the way that understanding and appreciating the older way of writing poetry with rhyme and meter allows someone the freedom to at least adopt such techniques sometime and recognize what they provide to poetry rather than simply writing prose poetry of poor to indifferent quality because one does not realize that taking advantage of the natural rhythm and cadence of a language to increase the beauty of one’s own offerings is a very good thing instead of a bad thing in being too mainstream.