Queer Poetry Collections | Short Reviews

I thought I’d already reviewed these poetry collections and then realized that I forgot I saved them up for pride month seeing as I ‘acidentally’ read poetry collections from only queer authors there for a while.

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong

Favourite poems: ‘Notebook Fragments’, ‘Prayer for the Newly Damned,’ ‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’, ‘Trojan’ – nearly all of them in other words

I’d heard a lot of good things about this queer author, but I truly didn’t imagine the vividness he brought. Everything in here contains so many aspects, like when looking at violence. Vuong brings another level of honesty and delicacy to it, while not softening that violence or its consequences either. Vuong is extremely good at looking into and describing the different layers of his story; of being mixed, coming from a refugee camp in the Philippines to America, the Vietnam war and how this all plays out in the dynamics of his family and relationships. I think I’ll reread this after I finish his newer debut novel ‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’, because it so far gives more backstory to where he’s coming from and I like it even more.

Felicity by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver is my all time favourite poet, basically, and I wrote a whole post on it this pride month. ‘Felicity’ is one of her later works (even if it’s from 2005 so … not that recent), which I seem to prefer generally. I truly enjoyed this collection as well; it’s about love, memory, being oneself, belief and loss. It’s still a bit outside of her usual work, as love is so much a general thing to try to write about, and Oliver usually finds her excellent moments that carries the poems in the small things, inspired by nature or humans alike. Meaning it’s not the collection I would recommend someone to start with, but it’s still good and gives a better perspective on Mary Oliver as a person and her relationship to her late partner Molly Cook. In trying to describe something so universal as love, she reveals more of herself than before.

Soft Science by Franny Choi

I was so into the concept (from the synopsis) of: “explores queer, Asian American femininity” and “how to be tender and feeling and still survive a violent world filled with artificial intelligence and automation”. Unfortunately, I just didn’t understand most of the poems because of the fragmented style. The reason I make short reviews of poetry often is that, as someone who’s not a poet, reviewing poetry is strange because it feels more up to personal-taste than any novel. Still, I would shy away from not recommending a collection to someone, in hopes they get something from it.

Fav Queer Author: Mary Oliver | #PrideLibrary20

I’m joining in on some of the #pridelibrary20 prompts, hosted by The Library Looter, Michelle Likes Things and Anniek’s Library throughout June. Here’s a link to a summary of my posts from last year.

I wanted to write a big post claiming all the reasons Mary Oliver is my favourite poet and queer author, but my body is a wreck currently and I finished exams this week and this post is going to be thrown together quickly. I have a full review of one of Oliver’s collections of poems gathered from several periods, which could be a good introduction, but is also a bit confusing without context. Personally my favourite collection and the first I read from her was “A Thousand Mornings” back in 2017. I also truly love her essay collection “Upstream”, which along with beautiful thoughts on using nature gives a bit more insight into her thought-process and background.

In ‘Upstream’ she says: “I could not be a poet without the natural world. Someone else could. But not me. For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.” And also: “You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.” Truly words to live by!

First off, I was a bit into poetry before stumbling upon Mary Oliver, but I’d never read the type of nature focused poetry that she writes. I truly fell instantly in love with it. It’s a type of romanticization that doesn’t shy away from the uncontrollable force that nature is or how it affects humans. It’s spiritual at times, but she’s also a talent at using nature and beautiful phrasing to criticize society. In my head her poetry toes a lot of these balances very-well, it’s constantly questioning intentions and morale. But it’s also very simple at times, and that’s what makes it easy poetry to fall in love with even if it’s your first poetry collection, without losing substance along with that simplicity. There’s something special about life advice from someone you know have been through difficult life events and come out on the other side, especially when she looks like the perfect grandma. She’s truly life goals, and I stand by that as someone who grew up thinking I had few role models, also because the queer component was missing.

Mary Oliver went through many of the queer struggles; she was born in 1935 in suburbs of Ohio, she often went in the woods to escape a dysfunctional family and has talked briefly about experiencing sexual abuse as a child. She used writing to observe her world, but also to create one. And through it she was lucky enough to find other queer friends that would also become her family.

And after falling in love with her poetry I learned that she was an old lady! An older lesbian lady! Who had been living peacefully in nature with her female partner Molly Cook for over forty years, before she passed away. And I started crying when I heard Oliver passed away as well last year, but in the sense of someone having lived their life to completeness, even if it was a tough one.

Mary Oliver may not be very confrontative or ‘loud’ in her poetry, she’s not been extremely radicalizing or political in other means than existing as a queer person. But her story, her views and politics is definitely something you see through her poetry, it’s her medium. And I personally think it’s admirable to never lose a certain softness even as a person deals with massive trauma. But don’t mistake that as there not being a sharpness to Mary Oliver’s poetry as well.

I would suggest looking up Mary Oliver reading some on her poems on youtube and sitting down with a cup of tea or coffee, preferably staring out a window, and listen to her calm reassuring voice. You need good time for it, not in length, but in attention. Even if I also sometimes play them to relax if I can’t sleep.

20th Birthday, Mary Oliver and New Posts: Bi-Weekly Update

New book posts:

Other books I’ve been reading:

  • The waste land and other poems by T. S. Eliot
  • Six easy pieces by Richard Feynman (currently)
  • At blackwater pond by Mary Oliver audiobook (currently)

Added to my TBR:

  • Artificial generation by A. H. Haga
  • City of thieves by David Benioff
  • Solitaire by Alice Oseman – great author
  • The past and other things that should stay buried by Shaun David Hutchinson – great author
  • We are displaced by Malala Yousafzai – so anticipating reading this
  • Wilder girls by Rory Power
  • soft magic by Upile Chisala
  • Wicked saints by Emily A. Duncan
  • Skin deep (Legion #2) by Brandon Sanderson – great author and first book
  • All the lonely people by David Owen – recommended by one of my fav authors Alice Oseman
  • Army of none by Paul Scharre – recommended by Bill Gates

Recent book buys:

Trying to save money ! But I did buy City of thieves by David Benioff, because the kindle version was on sale.

Three things on my mind:

  • RIP Mary Oliver. I cried a few tears when I realized she had passed, after seeing so many of her poems resurfacing on social media at once. She became 83 years old and really was my favourite poet, so talented and a goal in life, living in a small sea-town in Massachusetts with her wife Molly until she died fourteen years ago. I tried to describe her poetry to a few friends a couple days before her death as: criticizing humans through wonderful pictures of nature. I’ve always admired her perspective, but also how she put her thoughts out in the world.
  • I’ve been doing so much better the past three weeks health and mood-wise. I’m amazed at how good I’ve been feeling and the change it makes, like problems is still thrown at me daily, but I have the energy to deal with it. Then I started losing my voice and coughing today, so we’ll see how long that lasts. (I’m going to be mad if it doesn’t last longer, honestly, and I think that’s quite okay of a feeling this time).
  • With this input of energy (sidenote: I’m studying electric currents for physics test in a couple days and I can’t stop sliding in terminology in the most casual conversations, then catching myself doing it and groan. This is a light example, honestly). With this input of energy I’m also doing a lot more things. Lots of studying and actually being close to on top of things. Seeing friends! Enjoying myself! Celebrating my birthday for the first time in three years! I’m pretty proud and greatful for that, seeing as I’ve been too ill to want to the past years. It was my 20th and I chose to do things my introverted ass wouldn’t normally, like drinking the whole day and evening. I have a weirdly high tolerance for someone who doesn’t drink, but inevitably blacked out for the first time. Three hours gone. I mean – wouldn’t necessarily recommend, but it was great with good friends around me and lots of dancing.

Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems Vol. 2 | Review

Genre: poetry

 

My thoughts

Rating out of five:

fire

I like the individual collections I’ve read more (A thousand mornings, Upstream and even volume one of this one), because they are a better mix of varied subjects, so it doesn’t become too much nature all at once (I didn’t know that was even possible before this). These new and selected poems still gives a good direction in which to continue reading Mary Oliver’s poetry, as my favourite poems here seems to have been published around the same time and I will certainly look up those collection.

It’s still brilliant poems, with Mary Oliver’s usual focus on nature, landscape, animals, people, writing and love. I’ve collected my favourite ones in a document and there’s fifteen, which was way more than I expected. Oliver’s words just speak true, the observations are lovely to read and gradually thought-provoking at the same time.

 

THE FACES OF DEER

 

When for too long I don’t go deep enough 

into the woods to see them, they begin to 

enter my dreams. Yes, there they are, in the 

pinewoods of my inner life. I want to live a life 

full of modesty and praise. Each hoof of each 

animal makes the sign of a heart as it touches 

then lifts away from the ground. Unless you 

believe that heaven is very near, how will you 

find it? Their eyes are pools in which one 

would be content, on any summer afternoon, 

to swim away through the door of the world. 

Then, love and its blessing. Then: heaven.

– Mary Oliver

 

WORK, SOMETIMES

I was sad all day, and why not.  There I was, books piled

on both sides of the table, paper stacked up, words

falling off my tongue.

The robins had been a long time singing, and now it

was beginning to rain.

What are we sure of?  Happiness isn’t a town on a map,

or an early arrival, or a job well done, but good work

ongoing.  Which is not likely to be the trifling around

with a poem.

Then it began raining hard, and the flowers in the yard

were full of lively fragrance.

You have had days like this, no doubt.  And wasn’t it

wonderful, finally, to leave the room?  Ah, what a

moment!

As for myself, I swung the door open.  And there was

the wordless, singing world.  And I ran for my life.

— Mary Oliver