Dog Songs: Poems (Paperback)

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Dog Songs: Poems (Paperback)


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Staff Reviews

Last week, a friend lost her dear, senior dog. She found some solace in a rare 2015 interview that Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver did with Krista Tippett for “On Being” on NPR. Here’s what Oliver, who died last year at age 83, said in response to Tippett’s question about the poet’s love for dogs:

"Well, Rilke wrote a poem--some friend of mine did a painting of it, just a picture of a dog. And the quote is ‘the soul for which there is no heaven.’ Well, no thank you. I mean, there are going to be trees in paradise, and we’re going to have fun imagining it, whether it exists or not. Dogs are certainly going to be there. Poor little burros and donkeys, after all the work they’ve done in the world? Good heavens, yes."

“Good heavens, yes,” indeed. Anyone who has or has had a dog--and I was well into adulthood before I discovered the joy of their companionship--will find that Oliver’s words resonate, especially about dogs’ steadfast devotion. She writes that, through their unconditional love, dogs let us see ourselves through their eyes and help us believe that we are worthy of love. Here’s one of my favorites on that theme:

The Sweetness of Dogs

What do you say, Percy? I am thinking
of sitting out on the sand to watch
the moon rise. It’s full tonight.
So we go

and the moon rises, so beautiful it
makes me shudder, makes me think about
time and space, makes me take
measure of myself: one iota
pondering heaven. Thus we sit, myself

thinking how grateful I am for the moon’s
perfect beauty and also, oh! how rich
it is to love the world. Percy, meanwhile,
leans against me and gazes up
into my face. As though I were just as wonderful
as the perfect moon.

I thought of my friend as I read Oliver’s short prose piece:

“Dogs die so soon. I have my stories of that grief, no doubt many of you do also. It is almost a failure of will, a failure of love, to let them grow old--or so it feels. We would do anything to keep them with us, and to keep them young. The one gift we cannot give.”

In her characteristically conversational style, Oliver discovers the extraordinary in the everyday. The pieces in Dog Songs are playful and profound. Always, they resound with wonder and appreciation for life’s daily offerings:

“Because of a dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift...What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs?”

Reading Mary Oliver is a pleasure at any time and a balm for difficult times. An excellent way to dip into Oliver’s work from across the years is the recently-published Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver. Here are some lines from Oliver’s poem, “Wild Geese,” which you’ll find in that volume:

…Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

— Clara

“The popularity of [Dog Songs] feels as inevitable and welcome as a wagging tail upon homecoming.” —The Boston Globe
Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs is a celebration of the special bond between human and dog, as understood through the poet’s relationships to the canines that have accompanied her daily walks, warmed her home, and inspired her work. Oliver’s poems begin in the small everyday moments familiar to all dog lovers, but through her extraordinary vision, these observations become higher meditations on the world and our place in it.

Dog Songs includes visits with old friends, like Oliver’s beloved Percy, and introduces still others in poems of love and laughter, heartbreak and grief. Throughout, the many dogs of Oliver’s life merge as fellow travelers and as guides, uniquely able to open our eyes to the lessons of the moment and the joys of nature and connection. 
Born in a small town in Ohio, Mary Oliver published her first book of poetry in 1963 at the age of 28. Over the course of her long career, she has received numerous awards. Her fourth book, American Primitive, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984. She has led workshops and held residencies at various colleges and universities, including Bennington College, where she held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching.
Product Details ISBN: 9780143125839
ISBN-10: 0143125834
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: September 29th, 2015
Pages: 144
Language: English
Dog Songs . . . is a sweet golden retriever of a book that curls up with the reader.” —The New York Times
“Oliver . . . is one of our most adored poets, and a longtime lover of dogs. The popularity of [Dog Songs] feels as inevitable and welcome as a wagging tail upon homecoming.” —The Boston Globe


“Mary Oliver is a canine lover par excellence. Her combo of woman’s best friend and poetry is utterly irresistible.” —   

“Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs is, plainly put, a lovely and accessible book of poems.” —The Rumpus

“Oliver’s capacity for simple ecstasy in response to the natural world remains. The new Dog Songs turns . . . material about canines into something meaningful.” —Time Out

“The set of poems all feature dogs, a species much beloved by the poet; she writes of her canine companions with as much awe and reverence as she does other miraculous beasts and natural phenomena. They read as embodiments of the natural order, comprehending the cycle of life and death in ways no human can.” —Bust Magazine 

Dog Songs collects her most soul-stirring poems and short prose celebrating that special human-canine relationship and what it reveals about the meaning of our own lives—a beautiful manifestation of Oliver’s singular sieve for extracting from the particularities of the poetic subject the philosophical universalities of the human condition to illuminate what it means to live a good life, a full life, a life of purpose and presence.” —Brain Pickings

“The collection invites us to linger awhile in the pure happiness Oliver feels toward dogs, most notably, her beloved dog Percy . . . For Oliver, nature is our teacher and dogs some of the best professors.” —Bookish, The Houston Chronicle

“Renowned for her love of nature, Ms. Oliver writes exquisite, lyrical poems that . . . remind the reader of how much there is to love in this world. Nowhere is this love more evident than in Oliver’s latest collection, Dog Songs . . . These poems will make you smile, laugh, cry and nod your head in delighted agreement.” —The Bark