On Jan. 17, award-winning American poet Mary Oliver dies of complications of cancer. Renowned for her approachable style of writing, Oliver was popular for her accessible and clear poems and won numerous accolades including the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for her collection of poems, “American Primitive.” She was also recognized for her work in “New and Selected Poems” by National Book Foundation, receiving the prestigious National Book Award.
As an era-defining poet, Oliver’s works were defined by the connection between nature and the spiritual world, and focused on aspects that are hidden within life; in other words, she explored the details within nature and observed human life. According to her interview with NPR, most of her writing was inspired from her walks in nature in Ohio as a child. She strived for her poems to exclude the unnecessary and simply observe the natural world. With her simplistic style, Oliver popularized poetry, a genre that was thought to be for the fancy and the elite.
“Not only was she a brilliant poet herself, but she was also able to explain the thinking behind poetry in an easy and accessible way,” said Mary Ghadimi, AP Literature teacher. “I think she is able to take small aspects of the natural world and emphasize how beautiful they are. Her language isn’t difficult, and it makes us realize that there are small moments of beauty in small things to appreciate everywhere.”
Despite her popularity, Mary Oliver distanced herself from the public and dogging critics. Living in Massachusetts for a large part of her life, Oliver found comfort in the flora and the fauna. While many of her critics claimed that her work was simplistic and plain, she never portrayed animosity toward her critics nor concern for their presence even in her rare interviews, according to the Times.
“I think the critics were often times operating and living in these upper academic and artistic societies. They were critiquing her from that perspective,” said Jessica Terbrueggen, English teacher. “I don’t think just because the poem is easier to understand it discredits itself from being powerful, emotive, and interesting. I feel like sometimes critics think that for art to be good it has to be something so obscure and abstract that only a fraction of the population can get it. The fact that Mary Oliver wrote for everyone is what is great about her.”
With her direct and accessible writing, Mary Oliver brought poetry as a whole genre to the bestsellers. Her poems were a beginning to other forms of poems directed toward the general public. Following her wishes to have poetry as a community ritual, her works still bring together a larger community with relatable themes at communal gatherings. She, in fact, brought pleasure in reading poems and a feeling of identity through her creations.
“For a long time, there was this pervading notion that art was for small group of people in general,” Ms. Terbrueggen said. “I think Mary Oliver paved away for other poets like Rupi Kaur to get art to the people.”