Dream Work, a collection of forty-five poems, follows both chronologically and logically Mary Oliver’s American Primitive, which won her the Pulitzer Prize for the finest book of poetry published in 1983 by an American poet. The depth and diversity of perceptual awareness—so steadfast and radiant in American Primitive—continue in Dream Work. She has turned her attention in these poems to the solitary and difficult labors of the spirit—to accepting the truth about one’s personal world, and to valuing the triumphs while transcending the failures of human relationships.
Whether by way of inheritance—as in her poem about the Holocaust—or through a painful glimpse into the present—as in “Acid,” a poem about an injured boy begging in the streets of Indonesia—the events and tendencies of history take on a new importance here. More deeply than in her previous volumes, the sensibility behind these poems has merged with the world. Mary Oliver’s willingness to be joyful continues, deepened by self-awareness, by experience, and by choice.
“One of the astonishing aspects of Oliver’s work is the consistency of tone over this long period [of her career]. What changes is an increased focus on nature and an increased precision with language that has made her one of our very best poets . . . There is no complaint in Ms. Oliver’s poetry, no whining, but neither is there the sense that life is in any way easy . . . These poems sustain us rather than divert us. Although few poets have fewer human beings in their poems than Mary Oliver, it is ironic that few poets also go so far to help us forward.”
—Stephen Dobyns, New York Times Book Review