Dog Songs and Native Guard: Popular female voices in modern poetry

Dog Songs - Mary Oliver Native Guard - Natasha Trethewey

I recently finished two volumes of poetry by popular female poets I have previously not had the pleasure of reading. Mary Oliver has been hovering on the bestseller lists a lot recently with her two most recent volumes, Thousand Mornings and Dog Songs. Natasha Trethewey is the recipient of the Pulitzer, and is our current US Poet Laureate. I thought it high time I read both of these talented women's works. Here are my reviews:


Dog Songs is a pretty simple collection of poems about dogs, and often Mary Oliver's dogs in particular. There aren't a lot of epiphanies or surprising turns found within. These are not a challenge or illumination, so much as a rumination. In fact, I might go so far as to compare it to a meditation, or a slow walk along the beach with a dog in tow. I don't think I'd care for this book much at all if I weren't such a dog lover. Since I am a dog lover I found enjoyment in thinking back on all the dogs that have nested in my own heart. I'm curious to read some of her work on other subjects.


Native Guard is altogether different. It is organized into three sections. The first section focuses on Trethewey's mother. More specifically: her relationship with her mother, and how her mother's death effects her. I really enjoyed these poems, especially for their emotional complexity and honesty. The language was fairly plain, but potent. The second section deals with Civil War history and race. This was harder for me to latch onto, as I found it less vulnerable and more dry. The third section is devoted in large part to the experience of growing up African American in the South. While I couldn't personally relate to these poems, I did find them engaging. The three sections tie together to form a cohesive quilt, which was more effective in some ways than in others for me. I'd like to try another one of her collections and see how her voice fairs without the constraint of the narrow focus.


Overall I'm neither blown away nor put off by these two books. I'd like to see how both authors operate with more room to play, so to speak. I'll try them again.