Publication Date: October 2007
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Mary Oliver, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, is one of the most celebrated poets in America. Molly Malone Cook, who died in 2005, was Oliver's partner for many years, a pioneer gallery owner and photographer. Our World weaves forty-nine of Cook's photographs and selections from her journals with Oliver's extended writings, both reminiscence and reflection, in prose and in poetry. The result is an intimate revelation of their lives and art.
Within the art world, Molly Malone Cook made her reputation as an early advocate of photography as an art form; she was a champion of the work of now-famous photographers, including Edward Steichen, Eugene Atget, Berenice Abbott, Minor White, Ansel Adams, Harry Callahan, and W. Eugene Smith. There are famous faces here as well, captured by Cook's camera, among them Walker Evans, Robert Motherwell and Henry Geldzahler, the first curator of twentieth-century art at the Metropolitan Museum.
Cook and Oliver also lived among writers, and Cook caught several on film, including Lorraine Hansberry and Norman Mailer. Other artists and dozens of wonderful characters and scenes are also immortalized by Cook's unfailing eye for telling detail and composition. Oliver writes of Cook's work, the people they knew, and the places they visited or lived. The poet's beautiful text captures not only the vivifying qualities of her partner's work, but the texture of their shared world. In Mary Oliver's words, Cook taught the beginner poet "to see, with searching attention and compassion."
Mary Oliver is one of the most celebrated and best-selling poets in America. Her books include Red Bird; Our World; Thirst; Blue Iris; New and Selected Poems, Volume One; and New and Selected Poems, Volume Two. She has also published five books of prose, including Rules for the Dance and, most recently, Long Life. She lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
"The photographs Oliver has chosen reflect Cook’s intuitive relationship with her subjects (even inanimate objects). The little girl on the stoop in New York City looks directly at the photographer, as does a kindly Robert Motherwell and a fierce, almost intimidating Walker Evans. Even though most of the photographs are dominated by a central person or object, there is a lot to look at in the margins, all part of the story. The stance of her subjects—reading a book, looking through a telescope—is always distinctive, creating the mood of the entire composition. The two photos of Oliver could have been taken only by someone who knew the subject well."—Susan Salter Reynolds, L. A. Times, January 6, 2007
"Cook was evidently an accomplished printer as well as a photographer and the images have been beautifully reproduced…In a photo which Cook took of Jean Cocteau dining in Venice in May 1954—one of her several fine portraits of celebrities—we glimpse the photographer silhouetted in an oval mirror on the wall behind the French poet. Her own face is hidden by her upheld camera but we sense that she controls the composition. In this selection of Cook’s work, so admirable in intention, she herself remains something of a shadow in a mirror. But perhaps, given her honesty of eye, we come to know her best by seeing the world as it once appeared through the discretion of her lens."—Eric Ormsby, The New York Sun (December 5, 2007)
"Mary Oliver. In a region that has produced most of the nation's poet laureates, it is risky to single out one fragile 71-year-old bard of Provincetown. But Mary Oliver, who won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1983, is my choice for her joyous, accessible, intimate observations of the natural world. Her Wild Geese has become so popular it now graces posters in dorm rooms across the land. But don't hold that against her. Read almost anything in New and Selected Poems. She teaches us the profound act of paying attention—a living wonder that makes it possible to appreciate all the others."—Renée Loth, Boston Globe