Buddha in a Birdcage and Other Poems by Betty Oliver

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 64 pgs.
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Buddha in a Birdcage and Other Poems by Betty Oliver is a collection of poems and photos of her mixed media art, which was published posthumously by the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts where she once taught.  The executor of her estate Billy Bernstein indicated that she performed her poems, sometimes “fighting her way out of a giant paper bag.”  In the Foreword, Stuart Kestenbaum says, “Reading these poems you may not be able to see Betty fighting her way out to begin to speak, but you will feel the power — and the need to speak — that she brought to this work.” (pg. 1) In many cases, this is true. You can imagine her up on a stage struggling through a paper bag, trying to get those words out. Some of these poems have lines that repeat, and it is almost like there is so much passion behind them that the voice of the poem stutters.

Untitled (pg. 11)

The bear’s purple gutted chest
gave off steam suggesting life
he looked stunned not dead
the men still high from his blood
pranced and preened by the pick up truck
I went closer to look
the heat from his cooling heart
met my gaze.

Her artwork often involves the use of paper in unusual ways, and like her art, these poems are unusual. Her verse is at times playful, but also stern in its criticism of how the world operates or is expected to operate. She’s interested in providing readers with a new perspective on the ordinary, and she holds nature as sacred and tangible. Living on a dairy farm, she had a very close knowledge of milking cows, and what jobs men were expected to do every day. In “Fenceposts,” she talks about how men use posthole diggers and women do not, and how in her family, she has held onto her father’s posthole digger as her mother held onto her father’s twenty-two pistol.

From her time on a dairy farm to her moments in New York City, Oliver’s poems are moments in time that recall things from her past and remind her about the ephemeral nature life, especially when she falls ill. Buddha in a Birdcage and Other Poems by Betty Oliver offers readers just a little of Oliver’s work, and what’s here can seem unfinished at times, but overall, her work is about our moments in time and the thought we do or don’t give them as we live them.

Rating: Tercet

About the Poet:

Betty was truly a multi-media artist. Her visual art was focused on sculpture incorporating paper, paper pulp, and found objects. Though born, raised and perhaps haunted by her childhood in Eastern Virginia, she eventually elected to make New York her home, establishing a home and studio in upper Manhattan and channeling the vibrant texture and rhythms of the city and her neighborhood into her life and work. In a sense, the city became her pallet. She incorporated all manner of discarded and found objects into her art. Old phone books, calendars, Chinatown boxes, newspapers and jigsaw puzzles all were processed into her creative output of sculpture, paintings and photos.

Around 1990 she began to write and perform poetry, and created a powerful body of written work. As a poet, Betty was an engaging and compelling performer, often beginning readings by fighting her way out of a giant paper bag. As in her visual work, her writing echoes the many voices of her experience. A scream from the sidewalk on 110th Street, an impassioned plea to a lover, a strident declaration from the pulpit all resonate with truth, soul, and authenticity.

Betty was a very effective and sought after teacher and led many classes and workshops primarily at Penland School of Craft in the mountains of North Carolina, and Haystack Mountain School of Craft on the Maine coast. The book will be marketed by these schools and any profits will be given to the scholarship funds of these two schools.







Mailbox Monday #288

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

1.  Whiny Whiny Rhino by Carmin Iadonisi & Amanda Iadonisi-Word (McBoop) for review with IRead Book Tours.

Can Tiny Tiny Rhino have a fun day?
Or will all of his whining get in the way?

If you’ve ever been worried to try something new,
then Whiny Whiny Rhino is the book for you!

The story’s message is like the Mark Twain quote, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” We all get apprehensive when encountering new experiences and this often leads us to avoid ever trying anything new. Just having a little courage to try new things can often lead to a much more exciting and enriching life.

2.  The Soldier’s Wife by Margaret Leroy from the library sale.

As World War II draws closer and closer to Guernsey, Vivienne de la Mare knows that there will be sacrifices to be made. Not just for herself, but for her two young daughters and for her mother-in-law, for whom she cares while her husband is away fighting. What she does not expect is that she will fall in love with one of the enigmatic German soldiers who take up residence in the house next door to her home. As their relationship intensifies, so do the pressures on Vivienne. Food and resources grow scant, and the restrictions placed upon the residents of the island grow with each passing week. Though Vivienne knows the perils of her love affair with Gunther, she believes that she can keep their relationship and her family safe. But when she becomes aware of the full brutality of the Occupation, she must decide if she is willing to risk her personal happiness for the life of a stranger.

3.  Buddha in a Birdcage and Other Poems by Betty Oliver from the library sale.

Twenty-eight poems by the late Betty Oliver and a selection of images of her artwork. From the introduction: “The poems in this collection explore her childhood in Virginia and her life in New York. From dairy farming and childhood trauma to the Dalai Lama and the Buddha to her own illness, she looks at the human spirit and the natural world in a way that is both irreverent and profoundly sacred at the same time.”

4. The Very Little Leprechaun Tale by Yvonne Carroll, illustrated by Jacqueline East from the library sale.

The wee little man who lives in this book makes the perfect gift for lads and lasses of any age. This beautifully illustrated board book tells the whimsical story of how a little leprechaun protects the secret of his pot oi gold. Saving the best for last, literally, the book houses a plush leprechaun toy that may be removed after turning the final page.

5. Cops and Robots by Zina Saunders from the library sale.

Bad Bots Pablo and Tasha plan to reprogram all the robots in the galaxy from good to bad. Will the space police — Officer Uniqua and Sergeant Tyrone — be able to stop them? Peek under the flaps to see what happens in this cosmic adventure!




6. Just Keep Swimming by Melissa Lagonegro, illustrated by Atelier Philippe Harchy from the library sale.

Nemo joins the school swim team, but he is a little worried that his bad little fin will slow him down. When Dory encourages him to just keep swimming, Nemo learns that he can do anything he puts his mind and fin to. Can Nemo win the first-place prize in his swim meet? Find out in this Step 1, featuring characters from the hit film, Finding Nemo.


7. Happy Birthday Princess! by Jennifer Weinberg, illustrated by Elisa Marrucchi from the library sale.

It’s a royal celebration for Rapunzel, Tiana, Ariel, Belle, Cinderella, Snow White, Jasmine, and Aurora as they celebrate their birthdays! Featuring all eight Disney princesses, this Step 1 reader will make the perfect birthday gift for girls ages 4 to 6.


8. Silly Milly by Wendy Cheyette Lewison, illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott from the library sale.

A Level 1 easy reader with a great title, great game, and great illustrator!

This delightful, rhyming easy reader is one big riddle. Miss Milly likes green but not red, butter but not bread, seeds but not flowers, and umbrellas but not showers.

Readers are invited to guess why Miss Milly likes what she does. The answer? She likes double letters!


9. Turkey Day by Grace Maccarone, illustrated by John Manders from the library sale.

A family of turkeys gathers from near and far to celebrate their special day! An easy-to-read rhyming story from bestselling author Grace Maccarone with humorous illustrations by John Manders.




10. Scaredy Mouse by Alan Macdonald, illustrated by Tim Warnes from the library sale.

Squeak is very afraid of the ginger cat, but the lure of chocolate cake brings him out of his hole.




11. Little Mouse and the Big Red Apple by A.H. Benjamin, illustrated by Gwyneth Williamson from the library sale.

Little Mouse finds a big red apple, but he doesn’t want to share it with his friends. This is a colorful story of friendship and sharing.


12. Mickey Mouse Barn Dance from the library sale.

This vintage storybook contains a wonderful rhyming tale, illustrated with original 1930s artwork. Mickey and Minnie are throwing a barn dance for all their friends. Old and New Disney fans alike will be ‘all ears’ for this delightful, vintage tale.



What did you receive?