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Upstream: Selected Essays Hardcover – October 11, 2016
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“There's hardly a page in my copy of Upstream that isn't folded down or underlined and scribbled on, so charged is Oliver's language...I need a moment away from unceasing word drip of debates about the election, about whether Elena Ferrante has the right to privacy, about whether Bob Dylan writes 'Literature.' I need a moment, more than a moment, in the steady and profound company of Mary Oliver and I think you might need one too.”—Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air
“Uniting essays from Oliver’s previous books and elsewhere, this gem of a collection offers a compelling synthesis of the poet’s thoughts on the natural, spiritual and artistic worlds . . . With each page, the book gains accumulative power. The various threads intertwine and become taut.”
- The New York Times
“When reading Mary Oliver in any form — poetry or prose — you oughtn't be surprised when suddenly you find yourself at a full stop. When you come across a sentence so arresting in its beauty — its construction, its word choice, its truths — you can't help but pause, hit "reread," and await the transformative soaking-in, the awakening of mind and soul that's sure to settle deeply. She never fails to stir us from whatever is the natural speck before our gaze to the immeasurable heaven's dome above and beyond.”— Chicago Tribune
“Upstream is a testament to a lifetime of paying attention, and an invitation to readers to do the same.”— Christian Science Monitor
“The richness of these essays—part revelation, part instruction—will prompt readers to dive in again and again.”—The Washington Post
“A tremendously vitalizing read…grounding and elevating at the same time.” —Brain Pickings
“Oliver immerses us in an ever-widening circle, in which a shrub or flower opens onto the cosmos, revealing our meager, masterful place in it. Hold “Upstream” in your hands, and you hold a miracle of ravishing imagery and startling revelation.” — Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Highly recommended as an entrée to Oliver’s works, this volume should also be required reading for artists of all kinds, not just writers, and especially aspiring creative minds.”— Library Journal (starred review)
“Distinguished, honored, prolific, popular, bestselling—adjectives that don’t always hang out together—describe Oliver’s body of work, nearly three dozen volumes of poetry and collections of prose. This group (19 essays, 16 from previous collections) is a distillation of sorts. Born of two “blessings—the natural world, and the world of writing: literature,” it partakes of the spirits of a journal, a commonplace book, and a meditation. The natural world pictured here is richly various, though Oliver seems most drawn to waterways. All manner of aquatic life—shark and mackerel, duck and egret—accompany her days, along with spiders, foxes, even a bear. Her keen observations come as narrative (following a fox) or as manual (building a house) or as poems masquerading as description (“I have seen bluefish arc and sled across the water, an acre of them, leaping and sliding back under the water, then leaping again, toothy, terrible, lashed by hunger”). When the world of writing enters, currently unfashionable 19th-century writers emerge—Percy Shelley, William Wordsworth, William James—in readings that evade academic textual analyses and share the look-at-what-I-saw tone animating Oliver’s observations of the natural world. The message of her book for its readers is a simple and profound one: open your eyes.”—Publishers Weekly
“Part paean to nature and part meditation on the writing life, this elegant and simply written book is a neo-Romantic celebration of life and the pursuit of art that is sure to enchant Oliver's many admirers. A lyrical, tender essay collection.”— Kirkus
About the Author
Born in a small town in Ohio, Mary Oliver published her first book of poetry in 1963 at the age of twenty-eight. Over the course of her long career, she has received numerous awards. Her fourth book, American Primitive, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984. She has led workshops and held residencies at various colleges and universities, including Bennington College, where she held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching. Oliver currently lives in Florida.
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I feel like in reading Upstream, I received maybe just a small taste of what it must be like to be taught by her in person.
I call this book Poetic Essays. My own phrase, and a little presumptuous of me to dare to put a name of my own to her work, forgive me, it's just what the essays felt like to me, Mary Oliver poetry in essay form.
My favorites of course were the essays that took place in nature. The Barn Owl, the Snapping Turtle, the Fox, the Spider and Bird. Tramping through the woods with Mary and seeing everything she saw through her beautiful words was such a special experience.
But then she turned to literature and the writers who had touched her life, Emerson and Wordsworth to name a few and for me those essays were an education and I enjoyed every word.
This book was such a special treat. I laughed and I felt every feeling and of course I cried because Mary's beautiful words just make me so happy. I am feeling so honored and privileged to have had the opportunity to sit at the feet of Mary Oliver, even if she wasn't in the room, and take in every moment of her genius and be a better human being because of it.
I voluntarily read an Advanced Reader Copy of this book.
"The best use of literature bends not toward the narrow and the absolute," she says, "But to the extravagant and the possible. Answers are no part of it; rather, it is the opinions, the rhapsodic persuasions, the engrafted logics, the clues that are to the mind of the reader the possible keys to his own self-quarrels, his own predicament" (69). A poetic description of reading if ever I've read one. She continues in the same paragraph, of Emerson: "The one thing he is adamant about is that we should look [at things for ourselves]--we must look--for that is the liquor of life, that brooding upon issues, that attention to thought even as we weed the garden or milk the cow" (69).
Observations like the one above abound in Oliver's work, and I would put her nature reflections on par with Emerson or Thoreau, though not as earth-shattering (pun intended) as their writings were for their time. As she says in her writing "Let me be who I am, and then some," she certainly offers who she is, and then some. I, as her reader, am thankful for the experience.
Extra note: She once built a small house in her back yard for $3.58 using scrap lumber and found materials. I find this incredibly inspiring.
These lines withered me with their honesty and power. They spoke directly to me; echoed the green fire that I've been letting grow warmly in the nest of my chest. Several times I was left breathless, with tears welling in my eyes.
I hope that this isn't the last of the venerable Mary Oliver's books, but I must say that if it is, she has not and nor will she ever leave my wanting.
Well done, Mary.