UPSTREAM by Mary Oliver


Selected Essays
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The Pulitzer Prize–winning poet lovingly reflects on her relationship to nature and the written word.

As a child, Ohio native Oliver (Felicity: Poems, 2015, etc.) found her greatest solace in “two…blessings—the natural world and the world of writing.” In this collection, she provides readers glimpses into the solitary but rich world she has inhabited as a poet. The first of five untitled sections deals loosely with Oliver’s childhood, when she discovered the pleasures of the natural world and poet Walt Whitman, “the brother I did not have.” Oliver also discusses “the inner vision” that has guided and driven her as she has moved “upstream” against conventional life currents. In the second section, the poet offers observations on the forests, beaches, and watery places she loves. For her, all living things are interconnected: “not at this moment but soon enough, we are lambs and we are leaves, and we are stars, and the shining, mysterious pond water itself.” The third section contains Oliver’s musings on three writers—Emerson, Poe, and Wordsworth—who taught her about the writing craft and about living life with intelligence and sensitivity. Her fascination with animals defines the fourth section of the book. Like the bear that “rub[ed] up against the Provincetown Town Hall,” they are as much her companions as they are “ambassador[s] of a world that returns now only in poets’ dreams.” And while she must live in places meant for humans, it is the “temple” of nature to which she endlessly returns. In the final section, Oliver briefly considers Provincetown, which was her home of 50 years. Overfishing and climate change have transformed it into “a town of pleasure,” yet one that has for her always been “heaven.” 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.

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-59420-670-2
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Penguin Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2016


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