Upstream: Selected Essays

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Upstream: Selected Essays

Upstream: Selected Essays

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And I came here essays not poems. I expected meaning beyond an occasional inspired thought and beautiful prose. I read them as I would an essay and not a poem, expecting her to engage in some kind of thoughtful, organized communication about various meanings or arguments on her subject. Instead I was given a rambling collection of thoughts without any real sense of purpose or direction. I was given her free association writing on very broad topics. I also loved exploring the essays concerning Gothic literature. I did in-depth studies on the subject for my under-grad university degree, before making this the primary focus of my post-grad Masters degree, and her thoughts would have been of unparalleled help if I had discovered them during this time. Now they just hold a great interest for me and her littering of classical Gothic texts in this made me so excited to continue my exploration of the genre.

Mary Oliver Issues A Full-Throated Spiritual - NPR Mary Oliver Issues A Full-Throated Spiritual - NPR

First let me start off by saying—Mary Oliver may be my favorite poet. She’s also highly skilled at teaching poetry. i’ve never read any of oliver’s work, but now i’m genuinely considering it. i know it’s common knowledge that any poets prose will be just as pretty as their poetry — but i didn’t think y’all were serious. i thought ocean vuong was the only one. Her words are careful, unhurried, and at times meandering; as if she's writing exactly as she would speak to a friend on an afternoon walk.but i was dearly mistaken. the way oliver writes about nature in such a descriptive and beautiful way makes me love it so much more. the way she writes about art and literature and what that means to her is so heartfelt and subjective and beautiful. how she wrote about whitman and poe and blake and other acclaimed poets and what they meant to hear felt so personal and amazingly written. to love mary oliver is to accept that not every poem or essay will reach you and match your wavelength of relatability or depth of understanding, and i am okay with that. with that in mind, i did not love this but i also did not hate it. i liked some essays, but was waiting for others to end. Certain essays were written so vividly, that I felt right there with her, seeing what she had seen when she was describing the woods. Absolutely loved this book. With an eye to how the enlivening power of this “passion for work” slowly and steadily superseded the deadening weight of her circumstances, Oliver issues an incantation almost as a note to herself whispered into the margins:

Mary Oliver Mary Oliver

I have read her poetry for years, she in one of my favorites but until this book I never knew she was an essayist. The beautiful writing and thoughts that are expressed in her poetry are also expressed in her writing. Thoughts on creativity, need for solitude, the wonder of the natural world, and those writers that she has loved since her youth. The second world — the world of literature — offered me, besides the pleasures of form, the sustentation of empathy (the first step of what Keats called negative capability) and I ran for it. I relaxed in it. I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything — other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned: that the world’s otherness is antidote to confusion, that standing within this otherness — the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books — can re-dignify the worst-stung heart. Illustration from The Book of Memory Gaps by Cecilia Ruiz Rebecca Solnit, in her beautiful meditation on the life-saving vanishing act of reading, wrote: “I disappeared into books when I was very young, disappeared into them like someone running into the woods.” Oliver disappeared into both. For her, the woods were not a metaphor but a locale of self-salvation — she found respite from the brutality of the real world in the benediction of two parallel sacred worlds: nature and literature. She vanished into the woods, where she found “beauty and interest and mystery,” and she vanished into books. In a sentiment that calls to mind Kafka’s unforgettable assertion that “a book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us,” Oliver writes: I did not think of language as the means to self-description. I thought of it as the door — a thousand opening doors! — past myself. I thought of it as the means to notice, to contemplate, to praise, and, thus, to come into power. I learned from Whitman that the poem is a temple-or a green field-a place to enter, and in which to feel. Only in a secondary way is it an intellectual thing-an artifact, a moment of seemly and robust wordiness-wonderful as that part of it is. I learned that the poem was made not just to exist, but to speak, to be company.

Mary Oliver can do no wrong in her poetry. She is one of my favorite voices, reflecting on nature, reflecting on relationships. She is happy to live a life that isn't well-traveled, but rather one that notices, that breathes. Echoing young Sylvia Plath’s insistence on writing as salvation for the soul, Oliver takes a lucid look at the nuanced nature of such self-salvation through creative work and considers what it means to save one’s own life: Oliver's essays on Whitman, Emerson, and Poe are insightful pieces that were immensely enjoyable to read. They offer perspective and interpretation on both each author's work and the motivation behind it. I would eagerly recommend Oliver's essays as strong companion pieces to experiencing and/or revisiting each author in turn. Oliver illumines wonderful points about these specific authors as well as literature as a whole. As with the assertion, from her "Emerson: An Introduction," that

Mary Oliver on Time, Concentration, the The Third Self: Mary Oliver on Time, Concentration, the

I don’t mean it’s easy or assured; there are the stubborn stumps of shame, grief that remains unsolvable after all the years, a bag of stones that goes with one wherever one goes and however the hour may call for dancing and for light feet. But there is, also, the summoning world, the admirable energies of the world, better than anger, better than bitterness and, because more interesting, more alleviating. And there is the thing that one does, the needle one plies, the work, and within that work a chance to take thoughts that are hot and formless and to place them slowly and with meticulous effort into some shapely heat-retaining form, even as the gods, or nature, or the soundless wheels of time have made forms all across the soft, curved universe — that is to say, having chosen to claim my life, I have made for myself, out of work and love, a handsome life. One of her most compelling essays is the one in which she took care of an injured gull in her home, including the surprising moments of exhilaration and fun together.

And when I'm reading lines like these, I feel like Ms. Oliver is a kindred spirit, and I feel proud of her writing and long career. . . There are perhaps no days of our childhood that we lived as fully,” Proust wrote in contemplating why we read, “as the days we think we left behind without living at all: the days we spent with a favourite book.” And yet childhoods come in varied hues, some much darker than others; some children only survive by leaving the anguish of the real world behind and seeking shelter in the world of books. I have a weird relationship with Mary Oliver. I own, and have read, several of her books. Most of them are poetry, but a couple of them are essay collections (as Upstream is). I generally like most of her books, and it excites me to see someone making some kind of a living off selling poetry. Though, where Ms. Oliver lives (a beaver hut?) is yet to be determined by me.

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