Book review: UPSTREAM–Selected Essays by Mary Oliver

upstream by Mary Oliver
Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although wildly famous for her lyrical poetry, Mary Oliver has become my new favorite essayist after Ursula le Guin. Both women in their 80s (Le Guin recently passed away), both astute wise women.

Mary Oliver’s poetry came from early roamings and ramblings in nature. The eponymous essay in the book describes how she waded upstream while her parents waded downstream. She got lost, but loved it, and has been wading upstream ever since.

Until she moved to Florida in 2005 at the death of her partner, she had spent 50 years in Provincetown near the ocean, and her essays pay tribute to this beautiful place.

She includes essays on favorite authors: Whitman, Wordsworth, Emerson and a surprise to me, Edgar Allen Poe.

She describes how she made a one-room studio out of salvaged wood and other materials. She strung a wire to it because she wanted to light a lamp like a beacon that she could see from her main house.

What I like about these essays is that they have a sharp-edged attention to detail and a lyrical swing to the words that makes them almost poetry in their own right. For example, her first essay ends, “Teach the children. We don’t matter so much but they do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen…And the frisky ones: inkberry and lamb’s-quarters, blueberries…Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school.”

I respect the poet’s skillful use of language, and I love her philosophy of life.