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Book Review on Mary Oliver’s Selected Essays, Upstream

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Image of Author Mary Oliver

Poet Mary Oliver delivered a beautifully woven collection in her last cohesive publication of essays entitled Upstream. The topics of these shorts range in fluid themes but are equally explorative. Although each of these essays could stand alone, Oliver takes us on a journey of the world through her eyes that starts out as equally exciting as it is meditative. She gifts us with her natural but keen observation of her environmental surroundings. 

Each essay is deeply rooted in place, which Mary explains she was able to lose herself in from a young age. The ocean, the lake, the dwelling, the creative mind, and the escape to nature again. Mary explores writers’ lives: Hemingway, Poe, Whitman, Shelly, Wordsworth, and Frost. Oliver explores the writers she grew up with and makes assessments of the writing habits and lives behind these names sparking a conversation on how we approach our past literature within our present and future while inspiring a new generation of writers.

Before Oliver left us with her many poems, she gave us this last gift. Upstream is a unique window into a creative mind. In it, she gives us beautiful commentary and imagery on nature and explores the artistic mind’s toils and importance. Puzzling over how the mind interrupts itself, she writes,

“Creative work requires a loyalty as complete as the loyalty of water to the force of gravity.” 

This five-section book was awarded one of Oprah’s The O Magazine’s top ten books of the year. We can see why it has an uplifting take on life and is a testament to how successful minds are dedicated and connected to the natural world.

Book cover

Cover Image Credit: Mariana Cook/Penguin Press

Oliver, M. (2019). Upstream: Selected essays. Penguin Books.

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