Book Recommendation - Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver

Author Mary Oliver

I have always given my heart to the kind of poetry which is completely and hopelessly emotional, like the work of Lorca or Neruda. When reading a poem, I am not so much trying to relate and connect with it intellectually but only from the heart. I don’t care if the poet has used the language like a fine tool or if the poetry can academically sound amazing, but I care more as to how I am touched by it and if it has the ability to affect me in real, deep levels, sort of like if the poem I am reading is inviting me to its house and sits with me at its kitchen table or I if am invited by it to its formal dinng room.

Mary Oliver’s essays invite me to her formal dining room. It is indeed a very nice room. At times, it feels a bit cold, but still, it is pleasant to come to for a visit. At 82 years of age, her autobiographical writings in her new book, Upstream, are gentle but strong, poetically furnished with the kind of wisdom which only comes with age. She was only 28 years of age when her first published book of poetry reached the public. She then found more success by winning a Pulitzer Prize sixteen years after her first book and publishing four other editions of her poetry books.

Her observation of not only self but the work of poets like Whitman, Poe, and Emerson, whom she has kept close to her heart and admired forever, establishes the similarities they share when using language in an obvious way, coming from a place of assurance and complete command while communicating the message with their readers. It is almost like playing a good game of chess with someone, and, of course, always winning them over.

Oliver’s book of essays, Upstream, is open next to my laptop on my dining table, where there are a bunch of tulips in a vase and there is a newspaper in a bundle, which I have already read and I am about to toss. There is my cup of coffee sitting there, still hot, inviting me to slow down, breath. and pause. I pick up her book, open it, and start re-reading some of my favorite paragraphs all over again. This time while reading, I try to savor it, sip by sip, taste it in my mouth, feel the warmth of her words before swallowing them down. After all, that’s how fine poetry should be read. — — — Mahvash Mossaed

Originally published at on February 26, 2017.

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