A friend asked me if I read poetry, and I said not really. But, I respect the turn of a phrase, the rhythm, the poetic handling of words in an essay. I don't often read what critics call "literature". However, I'm a fan of essays, and with a recommendation of Mary Oliver, I picked up her recent bestseller, Upstream.
Oliver is a poet who also writes essays, in this case a collection about her close connection to nature. She says, "I could not be a poet without the natural world. Someone else could. But not me. For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple." Time and again, Oliver uses doors and houses and foxes as she observes the world. Books and nature were her escape as a child, and they still serve the same purpose. Without going into detail about her childhood, she indicates she's alive today because she found ways to escape. And one door led her to a natural world that was as essential to her survival as air.
In section 3, Oliver seems to make a departure from her essays about her existence when she discusses earlier writers. She discusses Emerson, Poe, Whitman, and Wordsworth. But, it's not really a departure. She examines their lives and their connections to their works, just as she examines her own need for nature as she writes.
There's a little melancholy to Mary Oliver's essays. The observance of nature also means an observance of the cycle of life. It makes for an awareness of a person's own aging, and eventual disappearance from the world. Her awareness is evident in stories of a gull, the turtles, the spider. But, she also recognizes joy. My favorite essay is called "Ropes" about a dog who wouldn't stay home. She says the story could have several morals. "Or maybe it's about the wonderful things that may happen if you break the ropes that are holding you."
Upstream by Mary Oliver. Penguin Press. 2016. ISBN 9781594206702 (hardcover), 178p.
FTC Full Disclosure - I bought my copy of the book.