Upstream

upstream“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”  Upstream, by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver is a gift to the world.

I’ve learned many things from America’s most beloved poet, with honoring one’s creative impulse being the most important, followed by: pay attention. She has shown us, through her poetry and essays, how to do both of these across the span of a long and fruitful life.

She won the Pulitzer Prize for her poetry collection, American Primitive,  and the National Book Award for New and Selected Poems.

Her latest collection of essays, Upstream, (which contains both new and older work) is a look back at a life well lived, steeped in nature and literature. It has been on the New York Times Bestseller Nonfiction List for many weeks.

Oliver writes of the preoccupations and obsessions of the poets and thinkers that most influenced her, including Walt Whitman, William Wordsworth, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allen Poe, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. You don’t have to like poetry to appreciate what she has to say about these fascinating writers.

I like those essays, but I love the more personal essays taken from daily life, my favorites being “Bird” and “Building the House.” I say personal, but Mary Oliver often shines a light on some miracle of nature – a wounded gull, or a female spider, or black bear – in a way that tells us much about her own life and her deepest beliefs.

If you have not yet read Mary Oliver, you could start by listening to a few of her most famous poems, such as “Wild Geese” and “The Summer Day” and “The Journey.”

 

 

Upstream is a beautiful little book for ringing out 2016, welcoming 2017, and reading on a cold winter’s night.

“I would say that there exist a thousand unbreakable links between each of us and everything else, and that our dignity and our chances are one. The farthest star and the mud at our feet are a family; and there is no decency or sense in honoring one thing, or a few things, and then closing the list. The pine tree, the leopard, the Platte River, and ourselves – we are at risk together, or we are on our way to a sustainable world together. We are each other’s destiny.”

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

Canoe.jpg

We’ve had this little birchbark canoe for many years.

 

Homefortheholidays.jpg

A favorite house in our village, vintage upstate New York.

Visiting Buenos Aires

Angel sculpture

Angels, and poetry in the streets.

Poetry

Summer day meditation, week 4

water lily

I found this in the backyard pond this morning.

In meditation class, our instructor read a poem by Rumi about welcoming all emotions as you would a house guest, even the negative ones, as they may be clearing you out for something else.

Also a poem by Derek Walcott about loving again the stranger who was yourself, published in David Whyte’s book, The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America. For a time, David Whyte was a visiting poet at a major corporation. I’ve never read a book quite like it.

You can sample some of David Whyte’s poems on his beautiful, rich website. David leads groups on hiking tours in Italy, England, and Ireland, where he reads his poetry and visits artists, cooks, gardeners, farmers, and other creatives committed to their locales.

Try some book spine poetry: National Poetry Month

In celebration of National Poetry Month, here is my book spine poetry.

Try it. This small act of creation will bring you to a different place. Send me yours and I’ll post them.

the open road running with the mind of meditation falling off the map the writer's path

________________________________________________________

brainstorm radioactive savage beauty give it all give it now

A girl in the woods reading poetry

For my first post on Books Can Save a Life, I’ll tell a story.

In my hometown near Cleveland, there once was a girl who liked to play hooky from school. She’d walk in the woods and read poetry. Back then, my town still had a rural flavor, with creeks, farmland, and forest where neighborhood kids could play for hours. Poetry and nature were the two things in the world the girl loved most.

When she was seventeen, she got in her car and drove to the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay in upstate New York. The poet had died, but her sister, Norma, lived there. The girl stayed for a time, writing poetry and helping Norma organize Millay’s papers and manuscripts.

Years later, when she won the Pulitzer Prize for her book of poems in the 1980s, I didn’t pay much attention, even though I’d been an English major in college. I was working in New York City and had left my poetry reading days behind.

It wasn’t until I was in my forties and beginning to do some of my own writing that I thought I’d take a closer look at Mary Oliver to see what she was all about.

I hadn’t expected to be stunned. I mean, really. Why had I never read her before?

I could try to describe her poetry with words like “powerful” and “transcendent” and “life-changing,” but I wouldn’t do her work justice.  Let’s just say it was exactly the right time for Mary Oliver’s poems to enter my life.  A lot of it had to do with my novice efforts as a creative writer and with believing in myself.

I believe Mary Oliver used to live in a house just around the corner from where I grew up, though she left home around the time I was born. Our hometown, Maple Heights, has been going through hard times lately, especially since the economic meltdown.  In fact, a Cleveland neighborhood nearby has been called ground zero in the mortgage disaster.

Many homes have been abandoned. Some have been torn down. Wildflowers and weeds are taking over what used to be carefully tended lawns. Much of the wooded areas are gone, but occasionally people spot a deer or two, usually at dusk.

When I go back home to visit, I remember how it used to be. Sometimes I think of a girl skipping school, sitting cross-legged under a big, friendly tree in the woods, reading.

*******************

New and Selected PoemsNew and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver, published in 1992, includes poems from 1963 – 1991. That happens to be the volume I have, but since then there have been additional collected poems by Oliver. “Wild Geese” is another very well known poem by her. It is included in this collection.

%d bloggers like this: