MEETING SHARON OLDS...AT LAST: Went down to Woodward Academy (south of the city in the College Park neighborhood) last night to hear Sharon Olds. The weather was dismal, traffic was a nightmare and there were at least two other poetry-related events happening in the city, so perhaps that's the reason only about 75 people were at the reading. Still, I was shocked that more people didn't turn out. Maybe it's Olds writing, or it's her liberal politics or that Atlantans don't like to leave their comfort zones, but I thought it should have been a packed house. The reading certainly got enough publicity. I was glad to see fellow poets in attendance like Rupert, Eve, Michelle and Jessica.

But not to dwell on the negative. The audience that was in attendance was appreciative and we had the privilege of hearing Olds read new work that is forthcoming in Five Points and selections from her collected poems Strike Sparks, although she did seem to read a good bit from her collection The Father. What I love about her writing is the directness, the unflinching way she portrays herself and the others around her. She began one of the new poems with an epigraph from a reviewer in The New Criterion who didn't like her last collection, The Unswept Room: "Sharon Olds' parents tied her to a chair, and she's been writing about it ever since." And doing so eloquently and with a big middle finger up to the bitches who don't like her. Her poetry is polarizing and I don't think there is anything wrong with that. Like Bette Davis said, "if everybody likes you, you must be pretty dull." Olds is NEVER that.

Between her sets, she paused to do a Q&A with the audience, who asked thoughtful and funny questions. One man asked what she liked to watch on TV and she said Project Runway (what is it with poets who love this show so much?), American Idol, ER and West Wing. She also confessed to liking murder mysteries and re-reading them over again, such as Sue Grafton's work. I asked about knowing when a poem was "finished" (although I think they never really are. I keep revising mine even after they've been published) and ready for submission or inclusion in a collection. Her answer was simple: "If I like the poem and it feels like it's finished." She said about one in ten of the poems she writes (all long hand in notebooks, then she types up-- on an electric typewriter -- subsequent drafts) are worthy of the "keep folder" and the rest are just put aside and will probably never see the light of day.

Another person asked her about how her life had changed since she turned down a request from the First Lady to read at an event at the Library of Congress and have breakfast at the White House. Olds letter was published in The Nation and was republished around the world. She said she had always supported causes as part of a group, but had never done a singular act of protest. Because of her disapproval of the administration and the ongoing war in Iraq, Olds said she could not with good conscience break bread at the White House.

After the reading I stood in line to get my books signed and she was so gracious and sweet. I had interviewed her for my newspaper and she kindly remembered and thanked me. After meeting Pam Grier back in January, I've just about crossed all the names of my list of "muses" I need to meet. If I can ever get an audience with Kate Bush, my life will be complete.

Comments

Awesome! I love her work and have never seen her read. We actually talked about her in class on Tuesday: Erotic Poetry Day.

-naw
Charles said…
The great thing about Sharon Olds is that even if you don't like her work, she's an easy person to respect and admire. I can't say that about other poets whose work is as polarizing as Olds's work is... in fact, most of those poets are just big fat duds.
jenni said…
She has some good work. Not my favorite, but a few poems remain in my mind--"Sex Without Love"

being one that I think is fantastic.
Collin said…
"Sex Without Love" is probably my favorite Olds poem. I often read it at the beginning of my readings to get other poetry into the space. Another favorite is "The Window" from "The Unswept Room."
Teamaster said…
Collin, it's so cool to see genuine, respectful fans meeting their mentors and faves.

-D
Jilly said…
Cool. Summer Solstice, New York City is my fav of hers. Email me if you get an audience with Kate Bush haha.
She's a real favorite of mine, The Father, Gold Cell and onward. A real engaging reader, too, unafraid of humor, sexuality, any kind of issue. Cahones and then some. S'wonderful you go to meet here. Also, please know I put in a follow up call re: Starlander. As soon as I know, you'll know.

Peace,
Mary Chi
nolapoet said…
I liked her work a lot more when I was first starting out as a serious poetry student. I like some of what's in The Gold Cell and Satan Says, but not all of it. For me, I read it and say, "Oh, another motherhood poem." Now I have friends who are all into that, but it doesn't interest me, the way some people probably would say, "Oh, another lesbian love poem," and flip past. I'm not saying that motherhood is not a suitable subject for poetry bla bla bla--but any poem has to have more than subject matter and enotional tug to make it work. In free verse, especially, the language HAS to work the sound and the imagery very hard -- otherwise, it's filler.

I guess so many quiet epiphanies after a while lose their resonance for me: as a whole, the individual ones lose importance. Maybe that's what people are reacting to when they say they don't like "confessional" poetry--it begins to feel emotionally overinvested as time passes?

Some good stuff I like:

"I have/laid an extra film of bone/around the egg." -- "I Am the Shrink's Wife" --you could argue that "laid" is a weak verb, but it IS attached to "egg."

"She stands over them now/like a cook at the cutlery, a murderer/selecting a weapon." -- "Airport Hotel" -- them being airplanes she sees from the window

Robin

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