unapologetic with Sharon Olds

I recently found myself returning to this week’s poem, “Station” by Sharon Olds, in conversation with students. Specifically, I referenced what happens in the poem as a way to describe the work writers have to do to find space and time to write. Among the themes addressed, the poem makes clear how the decisions made in balancing obligations and artistic ambitions aren’t always easy, but they are always necessary.

dock-2820217_960_720The poem presents a scene where the speaker has taken time away from parenting to write poems out on the dock by their house. The speaker describes the walk back with unapologetic clarity. The speaker’s unapologetic clarity reads like a response to being watched “with no / hint of shyness” by their partner. The tension between the necessity of the speaker’s act and the combined judgment of the partner plus the other work waiting for the speaker at home is anchored in the final line by the image of poems feeling “heavy as poached game hanging from my hands.”

Station – Sharon Olds

Coming in off the dock after writing,
I approached the house,
and saw your long grandee face
in the light of a lamp with a parchment shade
the color of flame.

An elegant hand on your beard. Your tapered
eyes found me on the lawn. You looked
as the lord looks down from a narrow window
and you are descended from lords. Calmly, with no
hint of shyness you examined me,
the wife who runs out on the dock to write
as soon as one child is in bed,
leaving the other to you.
Your long
mouth, flexible as an archer’s bow,
did not curve. We spent a long moment
in the truth of our situation, the poems
heavy as poached game hanging from my hands.

from Satan Says (University of Pittsburgh Press)

* taking flight with tranströmer

During my grad studies in NYC, I had the opportunity to go to a reading by Tomas Tranströmer. Sharon Olds and Robert Bly were chosen to present Tranströmer’s work, each reading a selection. Olds delivered his work in a fervent and direct manner, while Bly strode through the poems, pausing at times to exclaim over a line and asking us to listen, really listen.

The words I’ve chosen for each reader – fervent, direct and stride, listen – are key to my understanding of Tranströmer and his poems. There is definitely a passion behind the poems, an unabashed facing of what’s in the world. But his poems are also full of close, deep listening.

In the poem below, Tranströmer evokes the flight of a bird throughout his life, develops the transient flight of a bird to such a point that the bird becomes the constant and the self is seen as the one in transient flight. For me, poetry is much like this.

* right here there is no time *
* right here there is no time *

The Nightingale in Badelunda – Tomas Tranströmer *

 

In the green midnight at the nightingale’s northern limit. Heavy leaves hang in trance, the deaf cars race towards the neon-line. The nightingale’s voice rises without wavering to the side, it’s as penetrating as a cock-crow, but beautiful and free of vanity. I was in prison and it visited me. I was sick and it visited me. I didn’t notice it then, but I do now. Time streams down from the sun and the moon and into all the tick-tock-thankful clocks. But right here there is no time. Only the nightingale’s voice, the raw resonant notes that whet the night sky’s gleaming scythe.

***

Happy gleaming!

Jose

* trans. Robin Fulton, from Selected Poems, ed. Robert Hass

* Sharon Olds, newspapers & the friday influence

This week on the Influence: Sharon Olds!

Just read through Olds’ latest book, Stag’s Leap, a powerful collection of poems – for which she recently was awarded the T.S. Eliot Prize – centering on the story of her divorce.

The poems take on the separation with the nerve and lyrical litheness that are characteristic of Olds.  (Also: at one point she parts the Red Sea – seriously: check that out!)

I chose the poem below because it embodies much of what I admire in her skill as a poet.  There is the opening up of a moment, the digging into the details in words that put the subject – in this case, handling the newspaper – right in your hands, words like mineral-odored and greyish speckle.  She does it all with a straightforward energy that takes you along for the ride, evoking every nuance of the emotion felt.

There is a great awe in her work – a sense of awe of the world, of being a part of it, and being able to put it into words.  Few can go to this place of awe like she does.

As an American poet, I feel indebted to Sharon Olds for how she manages to stay grounded while still taking flight.  I see her in line with Whitman as well as Elizabeth Bishop – all poets of finding and feeling exuberance where you don’t expect it.

*periodico*
*periodico*

On Reading a Newspaper for the First Time as an Adult – Sharon Olds

By evening, I am down to the last,
almost weightless, mineral-odored
pages of the morning paper, and as I am
letting fall what I have read,
and creasing what’s left lengthwise, the crackly
rustle and the feathery grease remind me that
what I am doing is what my then husband
did, that sitting waltz with the paper,
undressing its layers, blowsing it,
opening and closing its delicate bellows,
folding till only a single column is un-
taken in, a bone of print then
gnawed from the top down, until
the layers of the paper-wasp nest lay around him by the
couch in a greyish speckle dishevel.  I left him to it,
the closest I wanted to get to the news was to
start to sleep with him, slowly, while he was
reading, the clouds of printed words
gradually becoming bedsheets around us.
When he left me, I thought, If only I had read
the paper, 
and vowed, In two years,
I will have the Times delivered,
so here
I am, leaning back on the couch, in the smell of ink’s
oil, its molecules like chipped bits of
ammonites suspended in shale,
lead’s dust silvering me.
I have a finger, now, in the pie –
count me as a reader of the earth’s gossip.
I weep to feel how I love to be like
my guy.  I taste what he tastes each morning
without moving my lips.

***

Happy tasting!

Jose

* photo found here