This week I gave a poetry reading at a local "social club". "We're just all old ladies", the organiser said to me on the phone at one point (or something like that). "No 'just' about it", I replied (or a more stumbly version of that sentiment) — she obviously didn't know that any audience is a good one for a poet and if it's forty good souls, sat there patiently and politely and offering you tea and biscuits at the end, well better still! I had a great time... and I think some of them did too. I talked about life and poetry for an hour and even sold some books (hooray — buns for tea!).
I'd decided that, for a change, I'd read a few poems by other poets as well as just my own work this time so I spent quite a while looking through some of the books and pamphlets and bits of paper in my possession in the past couple of weeks. In the end the 'poem by someone else' that I most enjoyed reading was "I could not tell" by North American poet Sharon Olds (you can read it here, it's from her 1980 book "Satan Says"). I'd given the whole event the general theme of "all the things a poem can do and be" and Olds' poem went into the "say the unsaid" section. It is one of the things I like most about poetry, I think, that it can sometimes say things we might not feel we can say in other ways or places. This poem is really about responsibility and the complications it involves and that's a subject I think about quite a lot anyway so the poem has kind of hung around me since I first read it years ago (the copy I have is just a photocopied one from a library anthology... I don't even own any of Olds' books... maybe I'll change that some time soon). After I read it yesterday and watched the reactions I had that "wish I'd written that!" feeling that a person gets sometimes. It makes you work harder if you channel it right, I suppose.
Olds' poetry isn't to everyone's taste... she makes some people uncomfortable I think and she writes a lot of what you might call personal poems. Indeed I certainly haven't liked everything of hers that I've read but then I'm not sure I like everything that anyone has written. I'm not sure writing works that way, if we're really honest with ourselves about our reactions. I have mentioned Olds on blog before though — when this poem appeared in the film "Into the Wild" for example — and if you're interested there is an online interview with her here. Plus look at this photo... I'm sure I once read some nonsense about how "women over a certain age" shouldn't wear their hair in bunches... well, Sharon Olds laughs at your stupid rules, fashionistas (and so should we all!).
Sorry! Photo had to be removed. It was the one you can see here. Great pic!
And, to finish, some interesting quotes from the interview linked to above:
"I suppose the mission of every poem would be to be a better poem than I am capable of writing."
"it’s fine to make things that aren’t okay"
"As a child I was a very successful liar" and
"My first really vicious review I believe I cried, threw up, slept, woke up, and started writing again. But I took the hit. Someone wanted me to stop doing what I was doing, but it didn’t work."