Last week I opened The Dead and the Living, an older book of poems by Sharon Olds, to find this gem:
Six-Year Old Boy
We get to the country late at night
in late May, the darkness is warm and
smells of half-opened lilac.
Gabe is asleep oh the back seat,
his wiry limbs limp and supple
except where his hard-on lifts his pajamas like the
earth above the shoot of a bulb,
I say his name, he opens one eye and it
rolls back to the starry white.
I tell him he can do last pee
on the gras, and he smiles on the surface of sleep like
light in the surface if water. He pulls his pajamas down and there it
is, gleaming like lilac in the dark,
hard as a heavy-duty canvas fire-hose
shooting its steel stream.
He leans back, his pale face Continue reading “Monday poem”
If you’ve never heard Sharon Olds read, this is a good example:
or this, a poem I woke up thinking about this morning:
The Missing Boy
(for Etan Patz)
Every time we take the bus
my son sees the picture of the missing boy.
He looks at it like a mirror–the dark
blond hair, the pale skin,
the blue eyes, the electric-blue sneakers with
slashes of jagged gold. But of course that
kid is little, only six and a half, Continue reading “Olds’ Odes”
I’ve been reading some essays by C.K. Williams (who wrote last week’s poem). In one essay he talks about reading a book by Robert Lowell, Imitations, which broke open a new way of thinking about poetry.
Imitations was influential and controversial. Lowell took poems in other languages and rather than translate them, he created his own poems in English inspired by them. Many deplored this technique, finding it arrogant and disrespectful. But it definitely gave poets something to think about. For Williams, it “released something in me I hadn’t grasped had been keeping me from moving ahead in my own work.”
How amazing it is that books can crack you open, can shed light into your own struggles and world view. Continue reading “Books that change your life”
This is one of the poems I’ll be reading this Saturday for the event at the North Berkeley Library, Poems of Berkeley. Details here.
Gabriel and the Water Shortage
When the water shortage comes along
he’s been waiting all his life for it,
all nine years for something to need him as
the water needs him now. He becomes
its protector–he stops washing, till dirt
shines on the bones behind his ears
over his brain, and his hands blaze like
dark blades of love. He will not
flush the toilet, putting the life of the
water first, until the bowl
crusts with gold like the heart’s riches and his
room stinks, and when I sneak in and
flush he almost weeps, holds his
hands a foot apart in the air and
says do I know there is only about
this much water left! He befriends it, he Continue reading “Drought Poem”
I had forgotten this wonderful poem by Sharon Olds. Then I saw, after the rain last week, one of these big banana slugs in the garden and went to look for it. It didn’t disappoint me:
The Connoisseuse of Slugs
When I was a connoisseuse of slugs
I would part the ivy leaves, and look for the
naked jelly of those gold bodies,
translucent strangers glistening along the
stones, slowly, their gelatinous bodies
at my mercy. Made mostly of water, they would shrivel
to nothing if they were sprinkled with salt,
but I was not interested in that. What I liked Continue reading “Sharon Olds on Monday”
I am a sucker for kitchen gadgets–for me the Williams Sonoma or Chef’s Catalog is a kind of kitchen porn. Many of them aren’t worth the trouble, but I have two onion gadgets that really work: the onion keeper and the onion dicer.
The onion keeper I picked up one day in the supermarket. It’s a plastic onion-shaped container that opens in the middle with a twist. You put an open onion in it, twist it shut, and your onion is saved without smelling up the fridge.
The dicer has three sets of blades, two of which (rough dice and fine dice) can handle onions. There’s also a slicer blade, which I sometimes use for mushrooms. But it’s the onion dicing that is the real timesaver, especially when you have multiple onions to dice.
Set a half or a quarter of the onion flat side down on the dicer and pushed down the lid with your palm.
The machine gives a satisfying whump and you have instant, perfectly uniform chunks of onion.
Kitchen magic! It does for onions what my corn stripper does for corn kernels. This is a little plastic module with teeth at one edge that you run along an ear of corn to remove the kernels. Continue reading “Gadgets, writing, and domestic tranquility”
Sometimes it seems to me that poets, especially American poets, got derailed by the confessional poems of Lowell and Plath, and there is just too much self-absorption. Of course, everything experienced is filtered through the lense of self, but a little perspective is the mark of a fine mind. Galway Kinnell gave a craft talk at Squaw Valley Community of Writers, in which he suggested taking the words “I” or “me” or the various forms of these out of your work. And Sharon Olds, who was also there, wrote a beautiful poem about how she loved the I-beam I, “Take the I Out.” But I did write for a year without an “I” poem. It was a good exercise. And it’s hard to beat this poem, with no I in it:
Saint Francis and the Sow
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing; Continue reading “Too much I…”
My calendar tells me it’s today. Sharon has written so many wonderful poems it’s hard to choose one–poems about sex, about children, about her awful childhood, odes. But today I chose I joke poem, or maybe a poem that is a joke and more than a joke: Continue reading “Sharon Old’s Birthday”
A few weeks ago I posted a poem by Beth Ann Fennelly, I’d found in anthology of erotica. I have been looking at a couple of her books, and thought I’d post another today, a different kind of erotic.
Once I Did Kiss Her Wetly on the Mouth
Once I did kiss her wetly on the mouth
and her lips loosened, her tongue rising like a fish
to swim in my waters
because she learns the world
by tasting it, by taking it inside. Continue reading “More Fennelly”
Tony Hoagland wrote an article about teaching poetry in school, or rather about the need to change how we teach poetry in school, called Twenty Little Poems That Could Save America. His idea is that poetry as a living part of the curriculum could become part of the daily fabric of thinking and decision making. Here’s one of the poems he mentions.
Waiting for Icarus
He said he would be back and we’d drink wine together
He said that everything would be better than before
He said we were on the edge of a new relation
He said he would never again cringe before his father
He said that he was going to invent full-time
He said he loved me that going into me
He said was going into the world and the sky
He said all the buckles were very firm
He said the wax was the best wax
He said Wait for me here on the beach
He said Just don’t cry
I remember the gulls and the waves
I remember the islands going dark on the sea
I remember the girls laughing
I remember they said he only wanted to get away from me
I remember mother saying : Inventors are like poets,
a trashy lot
I remember she told me those who try out inventions are worse
I remember she added : Women who love such are the
Worst of all
I have been waiting all day, or perhaps longer.
I would have liked to try those wings myself.
It would have been better than this.
I read an account of studying with Muriel Rukeyser by Sharon Olds. It made me wish I, too, had a wonderful poetry teacher. If there are good teachers out there, I am sure many will follow Tony’s advice, and support his hope that poetry could inform the American way of thinking.
Lisa Alvarez, whose blog The Mark on the Wall often features interesting poems as well as literary events in Orange County, mentioned on Facebook that it was her son’s 11th birthday. Thinking about children’s parties reminded me of two poems by Sharon Olds, who recently won the Pulitzer Prize. These two are from her second book, The Dead and the Living:
Rite of Passage
As the guests arrive at my son’s party
they gather in the living room–
short men, men in first grade
with smooth jaws and chins. Continue reading “Two parties for Poetry Monday”
is the title of a novel by Zoë Heller that I just finished. The fictionalized story of a 40-year old female teacher at a London high school who has a sexual relationship with a 15-year old boy, it’s told from the point of view of an acerbic, older woman teacher, in the school. Barbara’s observations are unsparing. For example, her description of the school:
“St. George’s is the holding pen for Archway’s pubescent proles–the children of the council estates who must fidget and scrap here for a minimum of five years until they can embrace their fates as plumbers and shop assistants…. Many of the younger reachers harbour secret hopes of ‘making a difference.’ They have all seen their American films in which lovely young women tame innercity thugs with recitations of Dylan Thomas. They, too, want to conquer their little charges’ hearts with poetry and compassion.”
Continue reading “What was she thinking?”