Sharon Olds’s first book of poetry was published the year I was born. She writes of the “erotics of family love and pain,” as Alicia Ostriker puts it. Olds has had 11 collections of poetry published and has won prestigious prizes and awards for her work. And I knew nothing about her!
I can’t quite get past that fact.
I began this practicum by reading Olds’s first book Satan Says. Then I read it again. Personally, I found the book difficult to read, more than a little disturbing, but irresistible in its horrific beauty. The speaker’s (or perhaps speakers’) repeated references throughout the collection of loving the cock of the father before and above all others—for instance, lines eight and nine in the poem “Reading You” where the speaker says, “Man, male, his cock that I have loved / beyond the others, beyond goodness, so far beyond [.]”—struck me as incredibly risky and brave.
I found myself interacting with the physical object of the book as well, carrying it around the house as I was puzzling over a thesis for my first essay or staring at the cover thinking about the import of the words. This has happened to me before when I read Empire of the Senseless by Kathy Acker. Somehow, the book becomes more than a mere vehicle for the words.
I also found it incredibly difficult to write about Satan Says. I tried picking my favorite poems, the ones I was most drawn to, and then tried to figure out what elements of craft were pulling me to them. Nonetheless, I kept bumping up against content and personal resonance. It took me a good week before I caught my breath enough to really sit down and choose a poem as the first critical review is limited to only one poem from a collection.
Reading this book actually spawned a poem, which is currently in revision. I am definitely a fan after this book! Reading Olds has given me permission to write about topics I have been writing around for over a year.
Here is the poem I ultimately chose:
She has so strongly this sense of someone coming after her,
someone so dark or dressed in dark clothes,
some man so angry, so clever, there is no
chance of survival.
Every night she tries to think of something that would
get him to spare the children.
Every night she feels him outside the house,
eyeing its surface milky as a body,
the strips of its roof like hair oiled and combed,
all the stiff apertures
Victorian, like a frightened woman
on her wedding night, like her own mother entered and
entered by that man she hated, his hair
black as the polished barrel of a gun.
Whew! Creepy much? My thesis was that Olds uses non-uniform or abrupt lines and complex figurative language to build a fragmented, composite imagery in her poetry that is both grounded in reality and disturbing.
So for this first packet to my mentor (did I mention my mentor is Jan Beatty!!!!!), I still have one more commentary, another short critical essay, and a formal letter to write, all due by February 11. Up next for my critical writing: The Essential Etheridge Knight by Etheridge Knight. But I am still a few days away from receiving my books, so I will be working on the only other book I have (borrowed from my mutual best friend Dorina Pena, fellow rockstar warrior poet and lover of Jan Beatty)–Loose Woman by Sandra Cisneros. I think it will be a refreshing change of pace and will ensure I don’t become too tempted to slit my wrists. Laughter is a good thing.
*Note: This blog is meant for edutainment purposes only, and to that end, I may occasionally use some literary license. The author would also like to point out that she has not yet been graded on the strength of her thesis, and if you plagiarize it and get a crappy grade, it is all your fault.