What Satan Says

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:

“Night Terrors”

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.

Read, Read, Read

January 04 – 14, 2011, marked the first of four residencies that are needed to complete my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing/Poetry from Carlow University in Pittsburgh. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, in any of my previous bizarre assortment of experiences could have truly prepared me for the intensity of those two weeks. Lectures, readings, writing assignments, and a constant buzz and surge of inspiration: I am still processing. One thing I was prepared for, however, was having the nagging feeling that I don’t really know what the hell I am doing. I often have that feeling, so in some respects, I suppose, it is a comfort as the familiar usually is.

Most of my fellow MFA seekers fall into one of two rough and overly generalized categories: those who are “young” and have been studying writing for some time and those who are “older” and have come to the formal study of writing after having a professional life established.

At 30, I think I may fall somewhere in the middle of “young” and “older,” but a few things I know for sure. I didn’t study poetry in undergrad. In fact, I was often at turns resentful, bitter, indignant, and envious of the students who did study writing, were part of the Avatar journal crowd, and generally made me feel like a shmuck. My writing didn’t sound like theirs and that was not a good thing. I decided fairly early on that I needed to focus on something more concrete and gave up on most of my creative pursuits like singing and poetry.

Additionally, I never really read poetry since after a certain age the writings of old, dead white men meant little to me. Even during the time in my life when I was reading Austen and dressing in a large straw hat with gloves and a matching handbag, I didn’t gravitate to poetry. Sure, reading about Donne getting his sadomasochistic rocks off with God was fun but just not something I went back to after the first few raised eyebrows and gasps.

And of course third, I am continually reminded that adjunct instructors of developmental English are so far down the ladder as to be under it. So what is a youngish, under-read, beginning poet to do? To bastardize a quote from Hamlet: Read, Read, READ.

I have decided to start a list of the books of poetry I have read. In the coming semester, I will be reading something like 20 books of poetry, so I will also be writing short reviews of my favorite bits. Here is what I have so far:

Books I Have Read–

Anne Sexton’s To Bedlam and Part Way Back and Last Poems ~ While I had read poetry before reading Sexton, she was the first poet who would not leave me alone, by which I mean her words invaded my mind and buzzed around for days after my first reading. I read her over and over again. What amazes me is that I can take different things away from each reading. She continually surprises me.

Jan Beatty’s Red Sugar ~ Before this book, most of the poems I had been exposed to held a distinct distance from the body and sexuality (things that were, according to my conservative upbringing, taboo in everyday conversations). Reading this book was like having my world opened. Poems can be written about the dark, squelchy things, the raw, painful things in a plain, brutally honest way. It was like being given permission and an acknowledgment that the sorts of things I was drawn to write about where acceptable topics.

Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler ~ Every single poem in the entire book shows such a high level of craft, I find it breathtaking. I feel like I could study this book for a year and still not be done. I have re-read several of the poems multiple times, and my emotional reaction is still just as authentic and genuine as my first read. For my second packet this semester, I will be writing a critical essay on this book and am excited to live inside of it for a while.

Open Gate: An Anthology of Haitian Creole Poetry ~ I bought this book after the earthquake because I wanted to know more about the culture and what better way then through the voice of the people? The anthology spans multiple generations of Haitian poets with both the English translations and original Haitian Creole. Want to know how America has really “helped” Haiti over the years? Read this anthology. My favorite poem in the whole book is by Suze Baron, “Yo Di / They Say.”

Aaron Smith’s Blue on Blue Ground ~ Another example of being given permission to write about things that are considered taboo; his voice is fresh and sharp. Besides, he opens one section with a quote by Anne Sexton, what’s not to love?

Thomas Lux’s The Cradle Place ~ Just to prove to you I have read old white guys, I have included the next two entries. Lux is a great reader of his own work, adding a vitality that is not always on the page. Imagery is his strong point.

Stephen Dunn’s Local Visitations ~ I do like Dunn’s work and have heard him read. His humor and poignancy is slow and meandering but definitely on the page.

I told you it was a short list. I am now working on Sharon Olds’s first book, Satan Says. I have a short critical essay due by February 11, so I will be writing a review soon. After all, as Tyne Daly said to me when I met her, “Oh, I could just read poetry all day long.”

*Note: This blog is meant for edutainment purposes only, and to that end, I may occasionally use some literary license. If you happen to be a member of the Avatar journal crowd, you have not a single shred of an apology! My bitterness runs to the chocolaty center.


2010 in review

These results seem surprisingly positive. I would to resolve to do better in 2011!

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa has 296 steps to reach the top. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2010. If those were steps, it would have climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa 4 times

In 2010, there were 10 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 2 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 202kb.

The busiest day of the year was January 30th with 44 views. The most popular post that day was Finding and following your passion.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, digg.com, cranberryjade.com, legal5ounds.com, and slashingtongue.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for my lunch blogs wordpress, 25th birthday poster presentation, “how to write a vampire story”, living in nola, and productive ways to pass time.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Finding and following your passion January 2010
8 comments

2

On the nature of integrity of the Self June 2010
2 comments

3

101 ways to pass the time during Snowpocalypse/Snowverkill ’10 February 2010
3 comments

4

Nola never leaves your heart February 2010
1 comment

5

Planting Passion June 2010
2 comments

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