Friday, June 10, 2011

Poetry Friday - Sharon Olds and Afternoon Thoughts

I have not grown 
up yet, I have lived as my daughter's mother
the way I had lived as my mother's daughter,
inside her life. I have not been born yet.
- from Physics by Sharon Olds

Looking for a poem to celebrate my daughter's birthday, I find this. Strike Sparks, Old's Selected Poems, sits on the bookshelf, mostly. I love and loathe Old's brashness in equal measure. I read her poems and wonder how she could write them - how she could step out from behind the shelter of metaphor and claim and declaim and brag - as a mother.

When poetry was the centre for me, a spine of text that held me upright through first love, first despair, first disillusionment, I knew how to be open with words. They tumbled onto the page, between dusk and midnight, stolen words, broken words, words translated in a dream, words remembered, words used as a weapon, as a scalpel, as a dare, as a cry, as laughter. Words used as a puppeteer takes up the strings and makes his puppet dance.

After children I grew careful of words. Words shape and wound the living child. Words are for weighing, for being exact, for restraint, for hiding, for creating a new self. A self who is watched, endlessly. A self who carries the burden of the child's gaze. A self who thinks before she thinks, who edits the thought before it becomes a thought. A mother, a living puppet from whose mouth comes the words of others, written in books, in picture books. A mother who speaks love-words, being the words she feels and the words she knows she should feel.

A child is ill. The dark words call a poem-path that lead straight to the heart, the dark centre of the heart, the fear of the child's death. The child recovers and the poem dies; the poem can never be brought to light; words can shape and wound the living child.

How can she write the poems she writes ?
How can I write ?
How is the poet born from her life,
the love-words and the dark-words,
how does she write them under the child's gaze ?

The Poetry Friday round up is here.


  1. I think motherhood had the Sharon Olds effect on me, rather than the effect it had on you. There's just so much there to explore, so much emotional terrain that children bring forward... back in the day Olds was criticized for writing so much about motherhood, and now, motherhood poems in contemporary poetry abound. Lots of pregnancy poems. So many, it's hard to find that startling, original nugget anymore. Interesting.

  2. What a thought-provoking post. I'll have to think about this more -- the effect motherhood has had on my writing. It seems that I've always had some editor in my head, even before I was thinking about "the child's gaze."

  3. I'm with you on the "love and loathe" aspect regarding Olds' work. If a poem is just an artifact, that's one thing, but if words really are powerful - and I think they are - then we have to be careful with them. Some people decide their loyalties lie first to themselves as artists - and making that decision involves a certain emotional distance from the real life and real people. I find it a little disturbing, and it seems to me there are enough metaphors out there for motherhood that we don't need, necessarily, to come at it quite this bluntly or directly.

    Interesting post - thought-provoking. Thanks.

  4. Melissa, this swept me up, blew me away. YES, I thought. Many words die, not so much under my childrens' gaze, but under their potential future gaze. Does that make sense? Because I think, 'This may wound some day, some time. This isn't true, and they may think, one day, that it is.' How am I, the writer, born then, from this life? I have begun to think, perhaps it's new, different words that I must write instead. But I go back and forth. As we all do. Pondering.

    Your words are stunning. I am so lucky to get to read them! Thank you.

  5. Thank you for these thoughtful and honest comments. I like many of Olds's poems, too, but sometimes think: too much. And while theoretically I think one can say anything, it's true I want my words to be ones my daughter, who's now an adult, can read. So much to think about.

  6. This poem feels like it is exploring the same territory as the one I shared today...thinking about journeys and destinations and when do you actually become your own SELF.