Laura has invited 17 authors and poets to guest blog this month. Each of us writing about a source poem. A single poem; not a single author. But one poem. The well. The well wrought urn. The poem. Or wait. No. We are to write about a source poem; one of perhaps many. Because otherwise the decision making process alone would take months, right?
I came to identifying as a poet reluctantly. I read poetry and it was a part of my childhood as my mother read poetry to me, and we memorized poetry, playing with the emphasis on a particular word, or moving our hands in the air to emulate Wordsworth’s dancing daffodils. But my real love was prose and poetry was so often riddled in metaphor and obscure reference and confined by strict forms that I could not master. It was a long time before I learned that I would never “master” any writing, but I could develop some skill, some muscle, if I worked out regularly.
So I wrote some very bad poetry and then some mediocre poetry. But during my MFA program, I was introduced to experimental forms and contemporary poets writing in free verse. Many of them unlocked the creative handcuffs of writing for me, but Sharon Olds’ unflinching ability to unveil the spiritual in the physical, immediate, and familiar changed my writing. I like to think for the better.
So here is a bit about a poet that I did not write about for Author Amok.
A friend gave me a copy of the poem “Visiting My Mother’s College” by Sharon Olds. My mother had died recently and this poem invited me into her life before I was born. After that, rather than trying to write my truths cloaked in layers of subterfuge, my work became more honest and transparent, without the naval gazing of the “confessional” poem. Sharon Olds raised the
confessional poem from a tawdry salacious tale to a universal, fistful of carefully selected
imagery and language.
Visiting My Mother’s College
This is where her body was
when it was sealed, her torso clear and whole,
she walked on these lawns. Curled as the Aesop
fox she sad in a window-seat, it
makes me sick with something like desire to thnk of her,
my first love—when I lay stunned
in her arms, I thought she was the whole world,
heat, smooth flesh, colostrums,
and that huge heartbeat. But here she had
no children, no husband, and her mother was dead,
no one was far weaker or far
stronger than she, she carried her rage
unknown, hidden, unknowable yet,
she moved, slowly, under the arches,
literally singing. Half of me
was deep in her body, dyed egg
with my name on it, in cursive script—
the most serene time of my life, as I
glided above the gravel paths
ghere near the center of her universe.
I have come here to walk on the stones she walked on,
to sit in the fragrant chapel with its pews
rubbed with the taken combs of bees, its
stained, glassy God, I want to
love her when she has not hurt anyone yet,
when all that had been done to her
she held, still, in her fresh body, as she
lay on her stomach, still a child, studying
diligently for finals, and before the dance
she washed her hair and rinsed it with lemon and
shook and shook her head so the interior of her
tiny room was flecked with sour bright citrus.
Sharon Olds is the Rocky Balboa of poetry; she is a clean fighter; she is coming at you honestly, her poetic muscle oiled and shining, slipping under your fingertips, her feet agile, so that in the last line you sigh, nod, or gasp and she knocks you so hard, that stunned, you climb back into the poem and bath in the human condition and grow stronger, even when there is heart break.
“Visiting My Mother’s College” does have a distinct cadence, a bit of sing/song through the line breaks. A mere five sentences of strong sensual details staggering us in a unexpected and somewhat alarming longing for the mother as nurturer until at the end her mother is awash with the image of sour bright citrus and lemon.
This is not my "source" poem if I only get to chose one. To learn that one, you will need to visit Author Amok. But Sharon Olds taught me a lot about writing the truth.
Do you have a poet or poem that was significant in your evolution as a writer or in your thinking? Who makes you laugh or calms you or raises questions for you?