Tuesday 13 May 2003

I Go Back to May 1937

This is for Burningbird, who is working on her RDF Poetry Finder and finding it very difficult:

to find poems to demonstrate points I want to make, primarily because I need something like RDF Poetry Finder in order to find them. My repertoire of known poetry is very limited, and I hesitate to put the poets and poetry enthusiasts in the audience on the spot asking for poems where, for example, an owl symbolizes the soul.

I wouldn’t have described myself as a “poetry enthusiast,” though perhaps the fact that certain poems are lodged firmly in the back of my mind makes me one. Had I not read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, I doubt I’d ever have discovered Sharon Olds’ poetry. Yet a Google search for “sharon olds” yields nearly seventy thousand results, including a comprehensive profile at Modern American Poetry, a Salon interview, and sixteen poems at Plagiarist.com. I’m not even sure whether the following poem will meet Burningbird’s needs but I’d be surprised if she (and others) were not moved by it.

In a chapter devoted to the problems of writing truthfully about one’s life, Lamott explains that she hands out this Sharon Olds poem, called I Go Back to May 1937, to every writing class she teaches:

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips black in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don’t do it—she’s the wrong woman,
he’s the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don’t do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips like chips of flint as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

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Thanks Jonathon - that is one powerful bit of writing. I want to read more of her stuff now.

Posted by The Dynamic Driveler on 13 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

In dreams begin responsibilities.

Posted by language hat on 13 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

It's impossible not to be moved by it.

Thank you.

Posted by Burningbird on 13 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

not much to say, it happens

Posted by marcia on 13 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour