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(Post by Winston Bribach)

If you’re anything like me, this is an in-between part of the year. The best part of the winter, arguably the year, has passed, and the invigorating warmth brought in by the Spring has not yet arrived. In other words, I have been suffering from Christmas withdrawal. I miss the seasonal good will, the smell of the Christmas tree, and the excuse to play my favorite songs. In fact, it might be the only time I can openly listen to Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Sammy Davis Jr. without garnering a raised eyebrow or two.

Of course, I’m just being a little dramatic. I love the cool, briskness of a California winter, and the recent rains have been a welcome sight (except when I’m at the soccer field for a pick-up game). Still, I do miss Christmas, and to combat these longings I recently gave my old friend, O. Henry a look-see. I re-read “The Gift of the Magi” for the first time in a good while.
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Almost immediately, I was transported back a few years to the first time I came across the story. I felt again the driving element that finally urged me to take the plunge and start writing stories of my own—sentimentality. Although O. Henry’s classic tale about a young couple at Christmastime is in many ways a simplistic piece, it never failed to reward me with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. This is the feeling I wanted to grasp. Maybe not, however, in a wintery context.

If nothing else, the story captures the romantic nostalgia which has been a long-time staple of the season. After all, it’s supposed to be the “time of year when the world falls in love,” as the song (“Christmas Waltz”) goes, and O. Henry flows right along to that tune. He paints his poor young couple into a corner, where it seems like their efforts went to waste, and then ends on the most pleasant of notes. Love, indeed, conquers all. Maybe I’m naïve, maybe I listen to the dreamer in me a little too much, but I like to think that outdated maxim isn’t strictly a fantasy.
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Well, with my seasonal fix satisfied for the present moment, I should be able to truck on through until the weather warms up enough to hit the beaches. I would look forward to Valentine’s Day, but as yet the holiday remains only an extra excuse to buy a heart-shaped box of chocolates and not share them with anyone (because, yes, I love myself).

(post by Tina Lawson)

(source: Black Box)

Short stories haven’t changed very much since Edgar Allen Poe. Yes, there have been innovations, but the short story remains predictable and writers have been straining against these scaffolds for a long time; risky moves for the creatives to draw outside lines, but geniuses will do what they will, won’t they?

I don’t normally read short stories. Whenever I tune in, I feel like the stories I pick up are either too long for what they have to offer (the editor in me could cut paragraphs to pages when I feel like this), or they didn’t give enough – they acted too spare. It’s really a loser’s garden of choices with very few ready to impress. It sounds harsh because it’s true; we have a lot of choices out there to read. Besides the many classics (archaic and contemporary), unless one is in the business or pleasure to read short stories, they seem like static.

That’s why “Black Box” was revolutionary for me.

Written by Jennifer Egan from the perspective of a female spy (who then only speaks to the reader in the second-person narrative), Jennifer morphs flash fiction, poetry, and short story into a hybrid that accelerates the normal pace of a short story while giving the rich detail poetry can achieve.
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You simply must go to the New Yorker and read for yourself. It is a guaranteed fast read: Jennifer’s spare lines emulate poetry but offer the expositional detail that allows the reader to infer who the characters are, what the situation is, and what is at stake for the protagonist. Jennifer captures the tension perfectly of a spy encounter; this is better than any James Bond flick.

It is also notable because while the protagonist is female, it doesn’t involve the usual sentiment that clings to that type of character. Yes, of course, love is mentioned. Yes, sex and the potential violation in a sort of violent situation is mentioned. But this character hones herself like tool; this is part of the technique of using second-person narrative. It is distancing and intimate at the same time; that is what the character does for herself – nameless, yet entirely in touch with emotions that she keeps in check for the sake of a mission. I felt a good deal of respect for Jennifer and Black Box’s lead character; it is easy to fall on tropes, and good writing surpasses that… Jennifer achieved this.

(post by Nahal Amouzadeh)
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(Source: Poetry is Not a Luxury by Audre Lorde)

Audre Lorde wrote a prose piece in the 1970’s entitled “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” which I recently read for an English class encompassing women’s writing and women authors. At first glance, I thought the piece hokey; the title and the opening paragraphs reminded me of the elementary school teachers I had, who forced students to write in journals daily for a grade. The idea was to create and allow a safe space for creative and personal discovery, but the assignment never quite achieved what it set out to do. For me, I never saw the pages as welcoming; they were, instead, a place where I needed to present a self that my teacher would approve of. But for others, it seemed foreign eyes weren’t the problem or the need to create an image for our teacher. It was simply starting.

Not everyone has found poetry, fiction, or any other form of writing to be a release. As a matter of fact, the majority of people I’ve come across find it to be an arduous process, filled with more stress and hardship that its intended to be. Therefore the stance Lorde takes in her piece, that poetry is needed for specifically women and more broadly the oppressed, seemed to me to be too exclusive. Despite being one of few who does (somewhat shamefully and sporadically) write (bad) poetry to express myself, I still saw her piece as a generalizing monologue of the artistic optimist. She was, at first glance, the poet who sought out to make the world see through her lens rather than their own perspectives, whatever form they metaphorically took.

Yet my snap judgments are hardly the ones I stick to. Of course, after reading it again and hearing my professor (briefly) lecture on Lorde’s passage citing “the white fathers,” I understood the deeper point to Lorde’s essay.

Lorde wrote, “The white fathers told us, I think therefore I am; and the black mothers in each of us-the poet-whispers in our dreams, I feel therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary awareness and demand, the implementation of that freedom.” And I agree.

Of course, in this passage, “the white fathers” Lorde condemns are those who, during the Enlightenment era, emphasized rational thought over the expression of emotion. But I would argue that even this world of emotional expressiveness, this world of poetry has its own “white fathers,” that emphasize a problematic, validated norm.

Poetry is not a luxury for the systematically oppressed, but it is a luxury for the privileged. When poetry is used as a form of expression in the post-modern world, it is placed in this realm of exclusivity because of what canon poetry has emphasized. The canon is poetry written by poets whose expressed feelings have been validated throughout literary history. These poets and pieces of poetry are the ones we’ve been taught throughout our education and live on with the stamp of approval; think Yeats, Wordsworth, Browning, etc. What do these poets have in common? They are almost always white, straight, middle-class men who live in that privilege and consequently write from that privilege. Poetry then, written by the same people who encompass that privilege, becomes a luxury.

Poetry written by the hand of the systematically oppressed – one of a different race, gender, sexuality, etc. from the canon/privileged – is needed. Poetry is a luxury when it expresses a privileged lifestyle that alienates. Otherwise, poetry is a weapon or a vehicle meant to revolutionize. It is a tool that helps the poet discuss oppression while it helps readers understand (albeit superficially) the poet’s struggle. Poetry is not a luxury to the systematically oppressed because, when the theory of cultural study is applied to poetry, it becomes a part of history, an artifact that encompasses the epoch the poet lives in. That poetry is in itself a challenge, fight, battle against the problematic issues that arise when the literary world is still dominated by the privileged.
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This isn’t to say that the poetry that echoes the canon should be eradicated, or that those with privilege should steer clear of poetry. It is simply to say poetry is not limited to that luxurious, privileged world. Furthermore, this isn’t to say that one has to take up that elementary school journal assignment as a starting point in shedding a light on their own plight, if they don’t want to. Maybe this is where I interpret Lorde’s piece a little differently again. It is not necessary to engage in this world only by writing poetry, but it is necessary to read poetry by those who are systematically oppressed; to listen. When looked at on the surface, poetry has become a world where validity is only given to poetry that echoes the canon, a world of luxury and privilege. But it is not. It is a tool to bring awareness. And to stay aware, one should look to poetry written by someone who deviates from the canon.

Last quarter, I discussed poet Warsan Shire in a previous blog post. If anyone is looking for poetry that does not perpetuate the luxury of privilege, I would recommend her works as a jumping-off point.

(Post by Dylan Karlsson)

Visual poetry communicates itself through the materiality of the word, often exploring words as signs and symbols rather than a collection of sounds. One glance at a visual poem and you may be puzzled, bereft of words, for sometimes there is no telling what a visual poem says. But their message lies in their construction, which is often process driven, falling more in line with the practicum of design, mathematics or computer science than it does poetry.

For instance, take the art/visual poetry of Cornelis Vleeskens. The Australian poet borrows influence from Dadaism in his hectic and collage-like designs. He plays with language and characters, font and typography, manipulating the artifice of language and disregarding the customary medium of poetry: speech. Yet the poet is still in full control of language. Vleeskens’ animated and interpretive visual poems communicate without saying a word. Here are two selections from his book “A H !”:

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Another visual poet is bpNichol, whose work in translations of a poem by Apollinaire led to new experimentations in the realm of visual poetics. His translations on a typewriter led to interpretations of the poem as a machine that generates lines, and arranged letters in varying formations. bpNichols used the process of xerography to explore the frailty of language and perhaps to meta-articulate the degenerative process of translation. He copied the Apollinaire poem on a Xerox machine until the words devolved into unintelligible markings.

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The beauty of visual poetry lies in its potential, being able to convey meaning and employ creativity through text, images, graphics, or diagrams. Today, contemporary visual poets like Derek Beaulieu and Geof Huth are continuing to experiment with text, finding new ways to explore the visual medium of poetry.

(Post by Pauline Pechakjian)

A little over a year ago, I was fortunate enough to visit what I now consider one of my all-time favorite bookstores: Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s famed City Lights bookstore and publishing house located in San Francisco. The bookstore has become an iconic landmark in the world of American literature, especially in regards to the great writers and poets of the Beat generation. City Lights gained notoriety when Ferlinghetti chose to publish Allen Ginsberg’s initially-controversial Howl and Other Poems, and throughout the decades has been a critical meeting point for all of the best minds that the counterculture had and has to offer.
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Upon entering the store, I was overwhelmed. Perhaps this was due to my newfound appreciation for the Beats and all of the history behind Ferlinghetti’s shop, but also, the atmosphere of the bookstore was simply amazing. I always act like a little kid in a candy shop every time I enter a bookstore, but my euphoric attitude ran much deeper than usual at City Lights. You could just tell that great things had happened there throughout the years, and I was ultimately filled with the appreciation of just being there. The main floor of the shop holds a lot of literature’s best works, and you can find hoards of amazing classics there. If you go downstairs, you’ll find lots of nonfiction, namely philosophical, historical, and psychological texts, and appropriately, tables to house resulting discussions.

My favorite area of the store, however, was the Poetry Room upstairs. You take a set of labeled stairs, decked out with posters of Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan conversing, and find yourself in the midst of endless poetry ranging from canonical classics to contemporary experimental pieces. Although spatially the poetry room is the smallest in the store, I spent most of my time there because there are simply so many unique works to go through. On top of everything City Lights has to offer, it’s hours of operation also make it amazing for a night owl such as myself – they are open until midnight every day of the week! If you have spare time in San Francisco, be sure to visit this iconic independent bookstore that represents so much of American literature’s history and experience it all for yourself!
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(Post by Nahal Amouzadeh)

“give your daughters difficult names. give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue. my name makes you want to tell me the truth. my name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right.” – Warsan Shire

When someone mispronounces my name and does not care to fix their fumbling mouth, I say I don’t care, not to put the person to ease, but simply because I don’t. I don’t care that this speaker is used to Ashley and Kelly and Jessica, Johnson and Richmond and Michaels. I don’t care that this is all they know. I don’t care that this is all they wish to know. I don’t care because I’ve heard it before, I’ve dealt with it all, and I have learned that these people live in small, little rooms where the light is dim and the books on the shelf are dusty and there is comfort in abundance, but only for its constant inhabitant; no visitors allowed. I don’t care that I am not invited; I relish in the freedom outdoors.

It’s a feeling that not many people have shared with me. I hear my loneliness echoed when people say: “What an interesting name. What are you?” I see it when they lean forward after I’ve introduced myself and ask, “What?” I clench my jaw when an embarrassed smile appears on their face and they butcher my name and I try to laugh it, my name, my identity, myself, right off. They’re not embarrassed of their ignorance, they are embarrassed for me and I am too empathetic to ignore the nervousness in their soft chuckle. I feel the blush creep to my cheeks before I can stop it and it only fades when I’m angrily alone again, reminding myself that I am not a visitor in that small, little room of theirs. They are the ones who have stepped outside and they should be ashamed of the way they refuse to let their eyes to adjust to the light.

Warsan Shire is a Somali poet based in London and I find that reading her poetry makes me feel that much less alone, a goal that many writers attempt but few attain completely, in my honest opinion.

I am the child of two immigrants and I am a woman. I live in a weird divide, where sometimes, the only thing each world has in common is the outright misogyny. At school, I stare at the boy in the center of the classroom, cutting off every voice that can’t match his aggressive volume. At home, I hear my brother snicker and shamelessly say that I should be the one washing the dishes – the reason why is heavily implied.

Warsan Shire was born in 1988, in Kenya, but emigrated to the UK when she was just a year old. Standing on the border of two worlds is something she expresses in her poetry, but the plight of being a millennial woman, in the wake of a third wave of feminism, while standing along this edge is sometimes louder. Having these three ‘bases’ in my identity covered in literature is often impossible, but Shire is one of few that touches on them all.

I’ve found that a lot of her poems are placed in fragments on the internet and they usually lose this message of duality in the identity. Sometimes even entire poems can be read as simple feminist prose without the emphasis on two cultures meshing or clashing into one person. Her poem, “for women who are ‘difficult’ to love.” is open for interpretation, as is all poetry, but given her background and many other pieces that directly describe her experience as an immigrant, I find that the words are laced in this division. I note that when Shire speaks of love as it sits on the horizon, it is also foreign on the tongue for those dealing with duality.

Shire writes her poem with a motherly, authoritative speaker discussing a strong personality attempting to fall in love with a man who can’t ‘handle’ her. This voice tells the personality she is not to be “tamed,” that the man before her doesn’t understand her, and she should not bend to him. As a first generation, this strong personality she wrote of resonated with me. Even if I didn’t consider myself anything close to a “racing horse,” as she describes, my name and family and culture already seem like flames and any Jessica, Lindsey, Michael or Kyle react accordingly, tending to their wounds upon introduction to my family’s way of living. If I wasn’t considered bold by white feminist standards, I certainly come across that way to those same judges because I am not of the same culture. I am different. I am ‘Other.’ And to be open to love as a Something-American in America, I am watching it as it sits on the horizon, but fearful to let it come closer. I wonder if it, too, will find my flames too high.

But I don’t bend. Shire’s poem is a reminder that not only is love (specifically with a white person) not the be-all, end-all for assimilation, it is also not meant to diminish. It is not water. It is heat and it should let the flames flourish.

My name is on a sign along the horizon from where I stand, standing proudly in front of a blood-orange sun. It serves as a warning. I am a racing horse not to be tamed, and if you would like to ride along, please progress. But if not, please stay in your little, dark room.

Shire reminds me through her poetry that there is bravery in being a first generation woman and I thank her for that. And I encourage anyone to dig into her writing. She’s wonderful without comparison, but truth be told, poetry is a white man’s world (especially the canon that we are pumped in our English classes), and it is refreshing to read something refreshingly new. I think many will agree.

Her small book of poetry, “teaching my mother how to give birth,” is up on Amazon for purchase.
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(Post by Winston Bribach)

In American literary (as well as non-literary) circles, there is perhaps no individual author possessing the clout and reverence associated with Mark Twain. His classic stories, The Adventures of Tom Sawyers and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, are indelibly marked at the top of the American canon. This man, who high schoolers and middle schoolers will inevitably study at some point in their academic life, also found nothing but hatred in the chivalry-laden romances written by Sir Walter Scott. What could be so spiteful about knights running around rescuing their ladies fair? Just add context and the answer becomes quite clear.knight
It so happens that the gentrified Southern plantation owners absolutely loved Mr. Scott’s work. In fact, they went so far as to recreate the feudalistic society described in Ivanhoe and Heart of Midlothian. A certain few zealous planters were even known to host jousting competitions on occasion. This was just the lighter side of the game. If you compare the social stratification of Southern society to the stratification existing in 14th and 15th century Europe, the similarities are almost startling. There’s the elite class who held a massive majority of the wealth, then there’s the smaller plantation owners, small farmers, and then the slaves. The distinctions were very clear. Not anyone could simply break into the upper echelon of society. Your family, not your ambitions decided where you stood. Herein lies Mark Twain’s beef with Sir Walter Scott. He was indirectly responsible for shaping Southern society.

When Mark Twain had a problem with something, you can bet your buttons he wrote about it. The resultant novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, which was partially inspired by a colorful dream, is full of satire. Just about everything regarding life in Camelot is ridiculed or shamed by Hank Morgan, a logical and entrepreneurial Yank who was somehow transported back in time from the late 19th century. Over the course of the story, Hank whips Camelot into shape and provides them with all sorts of new technologies. This proves highly comical when Sir Lancelot leads a band of knights in on their bicycles to rescue Hank and King Arthur.

Thanks to these new innovations, everyone lives happily ever after, right? Absolutely not. The extremely superstitious 6th century folks come to find hatred for the man who has instituted himself as “The Boss.” Eventually, after Hank is called away for a time due to family concerns, the society reverts back to its old self. Hank’s inventions are outlawed and he is considered a heretic by the church. This results in widespread bloodshed.

What point was Mark Twain trying to prove with the plot twist? Is the force of ignorance strong enough to withstand the wheels of progress? I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s a little more complicated than that. Once again, there’s a need for context. A Connecticut Yankee was published in 1889, not long after the government ended its Reconstruction efforts in the South. Fresh off victory in the Civil War, the government thought they were going to implement long-term changes to Southern society. No more slaves, African-Americans are free to vote, etc. Under military supervision, the process appeared to be going along smoothly. Guess what happens when the military is called back to Washington? That’s right. Everything went back to its old feudalistic self. The stratification was virtually the same, but instead of slaves at the bottom of the chain, there were black sharecroppers or landless blacks.

Included in Mark Twain’s satire is a historical parallel that had yet to fully play itself out. The arrogance of the North to believe the South would willingly take in their enforced societal alterations and the South’s reversion to its old ways the moment the North went away. So not only did Twain have trouble with the Scott and his influence on the South, but he also was disappointed in how the post-Civil War Reconstruction had been handled. He fired shots at both sides, one for the Southern past and another warning the Northerners about their failure.
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(Post by Tina Lawson)

Source: Kenyon Review: September/October 2015

What I like about Kenyon Review most these days is their taste; many of the poems are tight, compressed, inventive, and unafraid of journeying into either strange subjects (“Nkisi Nkondi” by Jennifer Militello has a delightfully creepy note) or the more conventional ones (Dave Lucas’ “Narcissus Himself” and the ruminations on love in relation to the self). Amy Wright’s “Mēl” plays with the genre of the personal essay and infuses her non-fiction with something thematic: definitions of words that tie together a pattern within the work. From the definition of ‘meal’
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to the ‘Milky Way,’ ‘meolc,’ ‘mēl,’ and ‘milk-and-water,’ weaving together the experience Wright’s perspective as she explains the context of a world many of us aren’t acquainted with. We live in a time when we need special education and an allocated day to educate young children where their food comes from, and Wright’s on point remarks on “the shift in human evolution that combined the cultivation of wild plants … the domestication of animals” highlight the receding knowledge and tolerance for independent, small agricultural practices in face of a worldwide increasing demand for cheaper food: meat, vegetables, grains.
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“Mēl”’s focus on tracking the Agriculture Revolution of Then to the Now is informative in a fresh way, separated by dotted sections: tying together Biblical references of “milk and honey”, but it is easy to be unsettled by the facts and figures in the tension Wright builds; as the plentiful bounty is stressed over and over, one gets the sense that time is running out for the full platter of food that the current system has in place. From the United Nations Environmental Program:

  • Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.
  • Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
  • The amount of food lost or wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world’s annual cereals crop (2.3 billion tonnes in 2009/2010).

Wright outlines alternatives to the high-energy, high-stakes current food sources (ex: small insects like crickets and grasshoppers in lieu of cattle/livestock), illustrating in her prose the absolute facts and following them with anecdotal scenes.
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Her intent is to show her audience that “we have lost familiarity with the way our ancestors survived,” and to give examples on how we can change this course through choice. Now, more than ever, technology can aid in the world’s hunger, and by infusing ancient remedies and solutions with this technology, and Wright complicates this idea with her superb command of emotion that makes this nonfiction entry a delight to read.

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(Post by Dylan Karlsson)

This past summer I spent a week in Montréal with my brother. As for any trip we make to a new city, we spent some time researching what hidden, literary history we could uncover to better make sense of the city’s draw for writers and artists. We found plenty of used bookstores (some English, some French), a collective of young, upcoming writers brought together by Metatron Press, and the publishing power-house of beautifully made graphic novels, Drawn & Quarterly. But nothing was so mysterious as a lost webpage dedicated to the history of a local group of poets, known as the Vehicule Poets. Throughout the 70s, they led weekly readings, held exhibitions in gallery spaces and cultivated their own style of video-poetry. Browsing through what sparse relics of their existence we could find online, the poems of Artie Gold (though we found few), which approached us with effortless sincerity. These were the kinds of poems that turned with a single breath from casual flippancy to the casual heart of all being. Though centered in Montréal, his influences stemmed from the San Francisco Beat and New York scenes: carving out a style all his own while taking his spontaneous inspiration from the likes of Frank O’Hara, and Jack Spicer.

As we dug through book stacks and criss-crossed from Downtown, to the Latin Quartier, to the Mile End, no evidence of his archived and published works could be found. The Word, an underdog of a bookshop, an auxiliary of McGill University, our only hope to find a remnant of the Vehicule, turned out to be our best bet. Upon asking about Artie Gold, the owner and founder of the store, Adrian King-Edwards led us to a special sign reading: Rue Artie Gold. Apparently The Word was a home to Gold between the store’s conception and his passing. He would often spend his days lingering around the store as if he was the proprietor. It was clear to us his absence was felt at this local store; it took form in King-Edwards’ solemnity when discussing his friend’s work. We gladly (and humbly) took home his collected and selected works, our meager introduction to the poet. I’d recommend taking the time out to search for his work, a clear introduction for me is his “5 Jockey Poems,” which transcend the archaic confines of concrete poetry and speak to that magic and anxiety of the craft, to which all poets can relate.

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(Post by Zach Conner)

Last Thursday, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Sharon Olds visited Los Angeles. She shared some of her recent poetry with a packed audience as part of the Hammer Museum’s autumn reading series.

After an eloquent and venerating introduction from distinguished Prof. Stephen Yenser, curator of Hammer poetry readings, Olds took the stage with immediate grace.

She read excerpts from her latest published collection Stag’s Leap (awarded the 2012 T.S. Eliot Prize), from manuscripts recently accepted by her publisher, and from a series of odes inspired by Pablo Neruda’s Odes to Common Things.

Unfamiliar with Old’s work before the reading, I was at once convinced of Prof. Yenser’s praise: she writes with anatomical acuity, with authority on passions and carnalities, and with unfettered attention to the soul. Her first selection punctuated the night’s repertoire as a prime embodiment of this style, an “Ode to the Clitoris” sanctifying female sexuality as individually holy.

From following poems I learned that Olds reflects on body parts and thoughts equally with intimate carefulness– she is unabashedly erotic and candid. As the nude humiliates the prude, Olds strips the façade from propriety by freely speaking on taboos. One poem celebrated the death of her mother, because with her mother died a lifetime of maternal selfishness and filial disappointment. She scattered the ashes with triumph. Looking up from the page as the poem ended, Olds apologized for its apparent callousness– and then redacted the apology, because the poem is truth. Her poems on death became tender as the reading progressed. In one she depicted death as a return to our elemental bits in abstract, dignified entropy, warmer than any scientific account. The poems from Stag’s Leap, a collection entirely concerned with divorce, confronted the harrowing subjects of love’s impermanence and the vain human desire to mold partners to our own needs.
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While doing some casual research on Sharon Olds, I noticed in a few articles that several critics had found fault in her “self-indulgence.” I thought that this rather reflected the critics’ discomfort in reading immensely personal accounts, which in their clear elucidation of feelings open pathways to empathy, and thereby unravel from the ego. Olds’ poetry may indulge the self, but it does so only to plumb its depths for balance and awareness. Her words do not pompously demand gravity and impact, as alleged– they earn it.

To wind things up with a twist, Olds closed with “Ode to the Penis.” In this poem she now spoke of the other gender, addressing with collected words the pertinent issue of patriarchal oppression. As with her earlier reading of “Ode to my Whiteness,” a poem digesting the difficult facts of white privilege, “Ode to the Penis” felt to me artful and nuanced. As she professed, the poem is “feminist to the core,” but avoids the fervent antagonism rampant in today’s social justice movements. It is a discourse from a single speaker that at once condemns, pities, and loves its subject (the penis, synecdoche for men). My favorite part: it celebrates the extraordinary pairing of phalli in homosexual relationships as the bulldozer razing patriarchal masculinity, and in this celebration gives them as much symbolic weight in the 21st century as the Twin Towers.

You can catch the next Hammer poetry reading with guest Joseph Harrison on November 5th at 7:30 PM.

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