Much-esteemed poet Sharon Olds, formerly the Poet Laureate of New York State and a faculty member at New York University and the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, will be reading in downtown San Jose tomorrow. Those of you who snicker at the term ‘downtown San Jose’ might note that it’s the tenth most populous city in the United States. For comparison, Indianapolis is twelfth; San Francisco is fourteenth.
Sharon is one of my favorite poets and teachers, the woman who taught me to substitute “self-referential poetry” for “confessional poetry." I’m attaching a link to one of her earlier poems, “I Go Back to May 1937,” in which she envisions her parents meeting and implores them to move on past one another. That was my memory of the poem, but now that I read and listen to it again (see http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/poetryeverywhere/olds.html ), I realize the poet relents and lets her folks meet after all, perhaps to let her live and write. Listen and see what you think.
If you’re in the Bay Area, you’ll be happy to know there are still tickets to the event available through the PCSJ website, www.pcsj.org. She’s reading at 7:00 (come early) at Le Petite Trianon Theater, 72 North Fifth Street San Jose, CA 95112, and signing books afterward.
Here is the text of Sharon’s poem.
I Go Back to May 1937 (from The Gold Cell)
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.
Causes Kevin Arnold Supports
Poetry Center San Jose, East Palo Alto Police Activities League (EPA PAL), Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Yale Writing Conference, Gold Rush Writers