Sunday, 19 July 2015

Don't like poetry? You can't have tasted Sharon Olds

Poetry, by Corinne

Unpopular opinion time (at least in this environment): I've never really been one for poetry.
I do, on occasion, come across a poem that grabs me and holds my attention, but a lot of poetry I've been exposed to has seemed to me intentionally or unnecessarily cryptic. Almost as if the author is showing off, in a way. But since being exposed to Sharon Olds, I think I might now be a convert.

The first poem of Sharon's I heard, the one she wrote on the plane trip here and read out at The Mildura Club on Thursday night, actually gave me goosebumps, and I resolved to seek out more of her work. The next day Peter Goldsworthy quoted from somewhere that goosebumps are the true test of the effectiveness of poetry, which i took as a confirmation.
Though not a 'poetry person', I am a person who can be awed by song lyrics. I was not surprised when Leonard Cohen was referenced all of three times by poets that day, as he is a singer-songwriter I also love, above all for his words. I almost rolled my eyes when he was mentioned, and thought: of course these poets love Leonard Cohen! I haven't read his books, but his songs are poetry. He is a poet. Then: wait, so I do like poetry?
What appeals to me almost exclusively about Cohen are his lyrics. Not to devalue his work, but most of his early folk songs sound very same-y to my ear, musically. Perhaps I do like poetry, but just a certain kind of poetry, one that Cohen and Olds both fit the criteria for. Surely their styles are somewhat similar - relatively simplistic but powerful imagery, eliciting a devastating physical response at times. With a lot of poems, I have to read each line over twice or thrice as I go in order to fully understand what the poet is trying to say, but with Olds and Cohen both, I understand immediately - not just what is at the core of the poem, but what that core feels like.
Apart from that, I can't say what else it is about these two poets that puts them parallel in my mind. Having never studied poetry, I can't tell of any similarities or divergences in these styles on a formalistic level. But I think now that I should start to educate myself.

I've also started experimenting with writing my own poetry, as of this morning, on a whim, in the back of the lecture theatre.
That's right. One more bad amateur poet in the world.

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