My first experience with poetry is usually on the page, but with Sharon Olds’ poetry, it was through performance. Her work reveals a versatility to the stage and the page that is phenomenal and exciting. Unlike poems like “Blues in Yellow”, a poem about the marginalization of Asians in America– some of the powerful metaphors– very intricately constructed, so delicate– almost become watered down when performed. Emily Dickinson’s poems are fun to read out loud, but I don’t think they do well in that medium. However, there was something deeply touching about hearing Olds’ work read out loud. It shimmers. I love it. If you get a chance sometimes between classes or before bed– listen to her recite her poetry. It’ll give you an appreciation for language that is like learning to see a new color.
Her images are so ordinary, as she says, “just ordinary things in an ordinary life”, and follow a mostly narrative structure– again, as she claims, she is an autobiographical storyteller– that it becomes striking and interesting to hear them performed. There are so many parts of her reading (linked above) that strike me– parts of her poems that are funny and feminine and smart without being sentimental.
Olds says she is not a confessional poet. I believe her. Something about her poetry is markedly different from Sylvia Plath’s, which is slightly less narrative, more declarative, more description-based. Olds is here to tell a story, and I love that. I love her sense of humor, as well– “Douchebag Ode” got many laughs from the audience, as did “Rite of Passage” about her six-year-old son’s birthday party, and the first poem she read, about her sense of humor. It seems more funny and comical when it is read in her voice with her tone with her slight pauses and microcosmic built-up drama that she creates.
I found it interesting as well that while Olds was reading “Wonder to Wander”, she actually sings the song mentioned in the poem, which is simply impossible when when reading it. All of these performative elements give her poetry a sense of life and character, a keen understanding of the author and her life.