“counting the ways” . . .
A few days ago, a literary friend of mine who has started a thread on her Facebook page to read various poets assigned me one to read and quote from: Sharon Olds. I was surprised to receive a poet I was not familiar with. Reading about her online, it turns out there are interesting turns of events about her poems.
In the 1990’s, her doctor/psychiatrist husband told her he was leaving her after 32 years of marriage to be with a doctor/colleague. Sharon Olds wrote poetry about her reactions, love, and sense of loss during this time and for years thereafter. She promised her son and daughter that she would wait at least ten years before publishing these poems from a period of time that was full of pain for them all.
Last year in 2012, she culled out a selection of poems from the hundreds she had written more than a decade earlier and Jonathon Cape published them in the U.K., a book entitled, “Stag’s Leap.” In April, the book was awarded the T.S. Eliot poetry prize, a U.K. poetry award of 15,000 British pounds. She said she bought herself a cashmere cardigan when she won the prize. Since her painful divorce, she rebounded with a younger man who was not the right guy for her; and after nine of years alone, she still teaches at NYU and lives the rest of the time with a former cattle breeder named Carl, whom she calls her “sweetheart.” Carl owns cabins up in New Hampshire which are rented out and also serve as a locus for poetry workshops. So it seems, all’s well that has ended well–which also makes the poems about the marriage breaking up easier to read.
The piece de resistance, though, is that after all those years of loss, being alone and growing older (she’s now 71,) Sharon Olds’s book, “Stag’s Leap” was recently awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. If he hadn’t left her, she wouldn’t have written these poems and would also not have won a Pulitzer prize. Such irony here. . .
Here’s an excerpt from the poem, “Last Look”:
” and I saw again how blessed my life had been,
first, to have been able to love,
then, to have the parting now behind me,
and not to have lost him when the kids were young,
and the kids now not at all to have lost him,
and not to have lost him when he loved me, and not to have
lost someone who could have loved me for life.”
Well, it turns out he didn’t love her for life. In fact, her poems convey the sad truth that he was a very closed person who hardly let her in during all those years. I also felt that she was keening for the loss of him a little too much, given that he deserted her, especially when he said, “it’s not about her, it’s about you.” Ouch!
So I’ve been thinking about different kinds of love: those that inspire poems that are Pulitzer-worthy, and love that’s more commonplace, like my husband, cleaning up snowdrifts from the blizzard and coming in to a steaming bowl of Lipton’s noodle soup and a sandwich.
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” said Robert Browning.