Sharon Olds — Odes to the *****

Krista Tippett, host: Sharon Olds has written: “The politeness and the prudity of the world I grew up in meant that there were things that were important to me and interesting to me, but I had never read a poem about.” She’s been writing poems about all these issues now for over 40 years. She gained the Pulitzer Prize for her assortment Stag’s Leap, about walking via the end of a marriage she had additionally praised and opened up to poetry. Her most recent ebook, Odes, pays homage to features of the human physique and experience that get bleeped out on public radio to comply with FCC guidelines, including “Ode to the Clitoris,” “Ode to the Penis,” and “Ode to the Tampon.” So the conversation you’re about to hear has parental advisories, but please don’t let that stop you — it’s a pleasure.

[music: “Seven League Boots” by Zoë Keating]

Sharon Olds: “Maybe one reason I do not wear makeup is to scare people. [laughter]
If they’re close enough, they can see something is different with me,
something unnerving, as if I have no features,
I am embryonic, pre-eyebrows, pre-eyelids, pre-mouth,
I am like a water-bear talking to them,
or an amniotic traveller,
a vitreous floater on their own eyeball,
human ectoplasm risen on its hind legs to discourse with them.”


Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and that is On Being. This dialog unfolded in Newark, New Jersey, at the 2018 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Pageant.


Ms. Tippett: This can be a energetic Sunday morning crowd — which leads proper into the place I needed to begin, which is that you simply converse, typically, about having had a hellfire and brimstone Calvinist upbringing. After which your first e-book was referred to as Satan Says. So I feel that tells us the place you went with that. However I’m wondering how you’d start to describe the spiritual and religious background of your childhood because it seems to you now, as a result of, I feel, like many issues in childhood, what we see modifications as we glance back at it throughout time.

Ms. Olds: Sure. Thanks. Thanks for having me right here.

Properly, I might say that even earlier than I used to be born, I used to be a pagan dancer. I was upside-down, and I was engaged in rhythm. I don’t keep in mind this, nevertheless it simply appears true that the heartbeat and the breath and the borborygmi — the sounds of this digestion — so I was regularly listening to that. So I feel, all my childhood, I used to be a pagan, beneath the burden of the notably unfavourable vision of Christianity that I used to be in the house of. My senses have been super-pleasurable to me, and there was a lot beautiful beauty in the backyard and — small backyard and a brick barbecue, do-it-yourself, during which I might bake pies with lattice crusts, braided lattice crusts made from filth. There was so much that was lovely and good — and music — after which, I simply tended to dance round.

I don’t know once I acquired the message that I was odd, but I positive obtained it. I tried to be regular, virtually all my life. But now I determine, we’re all normal enough. Every of us is regular; each of us is weird. That’s my feeling now.

Ms. Tippett: There was something I learn — The Guardian wrote a bit about you after you turned the first American lady to win the T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry. And in there was the story of the reaction you got if you first submitted your work to a magazine in the early 1970s, once they informed you — have you learnt which one? Do you recall that story?

Ms. Olds: Sure.

Ms. Tippett: You want to tell what the response was?

Ms. Olds: Yes, I used to be submitting poems in ’75, ’76, ’77, ’78, and one journal wrote back, “If you wish to write about your children, may we suggest The Ladies’ Home Journal? We are a literary magazine.” It wasn’t that atypical again in the ’70s.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah, you write as a lady; you don’t merely write about being a lady, but even in case you did — what it is to be a lady is such a strong and important elemental variation on the theme of what it is to be human. It appears to me that you simply just decided, towards a grain, that that was fascinating and essential to you, and it was fascinating and essential to write about, to give voice to.

Ms. Olds: Sure. I didn’t determine; it just was so fascinating to me. And loving dance and sexuality and — I feel, virtually each poem of mine that’s a sexual poem is a sexual love poem. I don’t assume I’ve written a lot in the area — is there such a factor as “the area of pure sex”? I haven’t gone there.

But I just wrote about the things that me the most. A poem would come to me, and so I just wrote what got here out of my pen, out of my arm, related to my soul and thoughts and body. The truth that it hadn’t been achieved much was like — oh! It was like — I don’t know — it was exciting to be writing, perhaps, the first poem a few diaphragm. I didn’t know that until somebody advised me that.

Ms. Tippett: That nobody had ever in historical past written a poem a few diaphragm before?

Ms. Olds: Somebody stated that to me.

Ms. Tippett: I feel you in all probability have lots of firsts in there. We’re going to dive really deep into that. I do, though, need to observe — on this guide, as properly — because it’s The Lifeless and the Dwelling — I feel you decide up on something that also runs all the approach by means of your work, which is the love that we’ve got for our youngsters and the intimacy, that exact intimacy is there. There’s one brief poem that I just found. It captures so much in so few words, which is, in fact, what poetry does, proper? “Exclusive.” Do you keep in mind this one?

Ms. Olds: Oh, yeah. This e-book came out in ’84, so the poem would’ve been written perhaps two years earlier than then, so perhaps ten years previous, twelve years previous.

“Exclusive (for my daughter)”:

“I lie on the beach, watching you
as you lie on the beach, memorizing you
against the time when you will not be with me:
your empurpled lips, swollen in the sun
and smooth as the inner lips of a shell;
your biscuit-gold skin, glazed and
faintly pitted, like the surface of a biscuit;
the serious knotted twine of your hair.
I have loved you instead of anyone else,
loved you as a way of loving no one else,
every separate grain of your body
building the god, as you were built within me,
a sealed world. What if from your lips
I had learned the love of other lips,
from your starred, gummed lashes the love of
other lashes, from your shut, quivering
eyes the love of other eyes,
from your body the bodies,
from your life the lives?
Today I see it is there to be learned from you:
to love what I do not own.”


Ms. Tippett: Yeah, “to love what I do not own.”

Ms. Olds: I changed it while I read it. On the page it says “like a god, as I had built you within me,” and I stated, “as you were built within me.” And the subsequent time that’s about to reprint, they’ll ship me the e-book and ask, “Do you have any changes?” Oh, my God. So yeah, little things like that. I didn’t do it. It happened in me.

[music: “a collage of cut up flowers” by Lullatone]

Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and that is On Being. At present, with the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Sharon Olds.

Ms. Tippett: It’s fascinating that that particularly fierce type of love additionally has this — from the very starting, this certainty that the flourishing of that life will imply separation from us, that we don’t own that love. I mean, we don’t ever own any love, but we’ve that illusion with other loves, perhaps.

I would like to transfer via a couple of of your books, but there’s something, also, on this ebook, about your son, and I’m considering so much proper now about being the mom of a son. I simply marvel should you would read that. There’s truly — there’s one in this — [page] 68 — so these two, I really feel. Perhaps, let’s speak about that and what this poetry surfaces for this dialog.

Ms. Olds: OK, so that you’d like me to read these two.

Ms. Tippett: I feel so.

Ms. Olds: Sure, thanks.

Ms. Tippett: In case you’re all proper — if that sounds good.

Ms. Olds: I’m so all proper. This is sort of a dream of heaven. And you make such a superb God, I need to say.



“Coming residence from the women-only bar,
I’m going into my son’s room.
He sleeps — wonderful, freckled face
thrown again, the scarlet lining of his mouth
shadowy and aromatic, his small tooth
glowing uninteresting and milky in the darkish,
opal eyelids quivering
like insect wings, his palms closed
in the middle of the night time.

Let there be enough
room for this life: the head, lips,
throat, wrists, hips, penis,
knees, ft. Let no half go
unpraised. Into any new world we enter, allow us to
take this man.”


Ms. Tippett: That was [page] 96.

Ms. Olds: Thanks.

“My Son the Man”:

“Suddenly his shoulders get a lot wider,
the way Houdini would expand his body
while people were putting him in chains. It seems
no time since I would help him put on his sleeper,
guide his calves into the shadowy interior,
zip him up and toss him up and
catch his weight. I cannot imagine him
no longer a child, and I know I must get ready,
get over my fear of men now my son
is going to be one. This was not
what I had in mind when he pressed up through me like a
sealed trunk through the ice of the Hudson,
snapped the padlock, unsnaked the chains,
appeared in my arms. Now he looks at me
the way Houdini studied a box
to learn the way out, then smiled and let himself be manacled.”


Now, if I used to be scripting this poem now — I’ve discovered so much since I wrote that poem, I might not find a way to have chains in a poem without referring to the atrocious history of our country and without referring to my son’s luck in blending in by being white and being a WASP and all of that.

I additionally didn’t understand that my youngsters would develop up to be grown-ups like me and my former husband, imperfect individuals. I mean, my youngsters are fantastic individuals, but no individual is perfect. Someway, somewhat kid can appear so good. And then — you’re not going to make the errors your mother and father made, but I didn’t understand what number of different mistakes have been out there to be made.


Ms. Tippett: That is so true! [laughs] I do know. It’s so odd that we will endeavor to do it so a lot better — to mum or dad so a lot better than we have been parented — and objectively, you may make a case that many of us do. And yet, what we are elevating are people, they usually end up having flaws and neuroses and their issues, and that’s also a part of how they develop into who they are, and how they —

Ms. Olds: Yeah, sure.

Ms. Tippett: Are you considering, today, about being the mom of a son, and the males in our lives, and —

Ms. Olds: Properly, I’m definitely eager about men. I’m between boyfriends, so I’m all the time interested by males. However what’s your —

Ms. Tippett: Nicely, like this line — this may increasingly simply be me. We gained’t dwell here. But this line, “Into any world we enter, let us / take this man.” 

Ms. Olds: Right, and the factor about being afraid of males — I was raised to be afraid of males. I used to be raised to not really feel protected if I used to be the only individual on the block, after which there was also a man, any man, or boys, especially multiple. It just was a time when many males felt very little respect for females — and anger of want. And once I was 13, my classmate was kidnapped and raped and murdered in Berkeley, California. That, in fact, confirmed us all just a little bit, from the outdoors of that household, what was attainable. And being afraid of men, afraid they’ll assume I’m ugly, and just all types of fears.

I used to be in an exquisite marriage, and so I wasn’t afraid of my former husband. And I in all probability was just a little bit of a sexist as a mum or dad but not in the approach you’d assume, but more like considering boys needed more encouragement, perhaps, because it was more durable for them to study all that nice motor stuff and even a few of the giant motor stuff. But we talked about every thing, my youngsters and I. So I feel I did my greatest. I feel that was the greatest I might do.

Ms. Tippett: I assume what’s on my heart now’s that I feel like there’s so much unfinished work we have now to do, as ladies and for ladies and when it comes to gender. And but, I also assume that we now have to do it along with males, and there’s one thing about that line — once more, “take them with us” — anyway, and because, also, there are good males in our lives, proper?

Ms. Olds: Oh, sure. Completely. Loads of them are right here at this convention.

Ms. Tippett: And plenty of them are here, poetry-reading men.

So fascinating to me — here we’ve had a taste of the depth and breadth and profundity of what you’re writing about and the voice you’re writing in.

You gained the Pulitzer for Stag’s Leap, which was about the finish of your marriage. And I don’t know, I’m positive other poetry has been written about divorce, so I don’t know if this can be a world first. But I do really feel like the method you fulsomely wrote about the experience, from many various places along the spectrum of that experience — I feel the reality that you simply beloved and honored the marriage that was ending, also, gave a certain character to the poetry. I’m wondering if I asked, is there one poem in that ebook, Stag’s Leap, that you desire to to learn, that you simply now recognize at this take away.

Ms. Olds: There’s one I learn typically — that I learn to the high school youngsters as a result of I noticed it’s a great poem for highschool youngsters. It’s referred to as “Known to Be Left.” It’s early on. It’s page 18. I wrote an awful lot of poems in the, perhaps, four years through which this ebook was written, most of them in the first yr. What did I say? [Page] 18. Thanks.

It doesn’t all the time appear to be in our arms, how open we could be in our poems and how we will tell a fact that may be a little bit beneath the floor of the fact.

“Known to Be Left”:

“If I pass a mirror, I turn away,
I do not want to look at her,
and she does not want to be seen. Sometimes
I don’t see exactly how to go on doing this.
Often, when I feel that way,
within a few minutes I am crying, remembering
his body, or an area of it,
his backside often, a part of him
just right now to think of, luscious, not too
detailed, and his back turned to me.
After tears, the chest is less sore,
as if some goddess of humanness
within us has caressed us with a gush of tenderness.
I guess that’s how people go on, without
knowing how. I am so ashamed
before my friends—to be known to be left
by the one who supposedly knew me best,
each hour is a room of shame, and I am
swimming, swimming, holding my head up,
smiling, joking, ashamed, ashamed,
like being naked with the clothed, or being
a child, having to try to behave
while hating the terms of your life. In me now
there’s a being of sheer hate, like an angel
of hate. On the badminton lawn, she got
her one shot, pure as an arrow,
while through the eyelets of my blouse the no-see-ums
bit the flesh no one seems, now,
to care to touch. In the mirror, the torso
looks like a pin-up hives martyr
or a cream pitcher speckled with henbit and pussy paws,
full of the milk of human kindness
and unkindness, and no one is lining up to drink.
But look! I am starting to give him up!
I believe he is not coming back. Something
has died, inside me, believing that,
like the death of a crone in one twin bed
as a child is born in the other. Have faith,
old heart. What is living, anyway,
but dying.”


Ms. Tippett: You’ve stated that folks have been uncomfortable with you being — what did you say? — your being a “divorce sharee.”

Ms. Olds: Did I say that?

Ms. Tippett: Telling individuals about it, you felt like Typhoid Mary if you have been going via that.

Ms. Olds: Oh, I was in a crowd of long marriages, with youngsters at the middle of all of our marriages. And yeah, I felt like I had harmed one thing. In fact, I hadn’t truly harmed anything or anybody. It was 50/50, and it turns out to have been an excellent factor for my life as well as his. Individuals change over the course of 32 years together, and I feel now that it was the proper factor. I’m not ashamed in front of my buddies, and I’ve had three extraordinary relationships during that time. I do know issues and I’ve felt issues that I by no means would’ve recognized or felt if that hadn’t happened. So yes — but in the beginning, I did.

There’s a poem a few long drive with an previous pal, wherein I confessed to him the question that was the worst thing. It’s referred to as “The Worst Thing.” I confessed to him that the worst factor was — after which I just began boohooing, and I might hardly speak — was, what if I had harmed love? Love, like some superb — I actually feared that. And then he calmed that worry, after which it was easier.

[music: “As Ballad” by Lambert]

Ms. Tippett: After a brief break, more with Sharon Olds. You possibly can all the time pay attention again and listen to the unedited model of every show we do on the On Being podcast feed, now with bite-sized extras — wherever podcasts are discovered.

I’m Krista Tippett, and that is On Being. Right now with the poet Sharon Olds at the 2018 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Pageant. She gained the Pulitzer Prize for her 2012 collection Stag’s Leap, which she wrote over a interval of a number of years by means of the finish of her long marriage.

Ms. Tippett: Your newest ebook, your 2016 guide, is Odes. And this is the one that has plenty of words in it that we will’t say on public radio.


I’m going to say a couple of of them proper here, and we’ll in all probability have to minimize it out. It consists of the “Ode to the Hymen,” “Ode to the Clitoris,” “Ode to the Penis,” “Ode to the Condom,” “Ode to the Tampon,” plenty of others, “Ode of Withered Cleavage,” “Celibate’s Ode to Balls” — we will say “balls” on public radio. [laughs]

Ms. Olds: Who knew?

Ms. Tippett: I’m not going to ask you to read the ode to the penis as a result of most of it might get — but I would like to read a bit of little bit of it as a result of it’s fabulous. This part, it begins with “Someone told me that what I write about men is objectifying.” After which it ends: “I like you—not as an object but / as subject: a prime mover, working theory of plumbing and ecstasy, / a boy’s pride and anxiety, windsock of zephyr and gale, half / of the equation of creation.” It’s nice. [laughs]


Ms. Olds: Thanks.

Ms. Tippett: Thanks. [laughs]

You wrote this poem just lately, which was revealed in The New Yorker — I don’t assume it’s been printed — “No Makeup”? Would you read this one?

Ms. Olds: Positive. Do you could have it?

Ms. Tippett: I do. I printed it out.

I was wanting around, truly, this morning — I had it already in my preparation, and I read it in The New Yorker when it got here out. It was fun. And then I was wanting round this morning, because I needed to print it out for you, and I came throughout this younger lady, Caitlin Skinner, who has a YouTube channel, and she or he’s a army officer. She’s younger and just pretty, sensible, and a very appealing human. She’s simply started doing this, and the first piece she’d carried out on her YouTube channel is her — she’s in her fight fatigues, and she or he’s talking about what she’s discovered as a pacesetter and as a mentor. And her second feed is her — not in her fight fatigues this time — reading this poem, “No Makeup.” It was lovely. So anyway, I would like you to learn it.

Ms. Olds: Wow.

Ms. Tippett: But think about that too.

Ms. Olds: Caitlin?

Ms. Tippett: Caitlin Skinner.

Ms. Olds: Skinner; Officer Skinner, thanks, thank you.

“No Makeup”:

“Maybe one reason I do not wear makeup is to scare people.
If they’re close enough, they can see something is different with me,
something unnerving, as if I have no features,
I am embryonic, pre-eyebrows, pre-eyelids, pre-mouth,
I am like a water-bear talking to them,
or an amniotic traveler,
a vitreous floater on their own eyeball,
human ectoplasm risen on its hind legs to discourse with them.
And such a white white girl, such a sickly toadstool,
so pale, a visage of fog, a phiz of
mist above a graveyard, no magenta roses,
no floral tribute, no goddess, no grownup
woman, no acknowledgment
of the drama of secondary sexual characteristics, just the
gray matter of spirit talking,
the thin features of a gray girl in a gray graveyard—
granite, ash, chalk, dust.
I tried the paint, but I could feel it on my skin, I could
hardly move under the mask of my
desire to be seen as attractive in the female
way of 1957,
and I could not speak. And when the makeup came off I felt
actual as a small mammal in the woods
with a speaking countenance, or a basic
primate, having all the expressions
that evolved in us, to communicate.
If my teen-age acne had left scars,
if my skin were rough, instead of soft,
I probably couldn’t afford to hate makeup,
or to fear so much the beauty salon or the
very idea of beautyship.
And my mother was beautiful—did I say this?
In my small eyes, and my smooth withered skin,
you can see my heart, you can read my naked lips.”


Ms. Tippett: Thanks.

Ms. Olds: Thanks.

Ms. Tippett: I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma in the 1960s and ’70s, and it was an actual make-up tradition. I truly knew individuals, ladies, younger brides, who acquired up at 5:30 in the morning, for an hour earlier than their husband, to curl their hair and placed on their makeup. I doubt that that lasted very lengthy into the marriage, but…

So once more, I see anyone saying that this is trivial, however truly, it’s a huge a part of the lives of girls, this makeup, no-makeup, how much, how dramatic it’s; if sooner or later you determine to put on much less…

Ms. Olds: And we go through phases, historically, and so it was an incredible shock to me to see 14-year-olds with very, very stylish, very apparent and lovely but surprising — that they had been youngsters a few years before — so I feel at first I assumed, oh, we’re going again to the ’50s. The strides that we’ve made and the advances that we’ve got made have been like that, and now there’s going to be a dip.

But I feel the advances we’ve made are real and are usually not going to disappear. They are wanted in several ways, throughout the Earth. I’m not shocked anymore. And it’s luxurious for me, once I cry at the films, to just have the opportunity to wipe my eyes.


But primarily, I just couldn’t perform. No matter method any of us — males, ladies, gay, straight — can perform greatest, can let loose of our mouths what we actually imply, what we expect and feel, then we should always go for that fashion, no matter it is, I feel.

Ms. Tippett: Typically I feel like younger ladies — and I’m positive this can be a generalization that doesn’t apply to everyone — I feel like a few of them — I take into consideration my own daughter. I feel they wear make-up because it pleases them.

Ms. Olds: That’s an excellent cause.

Ms. Tippett: I don’t feel like it’s all about the exterior, about pleasing others.

Ms. Olds: Right.

Ms. Tippett: And in order that’s liberation.

Ms. Olds: That’s right. That’s right.

Ms. Tippett: Don’t you also envy how they don’t care if anyone can see their bra strap displaying?


Ms. Olds: I feel that’s so cool.

Ms. Tippett: I know. However that is one in every of this stuff, growing up a number of many years in the past — sorry, I’ve by no means stated that in a — [laughs] see what you’re inspiring in me?

Ms. Olds: Nicely, I am so in settlement, and what I really like is that I don’t have to fear anymore. In fact, there are definitely individuals who assume that at my age, one shouldn’t have a bra strap displaying. However then, it’s also an excuse to get bras with fairly straps.

Ms. Tippett: It is. And I feel these women who are 15 and who are 25 now, their bra straps are going to present, they usually’re going to reside to be 115. In order that might be an entire new world. [laughs]

Ms. Olds: It’s going to be a troublesome world for them once they’re getting shut to 100.

Ms. Tippett: Nicely, there’s that.

Ms. Olds: But we consider in you, younger individuals. And we love you. And we thanks.

[music: “Dustland” by Dekko]

Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett and that is On Being. At present, with the Pulitzer Prize profitable poet Sharon Olds.

Ms. Tippett: I would really like for us to just hear some more poems, earlier than we end, from Odes. I pulled out a number of — I’m wondering if you might want to read the “Unmatching Legs” ode because I feel that can also be part of the story of where you’re, and together with your dancing and simply that piece of drama in your life right now, as your life is progressing.

Ms. Olds: I’ve realized that this ebook happened as a e-book of odes. I was touring with my then-boyfriend, and a e-book of Neruda’s nearly fell off his shelf in an previous used bookstore. It fell on him, and he stated, “Here are poems. This is a book of poems.”


I read some of them — “Ode to Salt,” “Ode to the Table,” “Ode to a Dog” — and didn’t think of copying them. They have been so complete, and it was Spanish-English, and I’ve enough Latin and Italian that I might truly perceive, with the dealing with page. But then, later, weeks later, every week later, I assumed, odes to widespread things. So the tampon is the first ode of this collection that I wrote. After which it was additionally good to find a way to write about sexuality without writing particular love poems to this man who would not have appreciated those poems going out into the world. I wrote them, and I’ve them, and I will put them right into a ebook for him, a e-book of his. But that was one purpose that I’ve some abstractions on this guide.

“Unmatching Legs Ode” — I’ve to give a shout-out to Kwame Dawes — yo, Kwame — who accepted this poem for publication, which was just so thrilling, in the Prairie Schooner.

“Unmatching Legs Ode”:

“I don’t know why I am fairly cheerful
about my unmatching legs.  I am not
cheerful about my foot soles, which were
like two brains, reading the ground,
and now have less than half their nerves, they are the
numbskulls to whom I trust my balance, their
surfaces crinkled tinfoil made of rubber.
But when I lie on the floor, on my back,
and look up, at my lower limbs, those
tapered feelers, I like them, even
though you cannot tell if the left is
withered or the right fat—the right
is swollen.  When I was a new matron,
I thought that the blue-green line down my inner
calf—the great saphenous vein—
was a Nile beauty mark, and the way it
rose, when I was carrying my first young, there was
something cool in how it fit between the
ledges of the gastrocnemius
and soleus, like a snake between two
strata of rock.  So when I see the leg’s mass,
I am almost proud of it, that it could
fit in it one and a half of its fellow.
And the skinny leg, the original one,
how can it be that I like the healed
gouge on it, from the edge of the porch
stair, when I fell upwards, or the one
from the corner fang of his truck door,
they hold the places I’ve been, they are like
passport stamps from his kingdom.  I have always
liked my legs, the double stem
which lifts the big odd flower of me up
and up.  It’s as if I fell in love
with them, when they and I began
to learn to walk together.  The two of them were
best friends, who could press against each other
and feel the love, at the top of the stalks, and they were
twins—not identical, but
mirror twins, loving the other was
loving the self, they were ecstatics, they were
the thyrsus and the stylus, the healthy narcissus.
I’m sad they will rot.  I wish our bodies
could leave us when they are done with us—
leave our spirits here, and walk away.”


Ms. Tippett: Thank you.

Would you like to inform us anything about your legs?


Ms. Olds: I like wanting up muscle mass and nerves and finding out their names. I like bizarre phrases. I had a political wrestle with that. I long needed to depart a pile of poems at the checkout at ShopRite. I might take a look at the ladies who also have been consistent with me — and in these days, they have been, gee, virtually all ladies — and marvel which of my poems they could feel welcome to. And if it had a flowery, bizarre word close to the beginning, eh, not a lot.

So I attempted to omit the fancy, weird words, however the hassle was, I used to be in love with those phrases. They’re like magic spells. I studied languages as a result of I really like them a lot. I’m not good at them, and I don’t know semantics or semiotics or something like that, but I really like those words. So, once I’m studying that, I see, uh-oh, “gastrocnemius” is coming. Get ready.

And again, having experienced myself as not assured but weird and partly not confident because of being bizarre however then creating a taste for the weirdness — and, you understand, as soon as we find pals, once we discover close pals, they love us for our weirdness as much as our not-weirdness. And so, there’s this lady of, I don’t know, 65, no matter I used to be then, lying on the flooring, watching her legs wave in the air — it’s normal. And it’s enjoyable.

Ms. Tippett: [laughs] You stated to me, just a little earlier once we have been talking about sons, that should you wrote that again, you may notice how a lot privilege — I feel that’s an overused phrase; we’d like many words to speak about what we’re speaking about with that word — and about him being white. You do have this “Ode to My Whiteness” on this guide, which I feel is a vital poem.

Ms. Olds: Thanks. I might not have this ode, have been it not for the sensible poet Evie Shockley’s guide, The New Black. In that e-book, I don’t keep in mind if it’s “Poem to My Blackness” or “Ode to My Blackness,” but this poem is after Evie Shockley.

“Ode to My Whiteness”:

“You were invisible to me.
You went without saying.
You were my weapon secret from myself.
Whatever I got, you helped get it for me.
You were my ignorance.
Because of you I was not innocent.
I did not see that—you were my blinding light.
My dreams had a blank area in the center,
taking up most of the screen they played on in my sleep—
a blazing circle that blanked out the core of the scene.
I thought it was my mother’s violence,
but it was you, too.
You the unseen fat which fed me in the wilderness.
You my masonic handshake.
You my stealth.
You my drone.
You my collaborator.
You my magician’s cloak of steam,
you my dissembler.
You mine? I yours,
irisless eyeball, you my blindness,
inspiration of my helpless act,
you my silence. Evie’s blackness
a dancer, you another, the two of you moving together.”


Ms. Tippett: This matter of whiteness is just one of those large reckonings we have now to have — and lots of conversations. And truly, I don’t know that there’s different poetry like this. So thank you for that contribution to our reckoning.

Ms. Olds: Thanks. Thanks.


Ms. Tippett: I questioned if we might finish with a shorter — what is it? Oh, [page] 94, your “Ode to Dirt.” [laughs]

Ms. Olds: Oh, sure.

Ms. Tippett: I don’t know why — I simply thought this may be a stunning approach to finish. It’s a bit of shorter poem, and it’s sort of about every thing.

Ms. Olds: Thank you. It was considered one of the poems in this ebook not written early on in the ode-writing. I feel, for every ebook that comes out of mine, there’s ten occasions as many poems, or 5 occasions as many, that didn’t make the grade. And there are early ones and late ones, and it took me so long — I couldn’t bear to consider that the Earth might die. I simply couldn’t bear to consider it. So I didn’t, till two weeks ago or each time it was, and that definitely changed my life. And I’m grateful that I’m more in touch with the fact than I had been. However this poem showed slightly consciousness of that.

“Ode to Dirt”:

“Dear dirt, I am sorry I slighted you,
I thought you were only the background
for the leading characters—the plants
and animals and human animals.
It’s as if I had loved only the stars
and not the sky which gave them space
in which to shine. Subtle, various,
sensitive, you are the skin of our terrain,
you’re our democracy. When I understood
I had never honored you as a living
equal, I was ashamed of myself,
as if I had not recognized
a character who looked so different from me,
but now I can see us all, made of the
same basic materials—
cousins of that first exploding from nothing—
in our intricate equation together. O dirt,
help us find ways to serve your life,
you who have brought us forth, and fed us,
and who at the end will take us in
and rotate with us, and wobble, and orbit.”

Thank you.

Ms. Tippett: Thanks, Sharon Olds.


Ms. Olds: Oh, thanks. Thank you.


[music: “Arriére-Pensée” by Melodium]

Ms. Tippett: Sharon Olds is the Erich Maria Remarque Professor of Artistic Writing at New York University. Her books of poetry embrace Devil Says, The Lifeless and the Dwelling, Odes, and Stag’s Leap — for which she gained the Pulitzer and T.S. Eliot Prizes. She also helped found NYU’s outreach program for residents of Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island, and for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Special thanks this week to Martin Farawell, Catherine Bloch, Paul Allshouse, David Mayhew, Julia Hahn-Gallego, and the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Pageant and Basis.

Employees: On Being is Chris Heagle, Lily Percy, Mariah Helgeson, Maia Tarrell, Marie Sambilay, Erinn Farrell, Laurén Dørdal, Tony Liu, Bethany Iverson, Erin Colasacco, Kristin Lin, Revenue Idowu, Casper ter Kuile, Angie Thurston, Sue Phillips, Eddie Gonzalez, Lilian Vo, Lucas Johnson, Damon Lee, Suzette Burley, Katie Gordon, Zack Rose, and Serri Graslie.

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