Saturday, August 29, 2009

Writing advice from Sharon Olds


"Would that we could write about ourselves."
- Sharon Olds

Last night I dashed home from work so that I could make it to Bath. Susannah and I had tickets to see Sharon Olds read poetry, and I didn't want to be late. I need to give a full confession here and say that I don't read a lot of poetry. I can only read one or two at a time or I get too tired. But listening to poetry is a whole different thing. When poetry is written by someone who really loves it and read by that same person, listening to it can feel like a meditation.

She had us sitting in the palm of her hand from her first soft words. There were troubles with the microphone and she had to tie her hair back, commenting on how she had to lose her 'shawl.' Later when the microphones were sorted out, she pulled it free and told us that now she felt safe again. From that moment so did we. We knew that we were in the company of a real person, but one who was about to give us an incredible gift.

After she read some of her poetry she sat in discussion with one of the organizers. I couldn't get very much down, but here are a few of the things she said. When asked about why she draws in her letters she said, "The pen just wants to do different things." She also said that "We as humans have a need to write poems." But my favorite thing (and you'll have to excuse me as I can only give you the gist) was when she talked about her writing process.

She writes longhand in spiral-bound notebooks so that she doesn't get intimidated by beautiful blank books (there was a lot of laughing with recognition in the audience at this one.) She writes quickly, scribbling words out as she goes. She said, "I don't want to put a word in to hold the place of another word." She said that each word has a sound, and it calls other words with a similar sound to it. When you put a word in to hold the place of another word it makes the work into something, and if you go back and change the word to the one you actually want, the whole thing goes wrong.

I needed to savour that a little this morning - that each word has a sound that calls another word to it - and think about it in relation to my own writing, and indeed the way that I think. Not allowing a word in that isn't drawing its like to you and your work is a very powerful decision.

Thank you so much Ms. Olds. You have inspired me enormously.

9 comments:

giftsofthejourney said...

When I'm writing and the right word escapes me in the moment, I leave a little placeholder such as ______ which is not a word so I don't get sidetracked. This space allows me to come back and put in the right word which sometimes is revealed later on as my piece grows. If I struggle in anyway, I leave the space and come back to it so I don't get stuck in editing mode and lose the authenticity of the story.

Emma Bradshaw said...

Wow Megg, that sounds a really inspiring evening, full of wise thought provoking words, thank you for sharing a few with me, I love the spiral bound wisdom, I even look at my vision board as a daunting blank space! Emma x

Lee said...

I am envious of your evening - on so many levels. Thanks for sharing what you learned. It clicked! Enjoy your weekend :)

memyselfandotherthings said...

I can totally relate to the fact that poetry read by the person who wrote it is one of the most beautiful experiences...

Sounds great!

sherry ♥ lee said...

words have sounds that call to one another. I love that.

And writing in a plain old spiral bound notebook because a beautiful journal is intimidating...is it any wonder you can feel that this woman loves words? She is all about what she does and not what it "looks like". Lovely!

Marianne said...

Thanks so much for sharing that! I was very envious of you and Sus but feel like we got a wee taste of the evening through you. Inspiring indeed.

Hybrid J said...

"... words have sounds that call to one another ..." It's like a sage giving out blessings. What a beautiful saying and like you, I have to stop and think and savour these wise words. Thank you for shairng such a wonderful finds. :)

shel said...

i have always been very fond of sharon olds. seeing her read her work in person was one of the highlights of my life. i have always loved her poetry and after reading your entry, i love her even more. so glad you had the chance to experience her in person!

daisies said...

ohhhhh ... thank you so much for sharing this. i love listening to poetry, i always think it is meant to be verbalized, spoken rather than living quiet on a page ... xo