Susan van Ling on the poets: Sharon Olds and Elizabeth Bishop

ImageSharon Olds.

I was introduced to the work of Sharon Olds when I was sixty. Late in life and eager to have my mind opened as I worked towards a creative wiring degree, but hindered by years of conditioning. Slowly within the two modules of poetry in this six year course (too, too short) I realised how she was using the forbidden thoughts within my mind. And gradually I looked at issues surrounding death, sex, child birth and sickness and was released from my confinement and began to use words which I loved using. They are just words and she by her wonderful poetry allowed me, in a way, to look at the beauty of them ‘Good Will’ is my very favourite but ‘The Elder Sister’ and ‘Monarchs’ too. Elizabeth Bishop I absolutely love ‘One Art’ by Elizabeth Bishop and this poem about loss and loosing things makes me feel as if this loss of memory in later life is just ok. No bit deal. “The art of loosing isn’t hard to master.”

Good Will by Sharon Olds

Sorting clothes, I find our son’s old
jeans, the dirt worn so deeply in
they are almost tan, worked as a palimpsest,
the nub down to a flat gloss,
the metal of the rivets soured to ochre,
the back pockets curved like shields,
their stitching is like water far from land,
a long continuous swell. Lee,
the pants say in auric print,
LEE, they say in letters branded
in leather on the waistband, like the voice of a boy’s
pants, the snap’s rattle, the rough
descending and ascending scale of the zipper,
the coin-slot pocket inside the front pocket.
He had waited inside me so many years, his
egg in my side before I was born,
and he sprang fresh in his father that morning,
I had seen it long ago in science,
I shake out the jeans, and there are the knees
exploded, the white threads hanging
outside the body, the frail, torn,
blue knee open, singing of the boy.

Sharon Olds


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