A new poem up at Hazlitt today:
“…LW: The poems in the beginning of Ceremony, there’s gentility in the speaker’s regard of these masses of people living together. That seems new to me.
MAS: What do you mean by gentility?
LW: I guess there’s no implied vitriol. I never feel that the masses of people would do harm.
MAS: Most of the time I lived in New York I was constantly amazed by the civility of New Yorkers—as in, I can’t believe all these people aren’t murdering each other right now. You have to deal with quite a bit of adversity to live there. A friend of mine used to say it’s like being at the Olympics, all the time. Like just getting around.
LW: I find it exhausting.
MAS: It’s tremendously exhausting. The overwhelming civility of New Yorkers is extraordinary, given how hard people have to work there, just to be a person…but when you fall down, people help you get up. People will give you directions when you’re lost.
That said, there are certain codified behaviors that New Yorkers adopt in order to function together. Being on an escalator, for example. People who want to stand on the escalator stand to the right and people who want to walk on the escalator walk on the left. This is how it works. And when that system breaks down, people get frustrated. But that’s the main way you see people being angry in New York—when these little modes of behavior break down.
LW: You can imagine the repercussions should it become systemic.
MAS: Chaos! I guess there’s something that’s a little bit fascist about all of it—everyone has to behave the same way in order for all of us to get along. But I think there are certain ways in which that’s true.”
“Sharon Olds has consistently served as a sense-making machine. For 30 years and over ten volumes of poetry, she’s documented both her family of origin and the family she helped to create, exploring the tension between the two to great effect. Where relationships become complicated by violence she has transcended the victim/perpetrator binary, humanizing her subjects, and negotiating the dim territory where ideas about right and wrong conflict with lived experience. This ability to speak from a conflicted perspective has become a trademark, established in her first book, Satan Says, “I love him too, / you know… I love them but / I’m trying to say what happened to us”.”
“It’s winter in Harvard, Illinois, where the only toy the children have is their mother’s hair and snow. Snow falling in a barrel of rusted engine parts. The speaker, like someone delivered from long illness, has one foot in this world, one in the next. As in snow, there’s something ghostly at work in these poems. Remarkably, the effect is not of detachment but of flux, of hallucinogenic fever.”
“I thought poets belonged in the street brandishing their wine bottle at the moon, in ecstasy and burning at all times. Now I suppose I imagine the annex of cubicles provided adjunct teachers at the state university, the pale skin and bitter ash, the sneering face over the cafe table that’s learned the identity of this year’s Whitman winner. In envy and smoldering.”