Each year a Boston University MFA alumni is invited to introduce the main speaker at the Robert Lowell Memorial Reading Series. The year I was in the program, Peter Campion introduced Seamus Heaney—I never dreamed that I would be back, five years later, as the alumni introducing another poetry legend, Sharon Olds!
I had always admired the confessional quality of Sharon Olds poems—the way she uses imagery, veering from the sometimes violent or even grotesque to ethereal beauty. The raw emotion of her poetry demands a reader’s attention—and, discovering her as a young poet, I couldn’t help but gravitate to the power of her writing.
I’m not sure exactly what I expected when meeting Sharon—maybe a tough feminist, maybe someone who spoke little but judged a lot. Whatever I expected, I was surprised. Sharon Olds was more like talking to the hippy mom of a friend, with her straight gleaming silver hair. She was kind, humble, and encouraging—and, more than anything, she radiated with a love for poetry.
As part of the reading series, Sharon gave a Q & A time with the current MFA students. I was able to sit in, and there she shared that she still gets rejections (is that even possible?!), that she tries to write useful poems, and that she feels everyone should be able to write about what they desire to write about.
The reading was in BU’s castle—a gorgeous, ornate building. The room was small, but packed, and after being introduced by Robert Pinsky, I read a selection from Keeping Me Still. I had nervously practiced earlier that day, and I’m glad I did—after the first couple of poems, I felt comfortable enough to actually enjoy reading in front of an entire crowd of people.
Sharon Olds read from several of her books, and hearing her read her poetry gave it a different quality than what you read on the page—it really brought forth the humor in her writing. My favorite poems of her reading were her new Odes—wry, funny, richly playing with language.
We signed books afterward (her far more than me!) and chatted with the audience. This reading is by far my favorite that I have ever been a part of—having the encouragement and support of an accomplished poet that I admired made the evening one to remember.