Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Meeka Walsh on Sharon Olds in Border Crossings

First of all I have to say that I have been, in my life, a big Sharon Olds fan. Perhaps as big a Sharon Olds fan as I am a fan of BorderCrossings. However unlike Border Crossings I fell out of love with Olds and largely view her now, as a parody of herself. Not that The Gold Cell isn't a spectacular book, and not that her continued investigations into the heart and body of the poet's life, aren't worthy, but Olds for me has in a sense undermined her own project by a kind of repititious meandering.
That said, Border Crossings has never once disappointed me. I have been in love with its glossy pages since I stumbled upon it in the small town in northern BC where I spent my high school years. I can still recall the moment I saw it among the other titles (Tractor pull, Northern logger?), and the feeling, upon first slipping in between its covers, as though I had walked into an art gallery. A contemporary art gallery. Of course I had never been in one before. This is impossible to imagine for the average New Yorker or Torontonian, having grown up with art at one's fingertips, but there are in fact 16 year old gallery virgins and I was one of them.
And now, I check online as I often do, to see what's up at Border Crossings and I find an appreciation of Olds by Meeka Walsh, who clearly is in love with her for some of the reasons I once was. After all, reading the Gold Cell, was as surprising to me as stumbling upon a gallery in a magazine, circa 1979. Walsh talks about discovering Olds through the artist who provided the cover for one of her books, the synchronicity of stumbling upon both artist and requisite poem in the New Yorker on the same day--a fate that would seal anyone's love of a poet to be sure. But she also sums up Olds with great precision:

Olds writes about her immediate world and the relationships close around her. She writes with an almost untenable candour, with urgency, at a pitch, with heat, with the emotional extravagance and almost imbalance of the Baroque (in the sense of intemperance and eccentricity). Sparks: Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004) is an autobiography. Beginning with the cover—Janet Fish’s work, Arcanum, 1990, might as well have been painted in response to the poems contained inside. Arcanum means secret or hidden knowledge: the goldfish in their bowl are the subject of a mean poem, “Killing My Sister’s Fish,” the pink, unfolded conch shell—a ready metaphor for a woman’s sex, the cosmology of the night sky vast and mysterious, uncharted and dream-inducing, appearing in the intimacy of night, and the fecundity of the alstroemeria with their sleepy droop and fleshy tones.--Border Crossings


I admit that, even now, after having run into now here and there in the city, and always finding her charming and open, I am still deeply suspicious of the "sameness" of her work. Of her inability to move on. I want her to move away from her desk, to be out in the world, to try a different line length. And damn it, I want her to concentrate on a line break or two! But Walsh's piece reminds me of what she does best, and now I'll have
to go back to the poems--maybe even pick up this selected--and reconsider. Maybe I ask too much of her. Maybe what she has done is enough.

Oh, and for sure I'm going to subscribe to Border Crossings. It is my favourite Canadian magazine--art or otherwise. And for my money, the best.

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