Sharon Olds and late night driving

Last night I drove to Sheffield because Sharon Olds was reading at the ‘Off the Shelf’ festival there.  I was meeting the lovely Carola Luther there – who just happens to have a Sunday poem on this blog – Grasmere poet in residence – and then driving her back to Grasmere. 

I love Sharon Olds – she is one of my favourite poets I think – I find her poems heartbreaking and uncomfortable.  I thought it was worth the drive from Barrow to be able to hear her read – the publicity said it was a ‘rare visit to the UK’ and I thought I might not ever get the chance – so I went. 

I left Barrow at 3 and got to Sheffield about 6.30 – due to traffic and the stupid sat nav taking me over the mountains instead of directing me round on the motorway, so there were times in the journey when  thought, what am I doing?  Am I crazy? 

I got there and asked this nice student for directions, who then said I could park on her drive for free…isn’t that just lovely?  And then inside the rather huge student union I asked another group of three students how to get to the auditorium – and they escorted me there!  Tesco staff could learn a lot from these guys.  And even better, one of the rather young, fresh-faced boys/men said ‘Let me guess-are you a fresher?’  I told him I loved him, which shocked him somewhat, and then said ‘ I haven’t been a fresher for 13 years’  He looked suitably shocked.  What a lovely young man. 🙂

Anyway, the reading was amazing.  Sharon Olds was lovely – she flung her arms about, knocked a bottle of water over (twice) and spread her books out to dry.  There was a question and answer session in the middle which I usually hate because it is full of people who just want to hear the sound of their own voice in a big space, and they often don’t ask a question, but instead make a statement, leaving the poet often floundering with what to say other than ‘yes, I agree’ or ‘no, I don’t’.  However the questions were more sensible than usual, and Sharon Olds was so funny. 

When asked what advice she would give to young writers she said ‘Take your vitamins’ and then went on to elaborate ‘Bend, stretch, dance, exercise’. 

Her new book ‘Stag’s Leap’ I read today in between schools.  It is a wonderful book – the whole thing is about her divorce, but it is also an exploration of what marriage means – and she is so generous to the husband, who I felt angry with throughout the book.  She writes it with real love and compassion.  I want to read it again now, more slowly so I can take it in, but I think it is going to be one of my favourite poetry books of the year.  It’s also just been shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize.

I wanted to write something about driving home late at night – how I love driving on my own and listening to music or the radio – but then there are also people that I love driving with as well.  The hubby of course – we’ve talked all the way from Cumbria to Leicester before.  My lovely friend David Tait – my lovely vicar-poet friend Manon Ceridwen – and I’m adding to the list Carola now – the drive home was as interesting as the reading. 

Other news – there is a lovely write up on David Birkett’s blog about the Inpress event that I read at recently and my pamphlet.

The link is here and was brought to my attention by Inpress books on Twitter:

On David’s blog there is a picture of my pamphlet – sitting on a nice cloth-shaped background.  It feels so strange that my pamphlet is in someone else’s house – I know it obviously is, because I’ve been selling them, but it still feels weird!

Going to sign off now – I am way too tired – rehearsal in the morning tomorrow, two classes of thirty odd trumpets, trombones, baritones and cornets and then I’m off to see The Sound of Music at the Forum.  One of my pupils is playing Von Trap…

5 comments on “Sharon Olds and late night driving

  1. I agree Sharon Olds is brilliant – glad it was a great reading.

    Congratulations on being mistaken for a fresher. I was recently asked at Tesco if I was old enough to buy alcohol. I said I was and then told the cashier he’d made my day. I think I have been old enough to buy alcohol for approximately as long as you have not been a fresher! It’s a great moment.

  2. Kim, I’ve just finished reading Stag’s Leap too and found it heartbreaking and disturbing. For me, her description of love, and the ending of it, was so visceral.
    And I love driving with you too! xx

    1. Yes, disturbing is a good word. She is far more forgiving than I would be, that’s for certain! It seemed to be saying a lot to me about the concept of marriage in general though, as well as obviously being very specific and personal.

  3. Yes, I find her work very engaging. I can really identify with her poems when more `worthy’ poetry leaves me cold. I wonder how she manages to combine the particular with the general and how she gets away with writing so personally…..But Stag’s Leap freaked me out a bit……you know given that i am getting married 3 months tomorrow…..

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