The course got underway on Friday with a two part exercise. We were given two poems to read and comment on. The second part of the exercise was to write your own poem about a family member or a friend.
Spent much of the weekend playing with my children but did find time to read the poems and make notes although didn't get a chance to type them up until today at work. Haven't yet managed to write a poem of my own but have lots of ideas.
Here's my comentary
Comments on Wonder as Wander by Sharon Olds and Daddy by Sylvia Path
This poem is about making the familiar seem unfamiliar as Sharon Olds considers her mother from afar – “and for all my staring, I have not seen her”.
It is 36 lines of free verse, written as a continuous whole without any stanzas. It incorporates a hymn which Olds remembers her mother singing to her when she was small. The hymn has full rhymes but the rest of the poem is written mostly without the use of rhyme apart from the occasional half rhyme such as out and house (lines 1 and 2) and gone and one in line 3.
It took several readings before it gradually dawned on me that this is a portrayal of someone who is suffering from dementia or a similar condition. The mother needs daily helpers to get her through the day, she talks to herself and sometimes suddenly screams.
Although this could be a grim and sad poem about a bewildered old woman Olds lightens it with the use of alliteration the gilded gleamy in line 11 and song she sang in line 14. Olds imagines that her mother is experiencing another life than the one she is living and
I hold fast/ to the thought of her, wandering in her house.
But the key phrases tell a different story. no one repeats in lines 3 and 4. There is no one left in the mother’s life and in a sense she too is absent. She delays and delays her supper. All the people she has known are absent – her late beloved, her father and her staff. The word staff pulled me up as it has a dual meaning. It could mean the people who look after the mother – the daily helpers from earlier – but it could also mean a wooden support to lean on. I’m sure the double meaning is deliberate.
The poem conveys a sense of affection from Olds towards the mother. This is evident even in the title – Wonder as Wander. Olds still sees the mother as someone to wonder. The last seven lines of the poem include a happy memory from childhood when Olds would squat with her mother in the garden with the Red Queens. I’m not sure whether Red Queens are a name of American butterfly but in a sense my lack of knowledge doesn’t matter because in the poem they are also fairies. The poem ends with the mother and daughter seeing what we/ could see , and not seeing what we could not see.
Plath’s poem in contrast is an angry poem in which she has to kill the father. This is constructed in sixteen stanzas, each of five lines. Plath uses rhyme almost like a hammer blow, you, do shoe and achoo in the first stanza.
The word you repeats throughout the poem including the German du. Plath makes the poem sounds harsh and guttural as some people view the German language and compares her father to a Nazi. This is completely different from Olds’ gentle and loving portrait of her mother. Daddy is also as much about Plath as it is about the father. There are very few personal details about the father. She learn he died when Plath was ten and we can assume from the poem that he was German but the rest of the description is of him as a hate figure. In Olds poem we do get to see the mother wandering in her house, albeit we see her as a distant figure as Olds does.
I enjoyed reading both the poems. I knew of Sylvia Plath’s poem Daddy but had not read it with such close attention before. I think I am going to get a lot out of this course.
Alice Oswald at the BBC
13 hours ago