By Andrew Romanelli, Contributing Editor
Las Vegas enjoyed the rare occasion to be visited by one of the most influential living poets of our time this past Friday and Saturday evening—Sharon Olds. Her visit, a part of the Clark County Poet Laureate Poets of National Stature Reading Series consisted of a workshop at College of Southern Nevada’s Charleston campus and a reading at the Flamingo Clark County Library. Olds, who just released her latest collection titled “Odes” was a sight to see. With her silvery hair and her calming disposition, cane in hand (as she admitted awaiting a second hip replacement) you are eager to hear everything she has to share.
In the workshop, attendees of a wide varied age group and even wider origin stories listened to her intently. She spoke on the non-canonical gospel of Thomas quoting “If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” In her own way noting that “I can’t speak like him” (Jesus). She touched on the importance of the child’s voice within her poems and the importance of letting that out even if it is “un-loyal” to family. This struck a chord with many of the newer writers of youth in attendance who are still struggling in their own attempts to tell their stories. Olds listened to these stories (sometimes absent a question) with so much empathy exuding from the features of her face. Returning words to them that they themselves can use to further their own journey on the page. She said that she considered herself a “Leader of workshops” as opposed to a professor handing out writing assignments. You felt that she was this poet-mother who was encouraging your work not just because she believes in you but she has been there—goes there.
On the night of the reading, when she graced the Clark County Library Flamingo Theater, she told an 80+ audience in attendance that Las Vegas was “Fascinating, intimidating, beautiful, scary.” All this despite her years living in New York. She was inspired by our scenic mountain views, bright lights and striking jack rabbits.
Hearing her read for the first time in person I couldn’t help but think of another contemporary poet of stature, Billy Collins. But where Collins’ tone is both enjoyed and disliked, Olds has such a lulling effect in her tone. You are assured that no matter what she is discussing, everything will be alright. She read a total of eleven poems, breaking in the middle to answer questions and listen to comments. She closed with poems from her new book “Odes” which will likely go on to be her most read book. It will also be one of her more controversial (depending who you ask). What better to drive that home than with “Ode to the Clitoris” and “Ode to the Penis.” These two poems, being read as pairs, masterfully captured what an ode is and left nothing unturned in each of the subjects. Part humor, part pain, all introspection and revelation. Sharon Olds has only been to Las Vegas a few times in her life and I feel safe to speak for all those in attendance that we sure look forward to her return one day.