Sharon Olds and the Engagement of Poetry

When I first encountered September, 2011, I think it’s a classic Olds poem that features a confessional style. The first line of the poem “A week later, I said to a friend: I don’t/ think I could ever write about it” suggests a reference to the September 11 Attacks. This is quite obvious from the name of the poem and the theme of the book. However, Olds instead focuses on the personal experience in order to create empathy between her and the readers. In the poem, Olds counts the time since they split, and laments the fact that there is someone else who shares the new and ongoing memories that her ex-husband makes. In a sense, Olds is thinking about the breakup, a loss, from September 2011. However, this experience can also be used to indicate a more universal and enormous loss that happened on 9/11 – the loss of togetherness, love, memories, and future. Later, as the poet holds her dying mother, Olds begins to realize “the luck and luxury of that hour”. Therefore, as Olds writes, “And it came to me, / for moments at a time, / moment after moment, / to be glad for him that he is with the one he feels was meant for him now.” This poem skillfully insinuates the sadness that people went through after the attacks by describing a personal event, and uses the realization that Olds personally acquires to deliver the essence of this poem. By not addressing the attacks directly, Olds avoids the mistakes that might occur when writing about national/international events – understatement, inaccuracy, overstatement, and misstatement. This way, Olds tries to tell her readers that she can understand the mishaps they are going through. In the end, Olds uses her own lesson learned from the breakup with her husband and the final moments with her mother to tell readers: tragedy is an inevitable force, and even though it requires time to recover, people will have to move on and cherish what really matters – the present.

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