9.29.2006

Fodder for discussion

Always good to see people writing about what poets are up to these days.


Thank you to Miss Meow for the link

48 comments:

I.J.Parker said...

Sorry, I neither admire the poet, not feel pity for Frey. Both were completely aware of what they were doing and wanted the publicity.

Anonymous said...

This was a lost opportunity on her part.

p.n. Elrod said...

A simple "no thank you" would have sufficed.

Or she could have gone to the dinner, not eaten, spoke her mind in front of all those people, and dealt with whatever aftermath might happen face-to-face with Mrs. Bush.

When I have a problem with someone I look them in the eye and talk to them, I don't notify the media.

We have (thankfully) freedom of speech, but I am not willing to have freedom from good manners.

The Rejected Writer said...

Whether or not I agree with Ms. Olds's choice (which I happen to), I respect her integrity. She could have (as she stated) ranted against the war from the platform Mrs. Bush offered her. Instead, she realized that accepting Mrs. Bush's hospitality was, in itself, incongruous with her beliefs.

Throughout history hospitality (breaking bread with the stranger) has held incredible significance. In our world/culture/countries of easy access to food, we forget that sharing a meal was once a true sacrifice of valuable resources for a host(ess).

To my mind, Ms. Olds has done that which is truly right (in the moral sense) when her personal convictions are considered. To break bread with someone who is (at least morally) an enemy is antithetical and lacking in some level of moral fiber.

She exercised her right to free speech in writing a public letter. Perhaps she made a few people think about her position more seriously because she didn't use the gathering as a bully pulpit, but rather chose not to be there at all.

PicAxe said...

While I can't comment authoritively on either Frey's or Olds' motivations, your comment made me think--always a challenge--about the role publicity pays in success--that of the money-rolling-in-variety. I'm a bit of a pop culture nut, love all the silliness people--or many times the press--attach to their public lives.

But the world grows worrisome . . .

Have my teeth grown long, I ask myself, or has the pool of public figures grown more grasping of fame, more shallow? Is House right, does everybody lie to get what they want? Or, worse yet, must an author, often by his/her nature a mole who prefers dark places and solitude, be obliged to have his ugly mug made public?

And finally how much more of Anna Nicole Smith will we be forced to endure--and when will the book be out?

This Girl I Used to Know said...

So what did we learn from the story of Mr. Frey?

It's OK to lie to get attention, because even if eveyone hates you for it, you're still going to be rich from the royalties and they will not.

Oh, except for when it backfires, and then you'll never work again, but hey... that's the risk you take!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this poet needs to be reminded about the Gulf War or what happened on September 11, 2001. I don't suppose she was seperated from her family or loved ones for the week after the attack on America, or was affected in any way.

Funny how people can be so decisive about an issue that they don't have complete information about. She knows only what the media knows, which is far from the complete truth.

December Quinn said...

Me either. I love how the writer of the article seems to think the poet's letter wasn't rude, when it clearly was--rude and offensive. "I refuse to break bread with you"? Self-important much?

If you don't want to go, just say no.

Anonymous said...

I've never read any of her poetry, but I hope Miss Olds is a better poet than activist. She only succeeded in making herself look foolish. -JTC

elcid said...

I would encourage anyone interested to read the entire Olds letter at:

>http://www.thenation.com/doc/20051010/olds

Regardless of what you think about her motives or the politics, it is a damn fine piece of writing.

Anonymous said...

It takes a secure and brave individual--no matter their profession--to turn down an invitation from the first lady. This article hits home to what many still discuss...the more publicity, the more the books sell.

nir said...

Okay, now this woman's comments to Laura Bush just seem mean to me. No matter how you feel about this country's international decisions, I don't see how Mrs. Bush can be held accountable for them.

mamalujo1 said...

I disagree; you're essentially damning the poet if she did or if she didn't. She didn't. She explained why in an eloquent way. She could have done it and, as she recognized, used the opportunity to speak in front of thousands at an otherwise well-intended forum. She was damned if she did, and damned if she didn't. Or blessed either way as well.

I try diligently to refrain from assuming to speak for others, their opinions or of what they may be aware, because one is usually wrong, and can never know if they were right.

JJ said...

Very interesting article. Regardless of your political persurasion, it also raises interesting questions about writers and readers (and I think there are many of us) more interested in worlds of our own creation than the one in which we actually exist.

caren1701 said...

Thanks, Miss Snark. Now I have one more reason to love Sharon Olds. I have great respect for anyone who holds to their beliefs even when (especially when?) upon casual inspection it may seem as if they're blindly shooting themselves in the foot. Some people thought Adrienne Rich was nuts too. :)

i.j.parker -- I could be wrong, but I don't think Olds is going for anyone's sympathy.

acd said...

Strunk and White addressed this exact thing in Elements of Style. I'm inclined to side with them.

If you have received a letter inviting you to speak at the dedication of a new cat hospital, and you hate cats, your reply, declining the invitation, does not necessarily have to cover the full range of your emotions. You must make it clear that you will not attend, but you do not have to let fly at cats. The writer of the letter asked a civil question; attack cats, then, only if you can do so with good humor, good taste, and in such a way that your answer will be courteous as well as responsive. Since you are out of sympathy with cats, you may quite properly give this as a reason for not appearing at the dedication ceremonies of a cat hospital. But bear in mind that your opinion of cats was not sought, only your services as a speaker. Try to keep things straight.
-- Strunk and White, "The Elements of Style"

B. Dagger Lee said...

Grrr.

First off, Sharon Olds lives in New York City, on the West Side and teaches at NYU, which is about a mile from Ground Zero. I’m absolutely positive she has a good understanding of what happened on September 11th.

Secondly, she signed her name to her letter, unlike most of us here, who are either completely anonymous, or use pseudonyms.

Thirdly, while Sharon Olds may be well-known as a poet (and really, how well-known is any poet other than Snoop Doggie?), it is not exactly a financially rewarding profession. She makes what a tenured professor at NYU makes. Plus a little more, I’d imagine, off her poetry books, and readings and speaking engagements. Throw in a little more dough for awards and prizes, and she maybe makes as much as a successful plumber on Long Island. And that’s a plumber with one truck, not one with a company that runs a few trucks. And I’d still say she probably doesn’t make as much as the plumber.

And thirdly, contrary to what the Bush administration says daily, there are good people who are patriots and love America and who disagree with this administration’s policies. Sometimes these good people believe it’s their duty as good citizens—remember civics class? -- to express their approval or disapproval of these policies and to participate in politics as a citizen.

Fourthly, there are good Christians, and good Muslims and good Jews and good atheists who believe ‘Thou shalt not kill’ to be an important commandment, and who believe that all of the many rationalizations we weave for the killing of other human beings are rationalizations of evil, and not what their God wants them to countenance.

Fifthly, Old’s letter to Laura Bush was sent and published a year ago, and I have yet to see the publicity put any of her books on any bestseller lists or even get her an invite to appear on “Dancing With the Stars.”

Sixthly, for many years Sharon Olds has helped run a writing program at a hospital for long-term care of the chronically ill, which is the kind of service few of us perform. She does it quietly, and without financial reward or public recognition.

Finally, she was invited to an event and RSVP’d with the reasons why she could not accept the invitation. I found her letter courteous, profound, moving, thoughtful, patriotic, ethical and WELL-WRITTEN. And YES, she was once a writing teacher of mine, but even if I didn’t know her, I’d defend her courteous and public statement of her beliefs against anonymous hacks. Fuck that shit.

Some of y’all might read a little more poetry; it might help with your writing, and thinking and morals.

Yrs, B. Dagger Lee

P.S Unlike some of the other comments, I am inclined to find your comment elegant and witty, acd, but perhaps expressing one's opinion about war, torture and tens of thousands dead is not equivalent to expressing one's opinion about the opening of a cat hospital.

xiqay said...

Thanks Miss Snark for more food for thought.

I think Miss Olds gained little in the way of publicity and readership from her moral stand-far less than she would have if she had attended. How many of us had seen this last year? How many of us will buy her poetry? As the first anon said, she missed an opportunity-to reach a wider audience with her work, and her opinions. But what she did, I am convinced, she did from moral purpose.

Strunk and White may offer guidance, as suggested. I like the phrase "out of sympathy" meaning to be not in harmony. But Strunk and White's way may not really fit the situation either-not liking cats is a far cry from opposing an unjust war where thousands have been killed.

I wish Ms. Olds had made the point that war and literacy are not compatible. It's hard to teach reading to people struggling to survive. It's difficult to promote diverting limited resources to books and writing, when guns and bombs are being used-by you or against you.

Laura Bush was a librarian and promoter of literacy long before the war in Iraq, and she is on "our" side--our being readers and writers. But she supports the war, and has from its instigation through its continuation.

What does an ethical person do? I think there is room for choice. Ms. Olds missed one opportunity. But she made her own as best she could.

May we all write with her passion.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2 wrote: Perhaps this poet needs to be reminded about the Gulf War or what happened on September 11, 2001.
Funny how people can be so decisive about an issue that they don't have complete information about.

Um, I guess you're referring to yourself then?

And for the rest here who bleat on about manners as if it's the paramount issue now facing this country, wouldn't you consider invasion and occupation of another country bad manners?! This nation is in the ugly morass it's in precisely because people were/are afraid to speak their minds. Amen to anyone speaking truth right now.

a certain sinclair said...

Cats?! WTF? What does Strunk say about attending dinners with warmongers' wives?
" If you have received a letter inviting you to speak at the dedication of another facility for the debriefing of Islamic terrorist suspects, and you hate war,death and privation your reply, declining the invitation, does not necessarily have to cover the full range of your emotions. You must make it clear that you will not attend, but you do not have to let fly at war, death,torture and privation. The writer of the letter asked a civil question; attack war, death, torture and privation, only if you can do so with good humour, good taste, and in such a way that your answer will be courteous as well as responsive. Since you are out of sympathy with war, death, torture and privation, you may quite properly give this as a reason for not appearing at the dedication ceremonies of yet another facility for the debriefing of Islamic terrorist suspects. But bear in mind that your opinion of facilities for the debriefing of Islamic terrorist suspects was not sought, only your services as a speaker. Try to keep things straight."

Dave said...

I agree with Strunk and White. If you decline an invitation, you should not harm or bereat your host for inviting you. Obviously he or she thought that you would enjoy yourself and others would enjoy you. Both guest and host have social obligations at dinner. I think we forget that in this day and age.

I learned when I started working in the 1970's for the federal government job that my job was the same no matter what politician occupied the White House or what party ruled the congress that appropriate the money that paid me.

Dave

Anonymous said...

Stand up for what you believe - no matter what! Besides, how could you possibly eat under those circumstances.

Kim said...

I find it extremely offensive for anyone to suggest that if you do not agree with the President's actions, you either don't remember September 11, or you are somehow unpatriotic. Excuse me, but isn't it MY right as an American to have the freedom to feel differently and be allowed to voice that opinion? Men and women have died to give us that freedom and how DARE you suggest it is unpatriotic or un-American for anyone to think for himself/herself! What about the fact that five years have passed and we are no closer to catching the person actually responsible for what happened on Sept. 11? What happened to 'wanted - dead or alive'???? Where did that go?

Whether the poet was rude or not is immaterial - if that is how she feels, so be it. She is entitled to that, to her opinion, and the right to refuse to share a table with anyone she does not feel comfortable with. I also think it is insulting beyond belief to lump her with James Frey. Frey is a liar, pure and simple, and he made a fortune from being a liar. Plain and simple.

Instead of slapping Sharon Olds' hand, you should be thanking God that you each have the right to your own belief and the right to express it.

GutterBall said...

Call me crazy, but I just kinda wonder if she made Mrs. Bush cry. And whether that's good or bad.

See, my mother admires Laura Bush almost as much as an earlier generation admired Jackie O'Nassis. She thinks Mrs. Bush is a lady in every sense of the word. In that case, a simple "no, thank you" to a personal invitation would have been considered good manners (and yes, I know that good manners aren't exactly world-stopping, but they might help in some of our diplomacy), rather than a lengthy (if well-written) diatribe against the administration Mrs. Bush represents.

However, I have to respect the freedom of Ms. Olds to say exactly how she feels. If I love my country and stand up for its ideal, and I very much do, then I have to listen to opinions that I don't share and give them their due attention. I don't have to agree, but I do have to allow them. In that case, Ms. Olds could have told Mrs. Bush to stick her White House breakfast invitation up the President's wow-hole without being unpatriotic.

But Mrs. Bush seems like such a lady. And I wonder if she cried when she read this letter.

There's a time and a place for political statement, folks, and an RSVP to a little get-together isn't usually either.

Janet Black said...

mamalujo1 said... "I disagree; you're essentially damning the poet if she did or if she didn't. She didn't. She explained why in an eloquent way."

A simple "no thank you" would have spoken volumes without all the 'eloquent' rudeness. I guess poets can be bitchy at heart.

kaytie said...

I doubt Laura Bush cried. I doubt she much cared.

This is the woman who canceled a library symposium in 2003 because invited guests--poets--planned to read work that promoted peace, protested war, and generally exercised their right to disagree with what was then the "possible war with Iraq."

From a Fox News Article, link below: A White House spokeswoman said that although Laura Bush "respects and believes in the right of all Americans to express their opinions, she, too, has opinions and believes it would be inappropriate to turn the literary event into a political forum."

Because literature and politics apparently shouldn't mix.

Don't remember? Google "Laura Bush Cancels Poetry" and see the news items.

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,78794,00.html

GutterBall said...

So she "believes it would be inappropriate to turn the literary event into a political forum."

What's wrong with that? Why turn a simple event into a war protest? There are war protests every day. Maybe she just wanted one public event without one.

It's certainly her right. Why crucify her for it?

Why does that make you say she wouldn't have cried or cared when receiving such a personally critical (no matter how lovely the prose) a refusal to an honest invitation? How does it make her any less a lady or insinuate that she has no feelings?

Again, I'm not saying I agree with her opinions or her stance on the war, but I am saying that she has as much right to express them as anyone else. I'm just more curious as to her feelings on the subject than anyone else's.

After all, Ms. Olds made her feelings quite clear. If Mrs. Bush had penned a similar response to an invitation to, say, a peace rally, she would have been pilloried and left for the birds to pick at.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this an old story?

I remember hearing something almost exactly like this a year ago. I don't know if it was the same poet or a different one but it's certianly not the first time someone's declined this "honor" in such a manner.

xiqay said...

I think it was important for Sharon Olds to convey how much distaste she had for the proposition of dining (or participating in an event) with Mrs. Bush.

I'm guessing-but don't you think Sharon Olds LOVES words, loves books, loves all things reading and writing. For her to walk away from a national book festival, a celebration of the written word, means that she would need a powerful reason, one of such weight it overbalanced her love for literature. I think she needed to put that into words.

I don't think Laura Bush cares a fig about Sharon Old's opinion, or mine. Her view, as already pointed out, is a narrow politeness that doesn't allow discourse of unpleasant topics. Some may define this as being such a lady, but I don't.

I can sympathize with the opinion that a simple "no, thank you" would be sufficient. It would not discomfit the recipient (Mrs. Bush). And it would still do the job of declining. And it would allow for future survival in a political arena. But Sharon Olds isn't looking to survive in a political arena. She's trying to live with herself and her poetic inner life.

I do wonder if it isn't better to work together when possible, on issues where you have things in common, so that when you get to harder, more divisive issues, you have already established a mutual respect that can serve as a base for dialogue.

But I'm not sure what's right. I'm not sure if it co-opts your morals to brunch with someone whose politics you despise. It may build a bridge that allows for inroads of change. Whether that would be good or bad, desireable or not, I haven't figured out either. I wouldn't want to feel indebted to Laura Bush, even for a nice dinner. Inroads can work both ways.

For me, seeing what Sharon Olds did gives me room to imagine what I might do in a similar situation. For that, I thank her, and Miss Snark for putting this on her blog, for opening up an ethical debate and showing (not telling) ethical living.

overdog said...

Great discussion. I have nothing to add, except b. dagger lee, I think I love you. (and kim and xiqay, too.)

also said...

xiqay said: "For me, seeing what Sharon Olds did gives me room to imagine what I might do in a similar situation."

I was considering the same thing. I tried to imagine a certain woman whom I politically despise inviting me to publicly dine with her. A simple "no thank you" would result - and that would save me from the agony of her company but provide none of the nastiness and bad publicity for me or sympathy for her. Sometimes it's what isn't said that shouts the loudest. I vote for class and manners over smug eloquence. But I guess that's asking too much for some people.

Anonymous said...

If being a "lady" means sticking to smalltalk and never expressing an opinion on anything (ie living a polite lie) then I'm glad I'm just a woman!

And WTF is the point of being a poet if you're not allowed to express your opinions on society because to do so would be impolite?

I don't think some of the people posting here have quite grasped the point of writing - or of living for that matter.

kitty said...

I don't think some people here have grasped the point of politely, and correctly, responding to an invitation.

Anonymous said...

I think if Hitler invited me to dinner I would say more than, "No, thank you."

I'm appalled by many of the posts here.

Apparently no one know what is going on in the United States government today.

All I can say is...all the empty jails Halliburton made aren't there for nothing.
link
Now that habeus corpus is suspended for people that are detained...
link
...the plan is all coming together.
Just wait.

Janet Black said...

anonymous said: "I don't think some of the people posting here have quite grasped the point of writing - or of living for that matter.

Some people don't seem able to realize there is a time and place for everything. Being a writer doesn't excuse that or place you above that. Shooting one's mouth off regarding politics is for political occasions or demonstrations, or tacky posters in your front yard, not social events celebrating books and honoring writers. But then a lot of people cough, sneeze and belch without covering their mouths.

B. Dagger Lee said...

Regarding manners and etiquette, I refer you to mr. ee cummings, who in 1922, wrote,

“the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls /are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds”

The whole poem is germane, but I skip to the end and quote only with fair use and per Miss S’s decree regarding copyright:

“…the Cambridge ladies do not care, above / Cambridge if sometimes in its box of / sky lavender and cornerless, the / moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy”

yrs, B. Dagger Lee

PS. Overdog, I love you too!

Kim said...

Oy.

I don't think this is so much a matter of manners as it is the fact that Sharon Olds spoke her mind about what is going on in the Middle East. Because certain people do not like what she had to say, they want to silence her. That is beyond frightening. It is the first step to shredding the most important amendment to our Constituition.

What happens next? Do we ban her books because she MAY have offended our First Lady? Do we burn them? Hmmm... isn't that what happened in another time, in another country? Where does it end?

Like it or not, Laura Bush is not immune from her husband's policies. Like it or not, people do NOT agree with what's gone on since September 11, 2001. Like it or not, those people have as much right to express that opinion as you have to express yours - even if it is in a manner that you might disapprove. The moment we try to silence the dissent, we begin to lose the basic tenet of our government.

ps - I love you, too, Overdog!

Laura(southernxyl) said...

Who is silencing Sharon Olds? Is she allowed to be publicly rude but criticizing her amounts to "silencing"?

I'd love to know how easy it was to teach literacy in Iraq, back when death was raining down on the Kurds and mass graves were being dug for little children. But we weren't at war with them, so it was probably OK.

And finally, how exactly is it "brave" to turn down an invitation from the First Lady? There's a special camp in the Gulag for people who do that? Or what?

kaytie said...

Ms. Olds did not decline an invitation to have private tea with Mrs. Bush. If that had been the case, a simple, "no thank you." would have sufficed.

Rather, Ms. Olds declined a public invitation to attend a literary event. As such, she was perfectly within her rights and, perhaps only in my opinion, showed appropriate manners to respond to the public invitation with a public reason as to why she would not attend.

There's a difference between declining to attend a private social evening and a public function put on by the government, and Mrs. Bush was acting in the capacity of First Lady, not as hostess of her parlor.

GutterBall said...

When did we jump from "a simple no thank you would have been appropriate" to damning the first amendment? As I said in my original post, Ms. Olds could have said much worse and still not have been either unpatriotic or unconstitutional.

Neither am I saying that the First Lady is immune to political attacks on her person. I am simply saying, again, that there is a time and a place for political activism, and an RSVP is neither.

I personally agree with Also: Sometimes it's what isn't said that shouts the loudest.

Ms. Olds could have said a simple no, and when the press asked her why she declined the invitation, she could have said anything she wished and reached just as large an audience and probably have been lauded for her tact. It would no longer have seemed to be a personal attack, and I think more individuals might have given real weight to her words.

Now, people like my mother will just be appalled and not lend any credence to Ms. Olds' commentary. It's the difference between diplomacy and activism. Catching more flies with honey. That kind of thing.

nice anonymous said...

Olds is behaving exactly the way other American poets have in the past when they are in disagreement with the current regime.

Let's go back to the 60s for a minute & consider another prominent American poet:

"Invited to a White House Arts Festival in 1965, Robert Lowell publicly refused Lyndon Johnson's invitation as a statement of his disagreement with American escalation of the war in Vietnam. In October, 1967, Lowell went further still, participating along with thousands of others in the March on the Pentagon."

B. Dagger Lee, thank you for listing the particulars regarding Ms. Olds. I never studied with her, but her book "The Father" has a place of honor on my bookshelf.

Kim said...

It's not the criticism that amounts to silencing her, but the suggestion that she should keep her reasons to herself. Isn't that the same thing?

Criticize all you want. That's your right. Knock yourself out with it. But don't slap her hand and tell her to be quiet, either.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

"But don't slap her hand and tell her to be quiet, either." Now you're silencing the criticism.

Janet Black said...

Kim said... "It's not the criticism that amounts to silencing her, but the suggestion that she should keep her reasons to herself. Isn't that the same thing?
Criticize all you want. That's your right. Knock yourself out with it. But don't slap her hand and tell her to be quiet, either."

It's not the same thing at all. We're criticizing her - just like she did Laura Bush. Once she makes her invitation refusal (and reasons) public, she has invited a response. And she's getting it. We have every right to our opinions, too. All we're doing is voicing them - just like she did.

Kim said...

And I'm saying that's fine. That's your right. And it was Miss Olds' right to voice hers.

My point was that both are equal - the right to opine and the right to find fault with anything being said. You might not like what she said, but she has as much right to her opinion as you do to yours. So go ahead and criticize all you want. That's your right and you should be grateful you have that right.

That's all I'm saying.

xiqay said...

Sometimes living ethically isn't living by the society's rules of politeness. But it's still living ethically and that has a higher value.

jmho.

(and luv ya all back-overdog and others).

Anonymous said...

Janet Black said...

"Some people don't seem able to realize there is a time and place for everything. Being a writer doesn't excuse that or place you above that. "

If you want to write anything worthwhile then, yes, it does actually. What on earth do you find to write about if you're not prepared to say anything that could possibly offend anyone? And why would you want to write if not to hold a mirror to society in some way? If you don't want to offend anyone, then presumably you're unable to draw on any of your experience of human relationships, just in case an acquaintance sees the faintest hint of themselves in one of your characters and is hurt by that.

Janet Black said...

anonymous said: "If you want to write anything worthwhile then, yes, it does actually. What on earth do you find to write about if you're not prepared to say anything that could possibly offend anyone? And why would you want to write if not to hold a mirror to society in some way? If you don't want to offend anyone, then presumably you're unable to draw on any of your experience of human relationships, just in case an acquaintance sees the faintest hint of themselves in one of your characters and is hurt by that."

You're talking about creative writing and we're discussing something else entirely. That's apples and oranges. As far as my writing, I don't give a damn if it offends. An unhappy reader can put the book down and piss off. I would not, however, announce my invitation refusal to the world, just to display my disapproval of someone's husband. BTW, you can say whatever you want from here on, I'm leaving on a trip in four hours and will not read it, nor reply until this is growing fuzzy green mold on it, which it deserves.