From Coos Bay to Poetry

By guest blogger Sarah Miller

At eighteen I left Coos Bay, Oregon for Barnard College in New York. Unfortunately, my first women’s college experience occurred days after my arrival when a famous actress and her Spence admirers ditched me somewhere in the Village on our way to a club. A week later, I was sitting in class beside one of those young women, reading the poetry of Sharon Olds. With enough subway tokens and a college of my own, I flourished through her words and became aware. I saw that I was a strong bright human being with a voice and something to contribute to the world. Later during a surprise spring shower, my vintage pink cashmere cardigan dotted with drips of black dye from a bodega-bought umbrella, I Mary Tyler Moored my way to a poetry reading. The poet was Sharon Olds.

“I am doing something I learned early to do, I am
paying attention to small beauties,
whatever I have—as if it were our duty to
find things to love, to bind ourselves to this world.”
From Little Things by Sharon OldsI felt fantastic. It was spring. I made friends with the subway’s Red Line and a diverse group of strong and kind young women. I gained style, knew about poetry readings and Sharon Olds. “I’m going to make it after all,” I told myself.

Flash forward many springs. Admittedly, I have not been reading a lot of poetry since college. However, I do have a similar liberated spring in my step as I walk down Montgomery Street to the office of the Women’s Foundation of California where I will contemplate poetry and its connection to my work.

We all go through cycles of awareness. I was laid off from my teaching job and have been unemployed for some time. Changing careers in this economy has been harder than finding my way back to Barnard from the Village before the iPhone and mapping software.

I lost my go-getter attitude in favor of becoming someone who fetches and carries.  Working, even one day a week at the Foundation has helped me regain my sentience. I love my work, the strong and kind women I work with who catalyze change for women and girls throughout California. “I am doing something I learned early to do,” believing in the power of women and myself. April is poetry month and a time to come marching marching bringing greater days. Teachers are setting aside tests in favor of butterfly haikus, those small beauties. What will you do? I am one of the “small beauties,” and you? Are you a small beauty too?

If Sharon Olds is too “old-school” for your 2011 poetry month, check out Paula Kamen’s (Very Incomplete) Feminist Poetry Syllabus for 2011

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2 Comments

  1. clement
    Posted 04/07/2011 at 3:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

    …Oh yes. I’m absolutely a small beauty
    ( or so I’ve been led to believe as a “diminutive man” ). Nice blog Ms Miller.

  2. pj
    Posted 04/08/2011 at 9:36 am | Permalink | Reply

    I enjoyed this thoughtful essay–lots of nuanced references and clever turns of phrase. Keep them coming!

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