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Sharon Olds

Sharon OldsSharon Olds is one of contemporary poetry’s leading voices. Winner of several prestigious awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award, Olds is known for writing intensely personal, emotionally scathing poetry which graphically depicts family life as well as global political events. “Sharon Olds is enormously self-aware,” wrote David Leavitt in the Voice Literary Supplement. “Her poetry is remarkable for its candor, its eroticism, and its power to move.”

Olds’s candor has led to both high praise and condemnation. Her work is often built out of intimate details concerning her children, her fraught relationship with her parents and, most controversially, her sex life. Critic Helen Vendler publically disparaged Olds’s work as self-indulgent, sensationalist and even pornographic. However, Olds has just as many supporters who praise her poetry for its sensitive portrayal of emotional states, as well as its bold depiction of “unpoetic” life events. Discussing Olds in Poetry, Lisel Mueller noted: “By far the greater number of her poems are believable and touching, and their intensity does not interfere with craftsmanship. Listening to Olds, we hear a proud, urgent, human voice.” And the poet Billy Collins has called her “a poet of sex and the psyche,” adding that “Sharon Olds is infamous for her subject matter alone…but her closer readers know her as a poet of constant linguistic surprise.”

Olds’s poetry is known for its accessible and direct free verse style. Often first-person narratives, her poetic voice is known for both its precision and versatility. The colorful events of the poems are always rendered in sharply realized images that cut quickly from the gory to the beautiful and back again. (The Poetry Foundation)

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Late Poem to My Father

Suddenly I thought of you
as a child in that house, the unlit rooms
and the hot fireplace with the man in front of it,
silent. You moved through the heavy air
in your physical beauty, a boy of seven,
helpless, smart, there were things the man
did near you, and he was your father,
the mold by which you were made. Down in the
cellar, the barrels of sweet apples,
picked at their peak from the tree, rotted and
rotted, and past the cellar door
the creek ran and ran, and something was
not given to you, or something was
taken from you that you were born with, so that
even at 30 and 40 you set the
oily medicine to your lips
every night, the poison to help you
drop down unconscious. I always thought the
point was what you did to us
as a grown man, but then I remembered that
child being formed in front of the fire, the
tiny bones inside his soul
twisted in greenstick fractures, the small
tendons that hold the heart in place
snapped. And what they did to you
you did not do to me. When I love you now,
I like to think I am giving my love
Directly to that boy in the fiery room,

As if it could reach him in time.

(Picture Credit: www.vogue.com)

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