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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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The only thing I can say about this poem is, I’ve been in a counselor’s office for grief counseling when my mom passed away and I can still feel the raw vulnerability of those appointments. This poem made me feel that way again. But there is a sweet tenderness about it that, too, that choked me all up.

 

The Space Heater

On the then-below-zero day, it was on,
near the patients’ chair, the old heater
kept by the analyst’s couch, at the end,
like the infant’s headstone that was added near the foot
of my father’s grave. And it was hot, with the almost
laughing satire of a fire’s heat,
the little coils like hairs in Hell.
And it was making a group of sick noises-
I wanted the doctor to turn it off
but I couldn’t seem to ask, so I just
stared, but it did not budge. The doctor
turned his heavy, soft palm
outward, toward me, inviting me to speak, I
said, “If you’re cold-are you cold? But if it’s on
for me…” He held his palm out toward me,
I tried to ask, but I only muttered,
but he said, “Of course,” as if I had asked,
and he stood up and approached the heater, and then
stood on one foot, and threw himself
toward the wall with one hand, and with the other hand
reached down, behind the couch, to pull
the plug out. I looked away,
I had not known he would have to bend
like that. And I was so moved, that he
would act undignified, to help me,
that I cried, not trying to stop, but as if
the moans made sentences which bore
some human message. If he would cast himself toward the
outlet for me, as if bending with me in my old
shame and horror, then I would rest
on his art-and the heater purred, like a creature
or the familiar of a creature, or the child of a familiar,
the father of a child, the spirit of a father,
the healing of a spirit, the vision of healing,
the heat of vision, the power of heat,
the pleasure of power.

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Picture Credit: www.vogue.com

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