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Strike Sparks: Selected Poems, 1980-2002 Paperback – September 28, 2004


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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

A powerful collection from one of our most gifted and widely read poets–117 of her finest poems drawn from her seven published volumes.

Michael Ondaatje has called Sharon Olds's poetry "pure fire in the hands" and cheered the "roughness and humor and brag and tenderness and completion in her work as she carries the reader through rooms of passion and loss." This rich selection exhibits those qualities in poem after poem, reflecting, moreover, an exciting experimentation with rhythm and language and a movement toward an embrace beyond the personal. Subjects are revisited–the pain of childhood, adolescent sexual stirrings, the fulfillment of marriage, the wonder of children–but each recasting penetrates ever more deeply, enriched by new perceptions and conceits.

Strike Sparks is a testament to this remarkable poet's continuing and amazing growth.


From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Sharon Olds was born in San Francisco and was educated at Stanford and Columbia. She was the New York State Poet Laureate from 1998 to 2000. She teaches poetry workshops in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at New York University and was one of the founders of the NYU workshop program at Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island in New York City. Her work has received the Harriet Monroe Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Lamont Selection of the Academy of American Poets, and the San Francisco Poetry Center Award. She lives in New York City.

Sharon Olds’s The Dead and the Living; The Gold Cell; The Wellspring; The Father; Blood, Tin, Straw; and The Unswept Room are available in Knopf paperback.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (September 28, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375710760
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375710766
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #193,634 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Kornbluth on January 31, 2008
Format: Paperback
Her father is dying, and her plane's been cancelled, but there's another, leaving in just a few minutes, not in this terminal, but it will get her to her father before he dies, and so Sharon Olds runs --- I swear to you, she runs as no woman has ever run before.

She's making love. Though it looks like she's having sex, because the writing is so specific. But as much as Sharon Olds revels when he does [redacted] to her and she [redacted], she's clear what's really going on. ("How do they do it, the ones who make love without love?" she wonders.) And so, after, she knows what women know after.

Her son, he's so big now. And her daughter --- brushing her hair, Sharon Olds can't help thinking: What does it all mean?

Parents, lovers/husbands, children. Sharon Olds deals mostly --- I could almost say: deals only --- with the big topics. At least, the big topics if you have parents, husbands/lovers and kids. And she deals with them so directly, so bluntly, that it may come as a surprise to those who do not know her writing that she is a poet, and, for my money, the best we have.

The subject of a lot of poetry is poetry: the poem taking its place --- or wanting to --- in the great chain of literature. Sharon Olds has done her reading. And she has her influences. But the beauty of her writing is that you see none of that. All you get is a woman, looking and listening, and then talking. "Do what you are going to do, and I will tell you about it," she writes at the end of a poem about her parents, and that's the strength of her work --- it's just the facts she thinks you need, plus her take on them.

Sharon Olds can go this deep because she lives this deep. She does not read newspapers or watch TV.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Chicken on March 17, 2005
Format: Paperback
Sharon Olds has many capabilities as a poet. This collection is highly entertaining, catches you off guard, is vivid, moving, and beautifully raunchy. She celebrates sex and family as well, or better, than anyone I've read. Nice book with some very memorable poems.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By S. MCADOO on September 21, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have to admit I was not familiar with the work of Sharon Olds before today. Today I read her moving letter to Laura Bush explaining why she was declining her invitation to the National Book Festival in Washington.

If her poetry is one tenth as moving, heart-felt, and true as that letter, she's gotta be one terrific poet, and I look forward to the volumes of her work I ordered from Amazon this evening. If you've not yet read her letter yet, I urge you, do so.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By S. A Blackerby on August 20, 2005
Format: Paperback
Sharon Olds is a standard issue female confessionalist poet. If you like Plath or Sexton then give her a try. She is more graphic then they are though. I hate to see her described by one reviewer as the worst poet in the world. Simply not true. If you enjoy honest, bare and shocking writing then she will be the best poet you have ever read.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Bookcrazy on September 30, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After reading her letter to Mrs. Bush, I'm supporting Sharon Old's rejection of Laura Bush's invitation to participate in the National Book Festival and breakfast at the White House by buying one of her books. Thank you, Sharon Olds for making this brave and costly stand. I hope others will buy your books to support you and your honesty. I look forward to becoming acquainted with your poetry.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By GardenPoet on February 26, 2008
Format: Paperback
Sharon Olds is an incredible poet, and should be read by anyone interested in current poetry. The poems in Strike Sparks are powerful language evoking clear visuals and strong feelings. The seeming simplicity of her writing style, coupled with her focused attention, leaves one wanting to turn each page and absorb yet another. At the same time, she has a wonderful sense of humor--the first page that flipped open when I first picked up the book was "The Pope's Penis." How can you not explore further after that?!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Endless Kitchen on September 22, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Fiery, coarse, sagacious, sensual, confessionalist and lovely are some of my reactions and thoughts on the poems by Sharon Olds. Many of her poems over a twenty two-year period from 1980 to 2002 are chronicled in "Strike Sparks," and readers and lovers of poetry will benefit, emote and perhaps even change themselves in some way from this book. Olds' poetry has a beautiful way of showing the many possibilities of life in general from the lowest hardships and pathos to the highest consciousness and feelings of contentment. Her poems are often free verse or of irregular form. They are an experience like digging a much-needed ditch; not clean, uniform, easy or painless but a labor of love that might build strength or character. The words often jolt and jump from one line to the ensuing one, but her voice is as poetic as anyone writing today despite her poems' topsy-turvy shapes.

There are over 115 poems in this book and they span, in nature, from profound to playfully witty and, in topic, from disaster to the mundane. In the poem "Topography," Olds takes a rest after a trip with her partner and compares their positioning as they lay next to each other cuddling to the geography and landscapes they have traveled over. It is a clever analogy as is her humorous, provocative and catchy poem "The Pope's Penis," which creates a description of a mundane, old man's body with beautiful and poetic parts and compartments. "The Shyness" brings a new slant to the feelings and anxieties so many of us have probably felt or seen in the faces, eyes and expressions of others.
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