on January 31, 2008
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. "The amount of horror one used to hear about in one village could be quite extreme," she explains. "But one might not have heard about all the other villages' horrors at the same time." Also, she doesn't drink coffee or smoke, and she limits her wine. Her life is marriage, kids, work. Which, she says, accounts for accessibility of her poems:
"I think that my work is easy to understand because I am not a thinker. How can I put it? I write the way I perceive, I guess. It's not really simple, I don't think, but it's about ordinary things -- feeling about things, about people. I'm not an intellectual, I'm not an abstract thinker. And I'm interested in ordinary life. So I think that our writing reflects us."
"Strike Sparks" is a selection of her poems from 1980 to 2002. It tells a story, though that wasn't her intent along the way. ("I'm just interested in human stuff like hate, love, sexual love and sex. I don't see why not.") In these poems, we follow the dying of a father, the growth of children, the deepening of love through sex. And more. Because Sharon Olds mostly does what the greatest poets do: She knows what you feel, but can't find the words to say.
on March 17, 2005
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.
on September 21, 2005
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.
on September 22, 2012
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.
Quite a few of these poems are historical in setting or allusions and she has a way to empathize and relate with different persons and peoples across time and the globe; this creates haunting poems of heart-rending beauty such as "Photograph of the Girl."
Sharon Olds is not just a great American poet but an important one. Her poems can delight, intrigue, touch and inform readers about both life and poetry itself.
on February 26, 2008
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?!
on May 10, 2013
Haven't read much poetry since college but had a personal reason to pick this up. 50 years later, it's a pleasure to discover the gems of observation and insight that Sharon Olds provides. Her style is transparent and unpretentious. The poems can be understood at first reading, but certainly deserve careful rereading for their fine nuances and elegant structure. An insightful observer of herself and those she loves, she reveals glimpses in each poem that sum to a revealing portrait of the poet by the end of the volume.
on October 3, 2013
Olds has been a favorite since she mesmerized a room I was in as she read/performed a few poems about her father many years ago, and she has only gotten better. This collection is filled with beautiful writing and calls the reader back again and again to re-read, experience, think, learn, and feel.