From Sharon Olds—a stunning new collection of poems that project a fresh spirit, a startling energy of language and counterpoint, and a moving, elegiac tone shot through with humor.
From poems that erupt out of history and childhood to those that embody the nurturing of a new generation of children and the transformative power of marital love, Sharon Olds takes risks, writing boldly of physical, emotional, and spiritual sensations that are seldom the stuff of poetry.
These are poems that strike for the heart, as Sharon Olds captures our imagination with unexpected wordplay, sprung rhythms, and the disquieting revelations of ordinary life. Writing at the peak of her powers, this greatly admired poet gives us her finest collection.
From her debut Satan Says (1980) through Blood, Tin, Straw (1999), Olds has tackled child sexual abuse and grownup women's sexuality on a post-Freudian (some said post-feminist) canvas of love, hate, revenge. This seventh volume of verse offers Olds's regulars all they have come to expect: "blood skin and tongue," "glass, bone metal, flesh, and the family." Olds describes "the day my folks/ sashed me to a chair"; the day her speaker "slowly cut off eyelashes"; her desire "to work off/ my father's and my sins"; a father's cross-dressing; the Virgin Mary's vulva ("the beauty of her lily"); birth-control practices and pro-choice politics; menopause (at 491/2); and memories of parturition: "there came that faint, almost sexual wail, and her/ whole body flushed rose." All these moments appear, as usual, in confidently effective free verse that leaves no reader behind. Olds's followers may be delighted, or simply surprised, as they find, midway through the volume, an increasing focus on happiness: poems such as "The Hour After" and "If, Someday" portray the great sex and the commitment the speaker shares with her male partner: "I love/ to not know/ what is my beloved/ and what is I." Another group of moving poems consider her pleasures as an empty-nest parent, sharing space or conversation with "nearly-grown children." Olds has never been thought technically innovative, and this collection will not convert detractors. It will, however, offer her many fans new work to chew on, presented with her usual intense honesty, along with "some fancies of crumbs/ from under love's table."