In my Goodreads review of Sharon Olds’ The Dead and the Living, I wrote: “Sharon Olds is like your sweet next-door neighbor, the one who brings you plum jelly every year and collects your mail while you’re away, and then one day reveals over coffee that her sister used to squat over her in bed and pee in her face.” Based on the Sharon Olds poems I’d seen in anthologies, I wasn’t expecting the collection to be so formidable, or weird, or formidably weird. Readers who don’t like her work describe it as self-indulgent. True enough, although I’ve never thought of extroversion as a criterion of good poetry.
She was born in San Francisco, on November 19 (the day after my birthday!), 1942. Educated at Stanford and Columbia, she’s lead a very ordinary life in New York for most of her adult life, with a husband and a couple kids. She’s won oodles of awards and done a stint as New York’s state poet. She describes her role as “being an ordinary observer and liver and feeler and letting the experience get through you onto the notebook with the pen, through the arm, out of the body, onto the page, without distortion.”
Maybe the reason I find her poems so discomfiting is that she’s so much like me and the people I know: a middle aged woman with a family, someone at home in modern America, the kind of person often dismissed as a “soccer mom.” But she writes about it; she writes about every little piece of it, and they’re not all pretty.
I just came across this poem, which is new to me: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=146690
Note written later: Hmm, I seem to have neglected to write a following entry to this one. I was preoccupied with real life at the time, I guess. Which may or may not be fitting. I’ll add one at some point.