Sharon Olds Odes: A book Review


Sharon Olds and me. She is really nice and quirky. I had the amazing opportunity to introduce her and be her opening act reading at a reading she did for Boston University several years ago. And of course I’m going to share this photo again, because SHARON OLDS, y’all!

I’m currently reading Sharon Olds Odes. Got it for my birthday, from my mother in law, and my husband urged her “don’t read it…not even the table of contents”.

Olds is up to her usual shenanigans–Odes to all kinds of things that would bump this blog up to at least a PG13 rating (let’s keep it kid friendly). I’ll admit it isn’t my favorite of her books–Stags Leap was so moving. And there’s a poem of hers I read recently, in the anthology Joy (edited by Christian Wiman):

True Love
by Sharon Olds

In the middle of the night, when we get up
after making love, we look at each other in
complete friendship, we know so fully
what the other has been doing. Bound to each other
like mountaineers coming down from a mountain,
bound with the tie of the delivery-room,
we wander down the hall to the bathroom, I can
hardly walk, I hobble through the granular
shadowless air, I know where you are
with my eyes closed, we are bound to each other
with huge invisible threads, our sexes
muted, exhausted, crushed, the whole
body a sex—surely this
is the most blessed time of my life,
our children asleep in their beds, each fate
like a vein of abiding mineral
not discovered yet. I sit
on the toilet in the night, you are somewhere in the room,
I open the window and snow has fallen in a
steep drift, against the pane, I
look up, into it,
a wall of cold crystals, silent
and glistening, I quietly call to you
and you come and hold my hand and I say
I cannot see beyond it. I cannot see beyond it.




That ending, right? It is so powerful because of how she mixes the everyday things we don’t talk about–using the toilet in this poem–with the transcendent. And then the repetition just nails it down. This is what I love about her poetry–this mix, the bitter and the sweet, the everyday toenail-clipping part of the day with the falling in love part of the day, which is life, this mix, the unnoticed and mundane and sometimes disgusting with the beautiful spiritual and lifegiving.

Here is what I am enjoying about Odes–the humor (she is wonderfully funny) and those moments of transcendence–but I don’t see as much of that in this book as in others (Stag’s Leap). I liked the unifying element of all the poems being Odes, in the style of Neruda.

What I don’t care for is when the openness (and this is one of her strengths, this openness, willingness to SAY anything), becomes frank in an artless way. And there are times of that in the poems too, when the style becomes so frank as to abandon the lyric and poetic altogether. Sometimes the lineation doesn’t make sense to me and sometimes I think she is saying things just to make us squirm (and do we? I do, but I’m a Presbyterian). The topics become redundant (especially if you are familiar with her work), and I seriously question the use of “teeny” “weeny” “teensty” in multiple poems.

My overall review: Not my favorite Olds book; however, I do think it is worth reading and would recommend it to poetry readers who are familiar with Olds work and can appreciate her wry humor.

With a name like Olds, of course it was absolutely necessary that she write a book of Odes at some point.