Born in 1942, Sharon Olds garnered a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1984 and the nation’s highest literary honor, the Pulitzer Prize, in 2013. Her poetry is defiantly earthy on the subject of sexuality and uncompromisingly honest on the subject of the abuse she claims to have received from her parents as a child. Rather than throwing a lasso around that anger and pulling in it tight or crafting arrows to direct at the real target, the poetry of Olds is a textbook example of the power of creative sublimation. Would her verse be as powerful and honored had she lived an idyllic childhood instead of the one that fate delivered her?
Irrelevant. She suffered the slings and arrows of that pain and the result has been a career that has brought her recognition in forms ranging from a Guggenheim Fellowship to making the 2012 list of Oprah Winfrey’s favorite reads. At the same time she has faced criticism for being too confessional, not serious enough and overly indulging her predilection for writing about those parts of the human body responsible for the most pleasure and the most confusion.
The psychological drive to craft literature as a way of dealing with past trauma and that paradoxical dynamic of human sexuality has led to an overarching theme that can be traced in many poems as they spread a tapestry of observation taking her from the commencement of the nation's swing to the right with Reagan’s Revolution that stamped a period on the 1970s to the recent reawakening of even more ultra-traditional views already becoming outdated by the time she graduated from Stanford in the mid-60's. That theme was just as necessary when she published her first collection Satan Says in 1980 as it is was in 2016 with the publication of Odes, the follow-up to her Pulitzer-winning Stag’s Leap: if you don’t make the effort to look, you just might miss a thing of beauty right there before you.