Sharon Olds was born in San Francisco and grew up in Berkeley, CA. She was the child of a drunken, abusive father and a meek, depressed mother, both described eloquently in her poem “The Pact”:
“like a stuck
buffalo, baffled, stunned, dragging
arrows in his side”, of her father;
And her mother: “wept at
noon into her one ounce
of cottage cheese” (The Pact).
Her parents’ issues were an obvious influence on her poetry; for instance, her impassioned poem, “I Go Back to May 1937”, expresses how she wishes she could’ve stopped her naive parents from beginning their disastrous young marriage. At the end of that poem, she decides that maybe it wasn’t so bad, because she came from it, declaring: “I want to live…Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it,” (Olds) accepting and punishing them at the same time. She studied at Stanford University, in California, and received her PhD in 1972 at Columbia University in New York. Currently, she teaches creative writing at New York University and the Goldwater Hospital. Her first collection, Satan Says, was published in 1980.
Olds is well-known for her focus on themes of sexuality and family, “fluid, descriptive free verse” poems which were laden in metaphors (Drabble). They are extremely candid, even scandalous, and are commended and condemned alike. Her approac...
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...not emotionally charged.
By the end of the poem, and the final surge to the climax, it is all about the single person. “They do not mistake the lover for their own pleasure” (16-17). Their consort is no longer with them except in the artificial joining of their bodies, as the soloists - “single body alone in the universe” (23) - strive to make this rush, this orgasm, their best ever - “against its own best time” (24) - using their partner’s body as an impersonal means to an end.
This poem speaks of solitude and superficiality. Olds denounces modern society’s flippant attitude concerning intercourse, claiming that it is impersonal and lonely. Despite her misgivings, the sex is no less beautiful or artistic when two people are alone in it. Instead of being a breathtaking act between two entities, they are beautiful as some solo element: the dancer, skater, and runner.
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