in San Francisco, Sharon Olds was, in her own words, raised as a
"hellfire Calvinist." After graduating from Stanford she
moved east to earn a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University.
As a graduate student Olds struggled
to emulate the poets she studied. The vow she made--to write her
own poetry, no matter how bad it might be--freed her to develop
her own voice.
Olds has published eight volumes of
poetry. Her first collection, Satan Says (1980), received the inaugural
San Francisco Poetry Center Award. Satan Says responds to what Olds
describes as some of her early poetic questions: "Is there
anything that shouldnt or cant be written about in a
poem?" Startling readers with candid language and explicit
imagery, Satan Says trangresses socially imposed silences. The poems
explore intensely personal themes with unflinching physicality,
enacting what Alicia Ostriker describes as an "erotics of family
love and pain."
Olds second volume, The Dead
and the Living, won the 1983 Lamont Poetry Prize and the National
Book Critics Circle Award. As one critic points out, the book merges
historical themes with privates lives "to chart a new attitude
toward history" and "suggest a fundamental similarity
and continuity between our public stories and our private ones."
Following The Dead and the Living
, Olds published The Gold Cell , (1987) The Father, (1992), The
Wellspring, (1996) and Blood, Tin, Straw (1999). The Father, a series
of poems about a daughters loss of her father to cancer, was
a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. As
in her earlier works, Ms. Olds continues to witness pain, love,
desire, and grief with relentless courage. In the words of Michael
Ondaatje, her poems are "pure fire in the hands."
Sharon Olds teaches poetry workshops
in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at New York University
and helps run the N.Y.U. workshop program at Goldwater Hospital
in New York. She was the New York State Poet Laureate for 1998-2000.