From the moment I first laid eyes on her work, I knew Sharon Olds was the poet for me. Anyone who can render casual sex a mystical religious experience deserves my love and devotion, and I happily have given it. After my introduction to Olds with “Sex Without Love,” I felt compelled to check out her collected works from the library, where I encountered other poems that changed my life, such as “Space Heater,” and “The Pope’s Penis.” Really, the pope’s penis, you ask? If this is not poetry, I don’t know what is.
Next week, Olds will visit Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Houston to give a reading of her latest collection, Odes, as part of an event hosted by Brazo’s Bookstore. I was surprised and delighted to find the reading at an affordable venture, given her status as a Pulitzer Prize recipient and well-known figure in the literary world. Given her fame, I didn’t think I would ever come into contact with her other than through the pages of a book, but now I have the opportunity to hear “Douche-Bad Ode,” "Ode to Buttermilk,” and “Celibate’s Ode to Balls" in real time.
Yes, Olds writes a lot about sex, but this is not what primarily attracts me to her (although it is certainly not tangential). Primarily, I love the accessibility of her poems. Olds benefits from a sense of immediacy and honesty that turns on even the most ardent literary naysayers her way. While she writes in what we might call “plain English,” and not “poetry jargon,” (or whatever the equivalent is), her poems are anything but simple. They are deceivingly complex, beautiful and brave.
Take this excerpt from “Ode to my Sister:"
"I was almost
as essential to her, as she to me.
If anything had happened to her,
I think I would not be alive today,
and no one would remember me,
as if I had not lived."
Old’s Odes (say it five times fast) are a mix between epithet and lyrical mediation. They present moments of quiet contemplation punctured by precise imagery, often from Olds’ own personal experience. Olds seems to drift so easily between philosophical modes of thought and material reality that it takes a moment to notice the careful work that she is doing to make these leaps, like in the case of “Wild Ode,” which begins,
"Early summer morning, the sun just up/
I was thinking about women’s farts,”
and transforms into a discussion about the relationship between the self and the environment.
Even if you are opposed to poetry in general, or think contemporary poetry is only for hipsters and old white men, I encourage you to rethink your stance in light of Olds. She really has something to offer everyone, young and old. If you can’t fall in love with a poet who deems a condom, “best friend of the earth,” then there is no hope.
Written by Sophie N.
R2: The Rice Review
Rice University's undergraduate literary magazine. Here you can find event updates, monthly writing contest winners, and opinions by the R2 staff on what's new, interesting, or subject to discussion in the literary and arts world.