"At one point I took on a new job, and I just didn't have time to do anything but work.""I think that there are fiction writers for whom that works well. I could never do it. I feel as if, by the time I see that it's a poem, it's almost written in my head somewhere.""I think this is true for all artists. My senses are very important to me.""I was very afraid that I wouldn't be able to do this job well. And the time never came back.""I wish I wrote more about the world at more distance from myself.""I'm not sure that the benefit - as a writer and as a citizen - that I would get from reading at least the front page of the Times every day or every other day would outweigh the depression.""I'm probably so out of it at my age that I don't know what people think.""If I wrote in a sonnet form, I would be distorting. Or if I had some great new idea for line breaks and I used it in a poem, but it's really not right for that poem, but I wanted it, that would be distorting.""It might be a bad thing, not to know what's going on in the world. I can't say I really approve of it.""Many poets write books. They'll tell you: Well, I've got my next book, but there are two poems I need to write, one about x, one about y. This is a wonder to me.""Maybe we can use a metaphor for it, out of dance. I think for many years I was aware of the need, in dance and in life, to breathe deeply and to take in more air than we usually take in.""My poems - I don't even like the sound of that, in a way. Not that anyone else wrote them. But we know that only people who are really close to us care about our personal experience.""So I did quit coffee and I did quit smoking. But I haven't managed that with drinking!""The amount of horror one used to hear about in one village could be quite extreme. But one might not have heard about all the other villages' horrors at the same time.""The decision for me was whether to have "The Father" be a book that told a story - from the point of view of this speaker, the daughter - without, as in the earlier books, then having a section on something else and a section on something else.""The older I get, the more I feel almost beautiful.""Their spirits and their visions are embodied in their craft. And so is mine. It's not Jane Saw Puff. But the clarity of Jane Saw Puff is precious to me.""There are some fine books and essays about that. Lewis Hyde has written about alcoholism and poets and the role that society gives its writers - encouraging them to die.""This creature of the poem may assemble itself into a being with its own centrifugal force.""Well, "The Wellspring" was written from 1983 to 1986. And it had a section in the beginning that was poems that began from others' experience.""Well, one thing I'm really interested in, when I'm writing, is being accurate.""When I quit all these things and said I didn't have any time, I meant I didn't have any time."
Sharon Olds was born in 1942 in San Francisco. She was raised as a “hellfire Calvinist”, as she describes it. She says she was by nature "a pagan and a pantheist" and notes "I was in a church where there was both great literary art and bad literary art, the great art being psalms and the bad art being hymns. The four-beat was something that was just part of my consciousness from before I was born." She adds "I think I was about 15 when I conceived of myself as an atheist, but I think it was only very recently that I can really tell that there's nobody there with a copybook making marks against your name." After graduating from Stanford University she moved east to earn a Phd in English from Columbia University on the prosody of Emerson's poems.
Olds has been the recipient of many awards including the National Book Critics Circle Award and the San Francisco Poetry Center Award. She currently teaches creative writing at New York University.
In 2005, First Lady Laura Bush invited Olds to the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. Olds responded, declining the invitation in an open letter published in the October 10th, 2005 issue of The Nation. The letter closes: "So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it".
Following her Phd, she has described how she gave up poetry: "I said to free will or the pagan god of making things, or whoever, let me write my own stuff. I'll give up everything I've learned, anything, if you'll let me write my poems. They don't have to be any good, but just mine. And that, is when my weird line came about. What happened was enjambment. Writing over the end of the line and having a noun starting each line - it had some psychological meaning to me, like I was protecting things by hiding them. Poems started pouring out of me and Satan was in a lot of them. Also, toilets. An emphasis on the earth being shit, the body being shit, the human being being worthless shit unless they're one of the elect." She has said that she felt so free to write about her family, abuse, her father's penis or fellatio because she was convinced nobody was or would ever read her poems. Olds comments that she is more informed by the work of poets such as Galway Kinnell than by confessional poets such as Ann Sexton or Sylvia Plath. Plath, she comments "was a great genius, with an IQ of at least double mine" and while these women charted well the way of women in the world she says "their steps were not steps I wanted to put my feet in."
Her first collection Satan Says sets up the sexual and bodily candour that would run through much of her work. In "The Sisters of Sexual Treasure" she writes,
As soon as my sister and I got out of ourmother's house, all we wanted todo was fuck, obliterateher tiny sparrow body and narrowgrasshopper legs.
Olds' book The Wellspring (1996), shares with her previous work the use of raw language and startling images to convey truths about domestic and political violence and family relationships. A reviewer for The New York Times hailed her poetry for its vision: "Like Whitman, Ms. Olds sings the body in celebration of a power stronger than political oppression." Alicia Ostriker noted Olds traces the "erotics of family love and pain." Ostriker continues: "In later collections, [Olds] writes of an abusive childhood, in which miserably married parents bully and punish and silence her. She writes, too, of her mother's apology 'after 37 years', a moment when 'The sky seemed to be splintering, like a window/ someone is bursting into or out of" " Olds’ work is anthologized in over 100 collections, ranging from literary/poetry textbooks to special collections. Her poetry has been translated into seven languages for international publications. She was the New York State Poet Laureate for 1998-2000.
Author Michael Ondaatje says of her work "Sharon Olds's poems are pure fire in the hands, risky, on the verge of falling, and in the end leaping up. I love the roughness and humor and brag and tenderness and completion in her work as she carries the reader through rooms of passion and loss. The New York times noted in 2009 " Olds selects intense moments from her family romance ... usually ones involving violence or sexuality or both ... and then stretches them in opposite directions, rendering them in such obsessive detail that they seem utterly unique to her personal experience, while at the same time using metaphor to insist on their universality. Charles Bainbridge stated in the Guardian, "She has always confronted the personal details of her life with remarkable directness and honesty, but the key to her success is the way this material is lit up by a range of finely judged shifts in scale and perspective. Her poems are vivid morality plays, wrestling with ideas of right and wrong, full of symbolic echoes and possibilities.
In his 2010 blog, critic Anis Shivani commented:
Stylistically invariant since 1980, she writes about the female body in a deterministic, shamanistic, medieval manner. Infantilization packaged in pseudo-confession is her specialty. Her gory imagining of every single stage of her father's death from cancer in The Father gives Jerry Springer exhibitionists a run for their money (incidentally, the whole thing was imagined). Her poetry defines feminism turned upon itself, chewing up its own hot and bothered cadaver, exposed since the 1970s. Female poets in workshops around the country idolize her, collaborate in the masochism, because they say she freed them to talk about taboo subjects, she "empowered" them. Likes to pile on gratuitously, well after she's made the point about whatever bodily dysfunction is bothering her. Favorite poetic technique is disruptive enjambments, ending on prepositions, for example, to add to the exhibitionist content of the poems. Childbirth, her father's penis, her son's cock, and her daughter's vagina are repeated obsessions she can always count on in a pinch. Has given confessionalism such a bad name it can't possibly recover.