Wednesday, 16 October 2013

60 Seconds with Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds is one of contemporary poetry’s leading voices. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award, Olds is known for writing intensely personal, emotionally scathing poetry which graphically depicts family life as well as global political events.

Olds’s candor has led to both high praise and condemnation. Her work is often built out of intimate details concerning her children, her fraught relationship with her parents and, most controversially, her sex life.

Olds’s latest book, Stag’s Leap (2012), includes poems that explore details of her recent divorce, and the book won both the Pulitzer Prize and Britain's T.S. Eliot prize. In awarding the latter, Carol Ann Duffy, chair of the final judging panel, said: “This was the book of her career. There is a grace and chivalry in her grief that marks her out as being a world-class poet. I always say that poetry is the music of being human, and in this book she is really singing. Her journey from grief to healing is so beautifully executed.”

Olds has won numerous awards for her work, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Widely anthologized, her work has also been published in a number of journals and magazines. She was New York State Poet from 1998 to 2000, and currently teaches in the graduate writing program at New York University.

Which book most influenced you when growing up?

The Bible -- the Psalms and Song of Solomon.

Describe your writing space – what’s in it and why? 

Window overlooking water, trees, sky (city or country); train, bus (window seat); any window overlooking anything.

Who or what had the biggest impact on your writing life?

4/4 time of church hymnal; music -- classical and rock & roll; stories to tell.

The word I most think of while reading your poetry is fearless. What are you afraid of?

Everything. (I’m copying Adrienne Rich!)

Do you have a word or phrase that you most overuse?

Golden sweet amber bright etc.!!

So many reviewers compare your work to music. How do you perceive the relationship between words and sound?

I didn’t know that -- I’m happy! I guess I perceive the relationship with my ears, body (dancing, walking), breathing, and eyes.

Is there a book you were supposed to love but didn’t? Or one you expected to hate and fell for?

Supposed to but: the book of child martyrs I won as a choir prize (loudest voice).

What’s your view on the future of poetry?


Do you have a guilty reading pleasure?

For essential escape from my own mind, for mental travel, for emotion, for the study of guilt and fear and (someone else’s) (imaginary) danger, I read detective stories and murder mysteries (no horror).

Your legacy will be both poetry and poets – what do you learn from teaching?

How to listen, how to pay attention to 12 people at once, how to describe, what life is like now for the young, how poetry changes with the changing world.

Which work has impressed you most this year?

The advances the younger poets have made away from sentimentality and self-pity.

Would you share a line from a review you liked?

May I share a poem which contains a line from a review?

(Jonathan Cape and A. A. Knopf/Random House - One Secret Thing)

In a parallel universe, what job would you be doing?

If it’s right beside us, a mirror opposite, I would be writing poems backwards.

By JJ Marshauthor, reader, Triskelite, journalist, Nuancer, reviewer and blogger. Likes: pugs, Werner Herzog and anchovies. Dislikes: meat, chocolate and institutionalised sexism. Short story collection out now.


  1. Hello, Sharon
    I have not read many of your poems; those I have read have been mostly graphic and real. The" Old Bone and Rag Shop of the Heart",Bly's collection, is an old favorite which did include your Poem, "The Race".
    I reacted, empathically I guess, to two different places in that poem; I have always felt restrained by an unseen bungee cord attached to my being and your allusion to that damned baggage impeding your progress described my frustration in trying to be somewhere, or to be somebody, very well. The second instance happened as I finished your description of watching your father's chest rising and falling as he breathed. My dad passed when I was two days short of 13, I did not have the necessary experience of being with him when he died. But we were lucky to have had a pretty good childhood together, and I respected and admired him.
    The image o fthat possibilityof being able to see my dad in his last days and moments was like having a 20 Penny nail of truth and beauty nailed into my soul.
    I will never forget "The Race", and I am forever grateful to you for having provided a lasting insight.
    Thanks, very much.

    1. Thanks for your touching response, Anon. Your comments have been passed directly to Sharon.


  2. Hi Sharon!

    I hope you are well!

    I am NOT a Poet!

    My Favourite Poet is William McGonagall.

    I like your poetry.

    With Best Wishes!

    Cheers - Mike.

  3. I find a lot of modern poetry difficult to understand!

    Some modern poetry is to me at least, like a cool sea that quietly refreshes the mind as its waves slap a remote coast on a refreshing drizzly day.

    Among my favourite poets are Thomas Shadwell, Colley Cibber, Nicholas Rowe, Thomas Warton ( The Younger ), William McGonagall and Alfred Austin.

    I am glad the person in the comment above has found some solace through Sharon Old's poetry!

    I have learning difficulties.

    I think it would be good if everyone could be happy!

    With Best Wishes!

    Please show Sharon Olds.

    Cheers - Mike.