Following her recent Odes (2016), the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet gives us a new collection of poems that sing of a woman's intimate life and political conscience.
The atom bomb, Breaking Bad, the cervix, Trayvon Martin, her mother's return from the dead: the peerless Sharon Olds once again takes up subject matter that is both difficult and ordinary, elusive and everywhere. Each aria is shaped by its unique melody and moral logic, as Olds stands center stage to account for her own late romance and chance wisdom, and faces the tragic life of our nation and our planet. "I cannot say I did not ask / to be born," begins one aria, which considers how, with what actions, with what thirst, we each ask for a turn, and receive our portion on earth. Olds delivers these pieces with all the passion, anguish, and solo force that make a great performance, in the process enlarging the soul of her reader.
Arias, Penguin Random House
PRAISE FOR ARIAS
"When we think of arias, we think of bombastic numbers from great operas, but the word’s root is in ‘air’, reminding us that even the music’s keystones exist fleetingly, as soundwaves, borne on the moment before spiralling into nothing...The collection celebrates the raw and the authentic...Olds’ intimate observation of the body becomes a profound articulation of grief and desire. These poems do not end with ashes and dust, but in the lightness of air." – John Fields reviews the T.S. Eliot shortlist
"The Pulitzer Prize–winning poet’s incendiary 12th collection lingers on the dissonance between our public and private selves, “actual as a small mammal in the woods /with a speaking countenance." – "33 Must-Read Books of Fall 2019," The Oprah Magazine
"Sharon Olds’s twelfth book...is called Arias, and with good reason. Her poems have always been driven by her own unmistakable voice, wry, tragic, funny, colloquial, dramatic, intimate, intense, touching all the highs and lows of human experience—birth, sex, death and everything in between. Like many (most? all?) of her poems, 'My Father’s Whiteness' melds the personal and the political ... 'XYZ Aria' is sparer and more elegiac. Here Olds manages, in twenty short lines, to evoke her dead parents, her own aging, global warming, and poetry—the language her parents, for all their faults, gave her." – Katha Politt, The Women's Review of Books
"Sharon Olds is one of the most prestigious and critically acclaimed living American poets today, and her latest collection (her 15th!), Arias, contains some of her strongest, most distinct verse to date. Ranging in subject from birth to the modern TV to language itself, Olds illuminates the universal through the particular." – Lucinda G., Powell's Books
"If Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry goddess Sharon Olds didn’t already have a sizable queer following, one way to draw in readers from the community is to title a book Arias (Knopf, 2019). Among Olds’ arias you will find Breaking Bad, jockey shorts, Vermont, California, Rasputin and a silver spoon, among others." — Gregg Shapiro, Baltimore Outloud
"In her eleventh collection, Olds’s familiar, frank lyricism applies itself to new dimensions as these poems attempt to balance abuse, miscarriage, divorce, and the death of loved ones with an awareness of political and social privilege. Taking their place among Olds’s best work, the plainspoken and awestruck explorations in this collection broaden the confessional subject to include experiences of whiteness and guilt, conscience and conscientiousness." —Laura Eve Engel, Books Noted, American Poets, Fall/Winter 2019
“Olds has the goods in this eclectic collection of new verse . . . With its expansive range and warm honesty, this book shows us why the Pulitzer Prize winner is still among the most beloved poets alive.” —Tomi Obaro, BuzzFeed
“Arias is rich with its own music . . . Olds offers gripping, vivid songs that urgently capture the preciousness of what there remains on Earth to defend, and all that has been lost . . . In [these] complex, nourishing poems, the stakes are clear: if we are on Earth, we ought to be singing.” —Maya Popa, Publishers Weekly
“[Olds] bring[s] the immensity of the world’s hurt to an intimate human level, not to simplify it but to both concentrate it and to find its odd joys. Arias offers hard-earned comfort well worth the effort.” —Barbara Egel, Booklist
“In Arias, Olds puts her honest, clear verse to work mostly outside of the body, and looks instead at the body politic, at the social body we have created or destroyed together.” —Anjanette Delgaro, New York Journal of Books
"Meeting a Stranger," (audio), Poets & Writers
"Graduation Aria," American Poetry Review, vol. 48, no. 05, September/October 2019
"I Cannot Say I Did Not," The New Yorker, September 2019
"Like a Sonnet," "Gliss Aria," "Hyacinth Aria," AGNI 89
"Burial Day," AGNI Online, March 2019
"Bonnard Aria," The Poetry Review, Spring 2019 issue
"After Closing Up My Mother's House & Other Poems," Narrative, Fall 2018
"No Makeup," The New Yorker, September 2018
FEATURES AND INTERVIEWS
Sharon Olds reads "The Solution"
The Paris Review Podcast
November 6, 2019
August 16, 2019
On Being with Krista Tippett
March 14, 2019
Recorded at the 2018 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival
"Throughout, there is a bold sexiness that goes beyond sex, that borders on camp, fey or funny– and is risky too. There are also marvellous odes on more conventional subjects: her sister, the wind, harmony. In an interview, Sharon Olds once told me she wanted her poems to be “useful”. These odes, because they illuminate what it is to live inside a body and survive its outrages, are useful – and beautiful too."
"Her new book, 'Odes,' picks up where 'Stag’s Leap' left off, which is to say that it contains some of the best and most ingenious poems of her career."
"Her new book, 'Odes,' picks up where 'Stag’s Leap' left off, which is to say that it contains some of the best and most ingenious poems of her career. 'Odes' sees Olds fully restored to the world, enjoying life in all its variety. It’s perhaps the funniest book I’ve read this year, and also among the most moving and philosophical, charged with the kind of metaphysical self-interrogation that is a central, though often overlooked, aspect of her work."
"Poem by poem, Odes proves that you can shatter taboos and not give up on beauty. In fact, the best way to do it is to begin with beauty. 'The world’s beauty enters me by just existing,' Olds says, 'and then I want to give back a gift to the world for its gift of beauty.' "
"Odes , by Sharon Olds (Knopf), demonstrates the candor and clarity that have defined her work over the past four decades and allowed her to help other poets find their voices, as the Academy of American Poets noted last week when she received the $100,000 Wallace Stevens Award."
Stag’s Leap (2013):
"As for it being scary: I find writing much more pleasurable than scary. And when we are trying to write truthfully, true to the poem — whether literally, or an imaginative truth — we aren’t writing to look good."
Huffington Post, on winning the T.S. Eliot Prize
“Here’s the thing – writers are not confident people,” she tells me. “We work and we hope and we doubt ourselves. And for women of my age, who grew up in very patriarchal times – even more so than it is now – I think the pleasure is in just being able to be writers as the world changes around us. You don’t wake up in the morning feeling ‘acclaimed’. We try to acclaim ourselves a little bit every day, but not too much. Just some…”
One of the most surprising things about Stag’s Leap is how Olds portrays the man who left her for another woman with such kindness. Her manner in person – warm and generous, talking in sweeping circles around a theme or an idea before honing in – seems to fit the voice in the poems. Even still, it must have been an incredibly painful book to work on?
“I like writing,” she says. “I like the feeling of the ballpoint pen going over the grocery story notebook (wide-ruled, so I don’t feel clipped).”
The judges described Stag’s Leap as “a tremendous book of grace and gallantry which crowns the career of a world-class poet”.
“This out-of-the-ordinary collection, about the end of a marriage, goes beyond the confessional. Sharon Olds, who has always had a gift for describing intimacy, has, in a sense, had these poems thrown at her by life and allowed them to take root: they are stunning – the best of a formidable career. Deserted after decades of marriage, she describes a love for her husband that refuses to die to order. They are the most unusual love poems: fortified by years, by sexual passion of valedictory intensity and by vows she does not, at first, know how to unmake. They can be read as an ongoing narrative – a calendar of pain.”
“It did not take the Puritan taboo to rouse my interest in the subject!” laughs Olds, when asked about the frankness on the matter of sex. “I was in tenth grade in Berkeley, California, when Allen Ginsberg wrote Howl and Other Poems. I carried it in my purse.” –Sharon Olds, in September, 2012 Issue of Vogue
“What do you do when, after 30 years, your husband tells you he is leaving you for someone else? If you’re poet Sharon Olds, you grab your spiral-bound notebook and write about it.”
Tony Hoagland asks: “What do you get as a reward for being a poet like Sharon Olds?”
One Secret Thing (2008):
“As she writes in the title poem, describing the anointing with Vaseline of her mother’s mouth: “The secret was/ how deeply I did not want to touch/ inside her, and how much the act/ was an act of escape, my last chance/ to free myself.” By laying hands, however unwillingly, upon the imperfect body, she has reached at last humanity’s common ground.”
“Sharon Olds’s poems are pure fire in the hands,” said Michael Ondaatje on the publication of her first Selected Poems, The Sign of Saturn. The British poet, Peter Redgrove, agreed. “Every poem,” he said, “is a wonder – strong, actual, unsentimental and without bullshit – in a world glowing with solid reality.” “This,” said the poet and playwright Glyn Maxwell, “is the sound the confessional hordes have been trying to utter since Lowell.”