Sharon Olds | Critical Review by Rodney Pybus

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of Sharon Olds.
This section contains 377 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Rodney Pybus

SOURCE: A review of The Matter of This World: New & Selected Poems, in Stand Magazine, Vol. 30, No. 1, Winter, 1988–89, pp. 74-5.

Pybus is an English editor, educator, and poet. In the excerpt below, he praises Olds's focus on physicality, autobiography, and parent-child relationships in The Matter of This World.

The American Sharon Olds has made a very strong selection from her three earlier USA volumes, and added a handful of new poems for her first British publication [The Matter of this World: New Selected Poems]. Her work generates so much physical presence, explores so palpably the relationship between a woman's body, feeling and mind, that the surrender or revelation of intimate details is less embarrassing than an occasion for gratitude. She writes almost exclusively here about her childhood, her troubled relationship with her parents and her father's death from cancer, her love for her own children. Most of all she writes about—it's tempting to say 'through'—the human body, her own, her father's, her mother's. The body informs her tactile, sensuous imagery, her often urgent rhythms, the surprising and delightful turns of thought. This is 'My Father's Breasts' entire:

      Their soft surface, the polished silk of the hair
      running down them delicately like
      water. I placed my check—once,
      perhaps—upon their firm shape,
      my ear pressed against the black
      charge of the heart within. At most
      once—yet when I think of my father
      I think of his breasts, my head resting
      on his fragrant chest, as if I had spent
      hours, years, in that smell of black pepper and
      turned earth.

It nods to Whitman and his 'scented herbage' of the male chest, but the sprightly delicacy of this is all her own. It gains resonance here from other poems which suggest that her father often ill-treated her and her sister. (The poems have such clearly defined biographical lineaments it is impossible to read them except as deeply autobiographical.) 'The polished silk of his hair' belongs to the man whose 'silver hair' she runs her hand through in 'The Moment of my Father's Death', 'The unliving, glistening matter of the world.' She does not overplay her anatomical shock tactics, but she persuades you that even when she imagines herself in 'Last Acts' back pre-natally among her father's sperm this too is (I mean no pun) life-enhancing.

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This section contains 377 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Rodney Pybus
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