Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.

Sharon Olds Stepping Outside the Box

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Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds is a very unique person. She is a contemporary American poet and is very well-known for her poems for a particular reason. She writes poems about very controversial issues. She writes about poems that deal with child abuse, rape, sexual desire, incest, and maternal love.

Olds first started writing in the 80’s. One example of a poem written in The Year. This can be found on page 559 in our book. To sum up the poem it is a flashback told by a little girl. She talks of a year when a girl in her class was found murdered and raped.

“…was the year they found her body in the hills,

in a shallow grave, naked, white as

mushroom, partially decomposed,

raped, murdered, the girl from my class.” (pg. 559)

She also goes on to talk about how her mother wanted to leave their father and how risky it was. They wanted to make  sure they were far away so the father could not find them. It talked of the suffering she had to deal with. It also stated at the end that the girl had something in common with those from the Holocaust.

“It had happened to six million.

And there was another word that was not

for the six million, but was a word for me

and for many others. I was:

a survivor.”

She was strong and a survivor. She had to suffer what many children today do. Children around the world suffer from abusive parents. One statistics states that nearly 3.6 million cases of child abuse are made every year in the United States.  There are more statistics but this one sinks in the most.

Olds wrote this in a time period where such topics were not written about. She talked of other serious issues as well. In 1993 she wrote, in my opinion one of her most controversial poems. This poem deals with a 12-year-old girls being raped.

“They chased her and her friend through the woods

and caught them in a small clearing, broken

random bracken, a couple of old mattresses,

the dry ochre of foam rubber,

as if the place had been prepared.

The thin one with black hair

started raping her best friend,

the blond one stood above her,” (pg. 560)

This poem continues on in more detail about what the men actually did to the little girls. As a woman I found this very hard to read and that is in present day when the topic of rape is more common. I imagine that when this poem came out (1993) it was a lot more controversial. Rape is still an issue in today’s society. There are even statistics of rapes that have occurred.

Olds today continues to write about controversial issues. She tends to also write about funny aspects as well. In the video we hear her read poems that contain topics many people don’t usually write poems about.

Once when Olds was interviewed and asked about her writing she stated “’I think that my work is easy to understand because I am not a thinker. I am not a…How can I put it? I write the way I perceive, I guess. It’s not really simple, I don’t think, but it’s about ordinary things—feeling about things, about people. I’m not an intellectual. I’m not an abstract thinker. And I’m interested in ordinary life.” She added that she is “not asking a poem to carry a lot of rocks in its pockets. Just being an ordinary observer and liver and feeler and letting the experience get through you onto the notebook with the pen, through the arm, out of the body, onto the page, without distortion.’”

This is a very inspiring quote and can help future writers. Overall Sharon Olds is responsible to bringing to light issues people do not want to talk about. I believe her poems will continue to be relevant many years down the road. The issues she brings up will continue to be controversial no matter how many years have passed.

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