The Unswept Room

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Overview

From Sharon Olds—a stunning new collection of poems that project a fresh spirit, a startling energy of language and counterpoint, and a moving, elegiac tone shot through with humor.

From poems that erupt out of history and childhood to those that embody the nurturing of a new generation of children and the transformative power of marital love, Sharon Olds takes risks, writing boldly of physical, emotional, and spiritual sensations that are ...

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Unswept Room

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Overview

From Sharon Olds—a stunning new collection of poems that project a fresh spirit, a startling energy of language and counterpoint, and a moving, elegiac tone shot through with humor.

From poems that erupt out of history and childhood to those that embody the nurturing of a new generation of children and the transformative power of marital love, Sharon Olds takes risks, writing boldly of physical, emotional, and spiritual sensations that are seldom the stuff of poetry.

These are poems that strike for the heart, as Sharon Olds captures our imagination with unexpected wordplay, sprung rhythms, and the disquieting revelations of ordinary life. Writing at the peak of her powers, this greatly admired poet gives us her finest collection.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
You don't have to attend one of Olds' readings to appreciate these poems, but it is astonishing to compare how well the distinctive poetic voice echoes the author's own. Book after book, in perfectly tuned four-stress laments, Olds captivates readers with impressions of daily life. Often self-deprecating and humorous, she records the so-called "best hours of our lives," including infancy and first kisses. For Olds, looking back is never gratuitous, and while there is much darkness in the author's own childhood, many of her poems demonstrate the ways an attentive adult life can rectify a troubled youth. Poets often negotiate their past in verse, but no one serves up the humor and grace of common domesticity like Olds. Author—Stephen Whited
Stephen Whited
You don't have to attend one of Olds' readings to appreciate these poems, but it is astonishing to compare how well the distinctive poetic voice echoes the author's own. Book after book, in perfectly tuned four-stress laments, Olds captivates readers with impressions of daily life. Often self-deprecating and humorous, she records the so-called "best hours of our lives," including infancy and first kisses. For Olds, looking back is never gratuitous, and while there is much darkness in the author's own childhood, many of her poems demonstrate the ways an attentive adult life can rectify a troubled youth. Poets often negotiate their past in verse, but no one serves up the humor and grace of common domesticity like Olds.
Publishers Weekly
From her debut Satan Says (1980) through Blood, Tin, Straw (1999), Olds has tackled child sexual abuse and grownup women's sexuality on a post-Freudian (some said post-feminist) canvas of love, hate, revenge. This seventh volume of verse offers Olds's regulars all they have come to expect: "blood skin and tongue," "glass, bone metal, flesh, and the family." Olds describes "the day my folks/ sashed me to a chair"; the day her speaker "slowly cut off [her] eyelashes"; her desire "to work off/ my father's and my sins"; a father's cross-dressing; the Virgin Mary's vulva ("the beauty of her lily"); birth-control practices and pro-choice politics; menopause (at 491/2); and memories of parturition: "there came that faint, almost sexual wail, and her/ whole body flushed rose." All these moments appear, as usual, in confidently effective free verse that leaves no reader behind. Olds's followers may be delighted, or simply surprised, as they find, midway through the volume, an increasing focus on happiness: poems such as "The Hour After" and "If, Someday" portray the great sex and the commitment the speaker shares with her male partner: "I love/ to not know/ what is my beloved/ and what is I." Another group of moving poems consider her pleasures as an empty-nest parent, sharing space or conversation with "nearly-grown children." Olds has never been thought technically innovative, and this collection will not convert detractors. It will, however, offer her many fans new work to chew on, presented with her usual intense honesty, along with "some fancies of crumbs/ from under love's table." (Sept.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
As always, Olds boldly re-creates her life in verse, but here she offers more than surface narrative, cleaning out that unswept room to discover "a time of passion so/ extreme it was almost calm." A finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. (LJ 9/15/02) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375709982
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/17/2002
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 779,303
  • Product dimensions: 5.88 (w) x 8.36 (h) x 0.41 (d)

Meet the Author

Sharon Olds was born in 1942 in San Francisco and educated at Stanford University and Columbia University. Her previous books are Satan Says, The Dead and the Living, The Gold Cell, The Wellspring, The Father, and Blood, Tin, Straw. She was the New York State Poet Laureate from 1998 to 2000. She teaches poetry workshops in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at New York University and was one of the founders of the NYU workshop program at Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island in New York. Her work has received the Harriet Monroe Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Lamont Selection of the Academy of American Poets, and the San Francisco Poetry Center Award. She lives in New York City.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

The Shyness

Then, when we were joined, I became shyer. I became completed, joyful,
and shyer. I may have shone more, reflected more, and from deep inside there rose some glow passing steadily through me, but I was not playing, now, I felt a little like someone small, in a raftered church, or in a cathedral, the vaulted spaces of the body like a sacred woods. I was quiet when my throat was not making those iron, orbital, rusted,
coming noises at the hinge of matter and whatever is not matter. He takes me into ending after ending like another world at the center of this one, and then, if he begins to end when I am resting I feel awe, I almost feel fear, sometimes for a moment I feel
I should not move, or make a sound, as if he is alone, now,
howling in the wilderness,
and yet I know we are in this place together. I thought, now is the moment
I could become more loving, and my hands moved shyly over him, secret as heaven,
and my mouth spoke, and in my beloved’s voice, by the bones of my head, the fields groaned, and then I joined him again,
not shy, not bold, released, entering the true home, where the trees bend down along the ground and yet stand, then we lay together panting, as if saved from some disaster, and for ceaseless instants, it came to pass what I have heard about, it came to me that I did not know I was separate from this man, I did not know I was lonely.

Bible Study: 71 b.c.e.

After Marcus Licinius Crassus defeated the army of Spartacus,
he crucified 6,000 men.
That is what the records say,
as if he drove in the 18,000
nails himself. I wonder how he felt, that day, if he went outside among them, if he walked that human woods. I think he stayed in his tent and drank, and maybe copulated,
hearing the singing being done for him,
the woodwind-tuning he was doing at one remove, to the six-thousandth power.
And maybe he looked out, sometimes,
to see the rows of instruments,
his orchard, the earth bristling with it as if a patch in his brain had itched and this was his way of scratching it directly. Maybe it gave him pleasure,
and a sense of balance, as if he had suffered,
and now had found redress for it,
and voice for it. I speak as a monster,
someone who this hour has thought at length about Crassus, his ecstasy of feeling nothing while so much is being felt, his hot lightness of spirit in being free to walk around while others are nailed above the earth.
It may have been the happiest day of his life. If he had suddenly cut his hand on a wineglass, I doubt he would have woken up to what he was doing.
It is frightening to think of him suddenly seeing what he was, to think of him running outside, to try to take them down,
one man to save 6,000.
If he could have lowered one,
and seen the eyes when the level of pain dropped like a sudden soaring into pleasure,
wouldn't that have opened in him the wild terror of understanding the other? But then he would have had
5,999
to go. Probably it almost never happens, that a Marcus Crassus wakes. I think he dozed, and was roused to his living dream, lifted the flap and slowly looked out, at the rustling, creaking living field-his, like an external organ, a heart.

Sunday Night

When the family would go to a restaurant,
my father would put his hand up a waitress's skirt if he could-hand, wrist,
forearm. Suddenly, you couldn't see his elbow, just the upper arm.
His teeth were wet, the whites of his eyes wet, a man with a stump of an arm,
as if he had reached behind the night.
It was always the right arm, he wasn't fooling. Places we had been before,
no one would serve us, unless there was a young unwarned woman, and I never warned her.
Wooop! he would go, as if we were having fun together. Sometimes, now,
I remember it as if he had had his arm in up to his shoulder, his arm to its pit in the mother, he laughed with teary eyes, as if he was weeping with relief.
His other arm would be lying on the table-
he liked to keep it motionless, to improve the joke, ventriloquist with his arm up the dummy, his own shriek coming out of her mouth. I wish I had stuck a fork in that arm, driven the tines deep, heard the squeak of muscle,
felt the skid on bone. I may have met, since then, someone related to one of the women at the True Blue or at the Hick'ry Pit. Sometimes
I imagine my way back into the skirts of the women my father hurt, those bells of twilight, those sacred tented woods.
I want to sweep, tidy, stack-
whatever I can do, clean the stable of my father's mind. Maybe undirty my own, come to see the whole body as blameless and lovely. I want to work off my father's and my sins, stand beneath the night sky with the full moon glowing, knowing I am under the dome of a woman who forgives me.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents

Unknown 3
First Hour 7
Kindergarten Abecedarian 8
Bible Study: 71 B.C.E. 9
A Chair by the Fire 11
5 cents a Peek 13
Sunday Night 14
Grey Girl 19
Still Life in Landscape 23
His Costume 24
The Given 25
Virginal Orgy 27
The Wedding Vow 30
The Foetus in the Voting Booth 35
The Borders 39
First Weeks 40
The Releasing 42
The Clasp 43
Diaphragm Aria 44
The Hour After 45
What It Meant 49
Sunday in the Empty Nest 53
Directly 54
Frosted Elfin 55
The Stranger 56
Grown Children 57
If, Someday 58
The Window 61
Forty Years Later 65
Sleep Suite 67
The Older 68
Fish Oil 70
Earth Aria 71
Wonder as Wander 72
49 1/2 74
White Anglo-Saxon Protestant 79
Her List 83
Herbal Wrap 85
Pansy Glossary 87
The Headline 88
The Shyness 89
April, New Hampshire 91
The Untangling 93
The Learner 97
Mother 101
Heaven to Be 103
7 a.m 104
Chamber Thicket 106
The Music 107
A Time of Passion 109
The Tending 113
Acadia, Late 117
S 118
Past Future Imperfect 119
Wilderness 120
Psalm 121
The Unswept 123
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2006

    THE UNSWEPT ROOM by Sharon Olds

    This is not poetry! It is the rantings of a woman obsessed with herself and her anguish. I don't care. Her verse is sexuallly explicit and offensive, in particular the poem titled 'Sunday Night' in which she recounts the improper, what could even be considered criminal behavior of her father towards the waitresses at the restaurants her family would frequent. What is worse, when this poem was written and published, her father was deceased, and unable to answer to these statements. I wonder if these behaviors actually took place, and, if not, why would the poet sully the name of her dead father? Also, what impact did this poem have on her mother? Perhaps Ms. Olds can write a poem to address these issues. I cannot recommend this dreadful 'poetry' to anyone. Sincerely, Catherine Ross

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2002

    'Unswept' swept me away

    Melodic truth, sweet, simple, "garden-variety epiphanies", delicate, translucent memories...Honest. I love it.

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