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.
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.
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.