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Poetry & Medicine – The Poets

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Sharon Olds
www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/m_r/olds/about.htm

Born in San Francisco, Sharon Olds was, in her own words, raised as a "hellfire Calvinist." After graduating from Stanford she moved east to earn a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University.

As a graduate student Olds struggled to emulate the poets she studied. The vow she made--to write her own poetry, no matter how bad it might be--freed her to develop her own voice.

Olds has published eight volumes of poetry. Her first collection, Satan Says (1980), received the inaugural San Francisco Poetry Center Award. Satan Says responds to what Olds describes as some of her early poetic questions: "Is there anything that shouldn’t or can’t be written about in a poem?" Startling readers with candid language and explicit imagery, Satan Says trangresses socially imposed silences. The poems explore intensely personal themes with unflinching physicality, enacting what Alicia Ostriker describes as an "erotics of family love and pain."

Olds’ second volume, The Dead and the Living, won the 1983 Lamont Poetry Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. As one critic points out, the book merges historical themes with privates lives "to chart a new attitude toward history" and "suggest a fundamental similarity and continuity between our public stories and our private ones."

Following The Dead and the Living , Olds published The Gold Cell , (1987) The Father, (1992), The Wellspring, (1996) and Blood, Tin, Straw (1999). The Father, a series of poems about a daughter’s loss of her father to cancer, was a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award. As in her earlier works, Ms. Olds continues to witness pain, love, desire, and grief with relentless courage. In the words of Michael Ondaatje, her poems are "pure fire in the hands."

Sharon Olds teaches poetry workshops in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at New York University and helps run the N.Y.U. workshop program at Goldwater Hospital in New York. She was the New York State Poet Laureate for 1998-2000.

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