Sharon Olds

Photograph by Eamonn McCabe accompanied the July 26 Guardian article, "Olds' worlds" by Marianne Macdonald.

I like Olds's poems quite a lot, ever since reading the Gold Cell (Knopf, 1987), especially the chilling poem, "I Go Back to May 1937 " which I've reprinted below. A measure of that poem's impact can be found in the use of an image from that poem for the title of her collected works through 2002, Strike Sparks(Knopf, 2004).

You can find other of Olds's poems online at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's terrific resource, Modern American Poetry, as well as at her exhibit at the Adademy of American Poets. Olds had wanted to come to Split This Rock Poetry Festival, but ill health at the time prevented her.

I was glad to see "Olds' worlds" in The Guardian (see link accompanying her picture above) , but Mcdonald's introduction strikes me as odd, starting with the hype that "many regard" Olds as "America's greatest living poet." Why let the knowledgeable reader debate the list of "greatest living" rather than concentrate on Olds. I'm not sure about which Marianne Macdonald wrote this piece, as it's a common name and there might be several candidates.

I Go Back to May 1937

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips black in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don't do it--she's the wrong woman,
he's the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don't do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips like chips of flint as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.