Olds, Sharon: The Personal Yet Political Poet

Sharon Olds is an American woman contemporary poet who writes “intensely personal, emotionally scathing poetry which graphically depicts family life as well as global political events,” as the Poetry Foundation says. Here’s a poem of hers in this vein.

Toth Farry

In the back of the charm-box, in a sack, the baby   

canines and incisors are mostly chaff,

by now, split kernels and acicular down, no

whole utensils left: half

an adz; half a shovel, in its broken

handle a marrow well of the will

to dig and bite. And the enamel hems

are sharp as shell-tools, and the colors go from

salt, to bone, to pee on snow, to

sun on pond-ice embedded with twigs

and chipped-off skate-blade. One cuspid

is like the tail of an ivory chough

on my grandmother’s what-not in a gravure on my mother’s

bureau in my father’s house in my head,

I think it’s our daughter’s, but the dime Hermes

mingled the deciduals of our girl and boy, safe-

keeping them together with the note that says

Dear Toth Farry, Plees Giv Me

A Bag of Moany. I pore over the shards,

a skeleton-lover—but who could throw out

these short pints of osseus breastmilk,

or the wisdom, with its charnel underside,

and its dome, smooth and experienced,

ground in anger, rinsed in silver

when the mouth waters. From above, its knurls

are a cusp-ring of mountain tops

around an amber crevasse, where in high

summer the summit wildflowers open

for a day—Crown Buttercup, Alpine Flames,

Shooting-Star, Rosy Fairy Lantern,

Cream Sacs, Sugar Scoop.

I found the title intriguing, and it did not disappoint. I imagined it as what a child would say, who has lost a tooth. I was close, as Olds expands on this in the poem to show it is the spelling a child uses.

Her description of the tooth is compelling. I’ll never look at teeth the same way again. I enjoyed her comparison of them to mountain tops. The villain sugar is softened by its transformation in a wildflower. She has an extensive vocabulary, and I Googled many words in this poem! I like how she makes the reader stretch her muscles.

This post is a part of #BlogchatterA2Z 2023.

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