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The Dead and the Living

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4.15 of 5 stars 4.15  ·  rating details  ·  2,415 ratings  ·  69 reviews
The 1983 Lamont poetry selection of the Academy of American Poets.
Paperback, 96 pages
Published February 12th 1984 by Knopf
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The Complete Poems by Emily DickinsonLeaves of Grass by Walt WhitmanShakespeare's Sonnets by William ShakespeareThe Waste Land and Other Poems by T.S. EliotAriel by Sylvia Plath
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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karen
Apr 10, 2012 karen rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: pomes
if a vagina could write poems, these are the poems it would write. embracing maternal vagina, devouring vagina dentata, horny vagina, nature's flowering vagina...its all here in its layered, moist humidity.
Jen
Apr 21, 2010 Jen rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: poetry
I love this collection but I bought this book long ago because of this poem:

The Elder Sister
by Sharon Olds

When I look at my elder sister now
I think how she had to go first, down through the
birth canal, to force her way
head-first through the tiny channel,
the pressure of Mother’s muscles on her brain,
the tight walls scraping her skin.
Her face is still narrow from it, the long
hollow cheeks of a crusader on a tomb,
and her inky eyes have the look of someone who has
been in prison a long time and
knows
...more
Roger DeBlanck
In the care of a lesser talented poet, Sharon Olds’s candor and daring could come off all wrong. Whether she tackles her father’s drunkenness or her mother’s parental inadequacies, or whether she discusses her own sexual awakening or startling observations of own her children, Olds’s ability to examine the dysfunction of family and the ecstasy of love succeeds precisely because she can locate both the dismaying and tender humanness associated with the most private of subjects. The Dead and the L ...more
Austin Butler
This is the only collection of poetry that I can remember returning.

Most of these poems are just BAD. They read like any number of generic, half-assed poetry you would find in a bad MFA program. There are poetic devices in here that made me shelf the book upon reading them. I would cite some if I had the book. They are so immediately obvious and unoriginal, maybe even cliché, that I would shake my head and mutter, in disbelief. It was like watching a musician you respect play horribly or your f
...more
Kym
Jul 07, 2008 Kym added it
Here is the poem that made me take notice of Sharon Olds:

"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 du
...more
molly
I don't know how I feel about Sharon Olds anymore, but I do know that when eleven-year-old-Me found this book in my aunt's spare bedroom, it blew my world apart. I remember reading all night, looking up when I finished to see that the sun was rising. No one had bothered to inform me that poems could be not only unrhymed but also irreverent, visceral, carnal, funny, personal, radical, subversive –– in short, a laundry list of the tenets of my present-day poetics.

When asked why I write, my answer
...more
Erika
part one: confessional quality. part two: voyeuristic (and it's about her own children...reminds me in a way of sally mann's photos of her kids). i am not a parent but i think if i were, the last thing i would be compelled to describe would be my child's penis, vagina, or ass cheeks. maybe she writes it from a place of love but the way she writes about her parents in part one it seems as though there is a very dark history of cruelty or abuse and that may have manifested in how she relates to he ...more
Missreb
evocative. dissects a range of personal and public experiences with scalpel-sharp precision to reveal some ineffable truth quietly simmering in each memory. her poem "new mother" with its reference to a "nest of stitches" and her husband made me rethink what i thought i knew about partnerships and intimacy. this collection may be of particular interest to anyone fascinated with childhood and what it might mean to become a man or a woman.
Kevin
My favorite poems in this early collection are the ones about her kids. It may be weird to read Olds describe her six-year-old son's penis so poetically but that's one of her talents--sneaking you into her world sometimes uncomfortably. A few pages later, in "Rite of Passage," she describes the natural machismo of grade school boys and it's both funny and chilling. Another highlight in this one is the haunting "The Death of Marilyn Monroe."
Krista
My favorite was Birthday Poem for My Grandmother

I stood on the porch tonight-- which way do we
face to talk to the dead? I thought of the
new rose, and went over the
grey lawn-- things really
have no color at night. I descended
the stone steps, as if to the place where one
speaks to the dead. The rose stood
half-uncurled, glowing white in the
black air. Later I remembered
your birthday. You would have been ninety and getting
roses from me. Are the dead there
if we do not speak to them? When I came to se
...more
Katie Dreyer
Seems to fall into sensationalism very easily... Her best work is probably her photo poems. When she becomes too personal the poems suffer. Some of the pieces were, though, incredibly moving.
David Schaafsma
This is a great book. Why is it I, having begun to read her thirty years ago and more, never read this book, the most and most highly reviewed one on Goodreads? Not sure. I may have picked it up and saw poems about her kids and I had no kids, maybe thought the edge would come off her Satan Says voice and become sentimental because of that, and of course I would have reason to believe it would, because we do, I do... but she does not. The same threatening, sinister, unpredictable, sometimes hosti ...more
Destiny
This was my first of Sharon Olds. I picked it because I read an article where she was listed among the great modern confessional poets. I've recently found myself influenced by Plath and I wanted to learn more about the genre she helped make famous. These poems are intensely personal and a lot of them seem to center around the father figure. All in all I thought this was a good collection and it definitely gives me an idea of her work. I checked this out from the library but I think that when I ...more
Helen
Olds opens this collection with poetry about death, specific deaths seen through a camera lens in some of the most violent places of the 20th century. These are vivid poems, you don't need to see the photographs themselves to get the sense of horrific scenes, the senselessness of these deaths, especially of the very young.

She continues on to deaths within the family, brutal in a different way, using poetry about dead, and then living relatives, to work out a scene of abuse, lasting two generati
...more
John Tessitore
Drawing from Sylvia Plath's bag of metaphors, Olds focuses on the physical manifestations of public and personal trauma: the bruises, the slashes, and the signs of age. What seemed to be missing through much of this otherwise powerful collection was the sense that trauma can also make us ridiculous--and no one is made more ridiculous than the Plath-like poet who can't stop talking about her trauma. And that's why the last section, entitled "The Children," saves the collection. In that section, O ...more
Casey Kiser
It's hard to believe this book won an award of any kind. Sharon does have a way with words but these poems are just dull. Even when she sneaks in a line of perversion here and there, it's not enough to bring them to life. The poems in this book lack substance and are either painfully boring OR just plain what the f***. In 'For my Daughter', she imagines in detail, her daughter having sex for the first time. Give me a break.
Steven
Until reading this collection, I had only been exposed to a few of Sharon Olds’ poems, mostly in anthologies and therefore not in the context of a collection or volume of her work. However, her poems did resonate with me and she was always a poet on my ever-growing list of "people I need to read." I remembered the visceral description in her writing and the unrelenting honesty and examination of herself and her family. With those expectations, this book disappointed me a little bit, in that the ...more
Cathy Douglas
Jan 16, 2011 Cathy Douglas rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Cathy by: Kathleen
Shelves: poetry, 2011
Sharon Olds is like your sweet next-door neighbor, the one who brings you plum jelly every year and collects your mail while you're away, and then one day reveals over coffee that her sister used to squat over her in bed and pee in her face.

What a collection! All of it is memorable, from the first harrowing poems about world politics through the last sweet (though probably embarrassing) ones about her children's blooming sexuality. I especially enjoyed the times when she'd run a series of poems
...more
W.B.
The political as the personal sort of got me. Some pointless exercises in self-torture in here, but also some valid questioning of the individual's responsibility in society cast as memorable poetry. She is capable of writing that horrible New Yorker poem of the late 70s, early 80s, at times...like when she calls shampoo in her hand "a Prell snake" (it doesn't get more cringeworthy & workshoppy) but she is also capable of poems that are raw and truthful and salty and these almost capture som ...more
Collin
This is an incredible collection of poetry...
I was introduced to this book by my English professor and it was essentially my first experience with poems in general (aside from a small dabbling I did in Allen Ginsberg's "HOWL" collection in a "Beat" phase of mine). I have to say that this is an absolutely phenomenal work of poems and brought my interest in poetry to life. These deeply personal poems are simply breathtaking, describing Olds' personal struggles with herself and the world around he
...more
Esthër
"tu carne de gallina como conchas de mil diminutos caracoles"
Debra
The blunt style of Olds is inspiring.
Emily Douglas
Jul 09, 2013 Emily Douglas is currently reading it
Haven't read any Sharon Olds in many years and sadly discovered yesterday that I must have given away or sold my copy of The Gold Cell, along with my favorite poem of hers, Topography. Our new independent bookstore in A2 didn't have Gold Cell, so I grabbed this and although I'm unsure how I feel about the distinction and juxtaposition of the son and daughter poems in "The Children" section, I absolutely love the poem, Relinquishment.
Rachael Kearley
If you're a fan of confessional poetry, Sharon Olds would be the modern day master. This book opens with poems about genocide and the brutality of human nature and is followed up with such personal confessions of her past and present. I strongly suggest this book! But, don't read it all in one sitting, it can get beat up your emotions! I had to for a school presentation and I have to say I was left feeling rather drained.
Russ
Based on this book, Olds is a good poet. She comes up with stirring images and her analogies are usually apt. She is a bit sentimental for my taste, though that may have much to do with the subject matter. She is also intensely carnal, both in her images and in the topics of her poems. There were times when this interest veered into creepy territory (at least from my vantage point). I would read more of her work.
Danae
Poesía en Sharon Olds es sinónimo de desgarro: la desestructuración familiar brilla amenazante como una pústula a punto de cuajar en cada uno de sus versos, que aun así dejan la sensación de que el único alivio posible radica en ese ungüento ambarino en que Olds maravillosamente logra transformar las palabras.
Kevin
Not usually one for poetry, but this rocked my socks. Added together, these poems are a beautiful and stunning portrait of childhood followed by parenthood. A few themes run through the entire book, and her prose-like style made it good food for a guy with a taste for fiction. Great imagery and specificity.
Emily
I have appreciated Sharon Olds' work in the past, but for some reason wasn't enthralled with this collection. That's not to say that I won't come back to it in a year, or a month, and love it. But for now, in the place I am at, I recognize it is good poetry, but only sort of liked it.
Sherry Chandler
My rating system for poetry books is a complete fiction. I should probably just give them all a five and be done with it.

Anyway, here is where I talk about Sharon Olds' The Dead and the Living
Christina G
Powerful and stunning poems, but I'm not sure if I liked the effect they had on me. I would often put the book down feeling unsettled and a little upset. I'd be interested in revisiting this collection a few years in the future and seeing how my response changes.
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Born in San Francisco on November 19, 1942, Sharon Olds earned a B.A. at Stanford University and a Ph.D. at Columbia University.

Her first collection of poems, Satan Says (1980), received the inaugural San Francisco Poetry Center Award. Olds's following collection, The Dead & the Living (1983), received the Lamont Poetry Selection in 1983 and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Her other col
...more
More about Sharon Olds...
The Gold Cell (Knopf Poetry Series) Satan Says (Pitt Poetry Series) Stag's Leap: Poems The Wellspring The Father

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