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The Gold Cell (Knopf Poetry Series)

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  2,300 ratings  ·  100 reviews
A new collection by the much praised poet whose second book THE DEAD AND THE LIVING, was both the Lamont Poetry Selection for 1983 and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Paperback, 112 pages
Published February 12th 1987 by Knopf Publishing Group
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Average rating 4.23  · 
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Aug 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of the confessional movement
Recommended to Jamie by: Gina
Shelves: poetry, read-in-2010
I think "The Gold Cell" rests more comfortably in the 3.5 star space, but alas. Is this a great volume? Not to my mind. It is a quite good one, very solid in places, and stunning in a few. The thing is, just as it shines brightly in some moments, it falls entirely dull at others. I found the section on her father (the second?) to be particularly trying to work through. The book is broken into four parts: one outside of the biographical (?) narrator's vantage point; one directed to her father; ...more
Apr 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
There are so many great lines and so many classic poems in this book, it's like reading a best-of collection. Olds's talent is ridiculous, nearly unreachable in this collection. I read some of these poems and felt changed, like I was absorbing something that could barely fit into me.The pendulum here swings from anger and horror to beauty and love effortlessly, like life in real time. Favorite poems include "Summer Solstice, New York City," "The Girl," "I Go Back to May 1937," "Looking at My ...more
Roger DeBlanck
May 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
The renown of Sharon Olds’s work is partly due to her ability to have no inhibitions about bearing her soul, especially in regard to sharing the intimacies of her life, whether the subject is carnal love, the ecstasy of love, or the devotional love she has for her children. The other major appeal to her work is the brilliance of her style and language to probe the essence of her subject matter. In this collection, the catalyst for many of the poems focuses on confronting her childhood abuse at ...more
Nov 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Today I'm not interested in perfection. I'm interested in truth, in viewpoints unconcerned with spin, in observations that have nothing to sell but a humanized reality. Oh, thank you, Sharon Olds. Your poetic ruminations -- of you facing your parents as the troubling creatures they were, of you watching your children as the trembling creations they are -- are like little electric jolts bringing me back to life, to consciousness. You reanimate the zombified mind and fix my eyes up with an overdue ...more
Dec 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
there was a girl in my poetry workshop years ago who wrote exactly like olds (minus the awkward references to a man's penis as his "sex") and i was so seethingly, silently jealous of her
Aug 07, 2011 rated it liked it
I always feel like I'm reading her diary whenever I open up a book of Sharon Olds' poetry. A juicy, carefully written diary she's left open on my bedside table.
Adam Stone
Aug 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
You first see The Gold Cell through binoculars and press clippings. On the longest day of the year, a man is talked down from the roof of a building by concerned police officers. A woman confronts her own racism on a New York city subway. Paramedics save an abandoned baby. A man has a conjoined twin. A young girl survives rape but her friend does not. The stories are told as facts. No need for melodrama. The truth of the events is enough blood.

"Outside The Operating Room Of The Sex Change
Aug 07, 2012 rated it liked it
I actively avoid reading poetry, perhaps because it annoys me that I imagine the Poet too well as she writes.
The Poet is leaning back against a rock outcropping, a pen and notebook in hand, her eyes half-closed, and is taking in the magnificent views and the last few rays of sun on a fall afternoon. She is in communion with Nature. A gentle breeze caresses her long tresses, but her brow is unmarred by perspiration; her perfectly stylish retro taupe skirt and cream crepe blouse bought at name
Kiri Stewart
Feb 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I think this is widely considered to be one of Sharon Olds' best poetry collections, but I wonder if that is in part because it seems to lend itself much more to academic analysis than some of her other collections. Even her book previous to The Gold Cell, "The Dead and The Living," seemed much more open and personal without ever seeming pedestrian. The Gold Cell, at times, is considerably more explicit and personal, particularly as she writes about sex and intimacy, but at the same time it ...more
Apr 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013books, poetry
Sometimes you read things and you wish you had read them earlier. Like, I'm not sure how I made it through an Oberlin education without some clove-smoking greasy-haired girl with a tongue stud shoving a book of Sharon Olds poems into my hands, but I did. But I'm glad I've read these poems now because they are stunning and complete and real, and they branch out and touch so many other parts of my life.

The language in "On The Subway" reminds me of Kevin Sampsell's "I Love A Woman Who Eats
Jul 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013, poetry
Anthologies are great: It's impossible for every poem in a collection to be amazing, but an anthology is the best of the best, all of the important parts mapped out and easily accessible. But it's also good to wade through a collection on your own, in an order the poet originally intended, marking off your own discoveries of the good and the bad. "The Gold Cell" has a very intentional structure, each part with a common theme as it relates to Olds' life. There is a feeling of development, as we ...more
Aug 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Brilliant but tough to read because the subject matter is so personal; it's borderline confessional poetry. Then again, Olds is known for her frank, raw imagery.

This particular volume of poetry is divided into four sections that roughly correspond to four stages of her life: pre-birth/relationship between her parents, childhood/relationship with her parents, adolescence/relationships outside her family, and adulthood/motherhood. Not all of the poems are about Olds, though, and those that deviate
Jan 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
There are always good poems in an Olds collection. There are always cringeworthy poems in an Olds collection. That much said, the books are usually worth owning. I love the one in here written to the pope's penis, and the one about the man with his half-formed brother growing out of his chest. The visceral--and horror stories from the news (addressed in a punchy style) seem to be her two favorite themes and are her strong suits. Focusing on the Freudian family is her default mode when the Furies ...more
Rachelle Jones
Oct 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
The last section is my favorite, I love the way Olds writes about parenthood. I usually skim the middle section, I find her writing about sexuality uncomfortably raw and overdone. I do get a giggle over “The Pope’s Penis” but I feel a twinge of guilt when I read it. “The Green Shirt” about her son’s broken arm is one of my favorite poems, ever. The last line comes to my mind often as I raise my own children.
/our eyes fill, we cannot look at each other, we watch him carefully and kindly soap the
Nov 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
I appreciate that Olds uses material from her life to make a beautiful poem. at times I find the sexual language to be a little too much, though. also at times i feel like the language could be a little more original or she could stray from her comfort zone to discover a different structure or tone, but if she did, she wouldn't be her. there are poets who stick to one mode and it works for them and that's what they are known for. and there are poets who differ so greatly in various poems that ...more
Jul 13, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
Good, though somewhat uneven, collection of poems that center on the different stages of life. Some of the poems, like "Summer Solstice, New York City," "The Solution," and "I Go Back to May 1937," are extremely powerful and were deeply moving for me, while a lot of the other ones were so-so. I think I'd probably enjoy the book more if I had kids; so maybe I'll come back and read it again in the future. I also think women may get more out of this book, as well, since it's largely ...more
Jun 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The first time I read this collection of poems, I was shocked out of my socks, and it felt good. The ways that family torments and saves - sometimes simultaneously - is a recurrent feature. Metaphors that strike home. Sometimes, you might feel after finishing one of her poems about family that your stomach has flipped inside-out and left you holding all the gross, gooey parts in your hands. Then, the moments of self-cleansing, self-clarification, and epiphany fall into place, and you're glad you ...more
Kelsey Fitzpatrick
Feb 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Olds does a beautiful job falling between personal experience and generally relatable events. The Gold Cell is broken down into 4 different sections, each with its own personality. A personal favorite of mine is "I go back to May 1937." This poem intensifies a relationship of a girl looking at a photograph and her parents. She writes wishing they would have never gotten married, but quickly retracts with thanking her chance for life. Most of the book portrays a broken family and the resulting ...more
May 11, 2012 rated it liked it
Sharon Old's writing is thematically very deep and raw, and the writing is beautiful while also being harsh. From a technical standpoint, being a writer myself, I like it very much. However, there are only so many poems that need to have sex included in the imagery. Quite frankly, my favorites are the ones that don't have it. (Basically, the entire third section of the book)
If you are a fan of poetry, you should probably check this out as a great example of confessional poetry. If you are a
Gabriel Clarke
Nov 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
I actually found the a few poems in the first section (of four) sufficiently awkward to put the book aside for a while. I’m glad I came back to it. The remaining sections, on sex, mortality and motherhood, are rawly emotional and compelling but never slack it uncontrolled and in sharp contrast to the well-meaning but slightly clumsy handling of race and prejudice in the first section. Perhaps our cultural norms as middle class liberal white people have shifted a little? I wonder how she would ...more
Bryan Brunati
Jan 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
Vulgar, brutal, disturbing, and harrowing images are words I would use to describe Sharon Olds collection of poems "The Gold Cell." And yet I found it to be incredible. Every Poem is injected with real situations and emotions. While some of the subject matters are not pretty the way that Olds showcases it is brilliant. As a reader I have to appreciate the no holds barred approach that Olds displays as it is so difficult to find in poetry nowadays. Sometimes the “no fear’ approach makes for the ...more
Sep 01, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
I read this in the late 1980s and thought, "Meh."

I recently read Stag's Leap: Poems by Olds and really liked it, so I thought I would reread The Gold Cell and see if I had misjudged it when I read it in my youth.

But I still think, "Meh." The language is not nearly as interesting as in Stag's Leap, and the conclusions the poems arrive at are not nearly as striking or surprising.
Ned Ryerson
Jul 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
I guess I'm on a poetry kick. I couldn't really decide how to rate this book because half of the poems are brilliant and half of them kinda suck. So I gave it 4 stars based on the really good ones. There are two specific poems that really stick out in my mind. One is about a young love that dies (literally) and the other is about her kids. Now that I am a mother the kids ones really affect me. I get it now.
Feb 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, 2018
3.5 stars: olds is a very talented writer. her poems are only good when they are personal. her objective poems only sounded emotionless and robotic. but her personal poems are extremely raw and harsh and true and the things that a poem should be. i enjoyed reading her story, but i didnt really connect with many of the themes.
Uneven as any collection might be, but much more good than mediocre in this collection. Divided such that early poems deal with her parents, middle with her marriage, and final with her two children. Too bad they cannot be used in middle school classrooms, for the most part, as Olds proves that you can write poetry about anything -- even sex.
Apr 02, 2019 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 22, 2019 rated it did not like it
This was a collection of poems that each told there own little story. Most had either one of two themes: family and sex. Each was unique in it's own way but they are unusual as well. Each poem calls attention to serious topics of today's world. In all, each poem wants to remind us of how the author views the human species way of life.
The author, Sharon Olds, was not afraid to use foreshadowing. Every poem seemed to define our way of life by using hyperboles and similes. The absence of rhyming
Tarn Wilson
Mar 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
She's a remarkable poet. The poems are vivid, original, memorable.

The star system is confusing to me. Rating for the world, I think I should give the book a five for skill and power. I marked it down for me because, for where I am at this moment, I found it too disturbing.
Tom Romig
Feb 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Always frank and open-hearted, Sharon Olds gets to the core of daily life--tangled relationships, lingering fears, and the hold of the past as well as peaceful, healing times and joys large and small.
Brandon Amico
Sep 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Constantly floored by Olds’s eye for detail, her sentences that flow and buoy the reader along, and her fierceness—whether it be love or anger, sadness or pride, she feels it sharply and puts it on page like no one else.
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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
“What can I tell you now, now that I know so much and you are a freshman still, drinking a quart of orange juice and
playing three sets of tennis to cure a hangover, such an ardent student of the grown-ups! I can tell you we were right, our bodies were right, life was pleasurable in every cell. Suddenly I remember the exact look of your body, but better than the bright corners of your eyes, or the rich, Long Island puppy-fat of your thighs, or the slick chino of your pants bright in the corners of my eyes, I remember your extraordinary act of courage in loving me, something no one but the blind and halt had done before. You were fearless, you could drive after a sleepless night just like a grown-up, and not be afraid, you could fall asleep at the wheel easily and never know it, each blond hair of your head -- and they were thickly laid -- put out like a filament of light, twenty years ago.”
More quotes…