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The Father: Poems

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  946 ratings  ·  53 reviews
The Father is a sequence of poems, a daughter's vision of a father's illness and death. It chronicles these events in a connected narrative, from the onset of the illness to reflections in the years after the death. The book is, most of all, a series of acts of understanding. The poems are impelled by a passion to know, and a freedom to follow wherever the truth may lead. ...more
Paperback, 96 pages
Published April 21st 1992 by Knopf
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Average rating 4.21  · 
Rating details
 ·  946 ratings  ·  53 reviews

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Nov 10, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: pomes
sigh... what happens when angry poets forgive and grow can read this if you like well-rendered sensitivity in the face of the slow decay of the body of a parent. i prefer her sally mann-ish fetishization of her children's bodies and her own child-rage. but i'm unpleasant.
Jun 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Celeste
Shelves: poetry
I should start a "Death" shelf for Goodreads. I gravitate toward so many books, apparently, about death and the dying.

This book of poems struck me in a raw, tangible way, reading it so fresh on the heels of my beloved grandmother's passing. Sharon Olds writes plainly and beautifully as she watches her father die and then copes with his absence and all that entails. She captures all of the gut-wrenching elements of grief with honesty and poise.

"His Stillness"

The doctor said to my father, “You ask
Alejandro Saint-Barthélemy
Sweet Jesus, Sharon, write a damn diary and not this childish 'poetry'. Or not, since that wouldn't give you any money, prizes, status...
Merari Lugo Ocaña
Jul 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Todo el cuerpo cabe en un poema: la víscera y la idea; lo amado y lo aborrecido. Todo lo delgado y áspero entre la vida y la muerte. Todos los poemas caben en el cuerpo.

"Death and morality

My father’s dying is not evil.
It is not good and it is not evil,
it is out of the moral world altogether.
When the nurses empty his catheter bag,
pouring the pale, amber fluid
into the hospital measuring cup, it is
neither good nor bad, it is only
the body. Even his pain, when his face
contracts, and his mouth makes a
Aug 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone
Not only my favorite book of poetry, but quite possibly my favorite book ever. Whenever I want to feel something, I read this book. I have probably read it a hundred times and uncovered a different individual emotion with each read. It is a horrifyingly beautiful story that pushes the reader to explore those undusted corners of his/her own closest relationships.
Aug 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While reading this, I kept wondering how something so beautiful can be so painful, or maybe how something so painful can be so beautiful. It's powerful, honest, raw. It's soothing and disturbing, tender and violent, just like poetry should be.
Dec 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
don't read this in public if you're prone to tears, but do read it in one sitting if you're able. a stunning tribute to her father through a chronological narrative of his death. something to come back to, to hold on the shelf for the time you will need it.
Oct 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Awesome. Took me a long time to read as my own father was dying, and this was just way too intense. Now 6 months after his passing, it was possible to return to it.

Olds’s depth of perception and emotional honesty is amazing. The focus on the body and how it changes reminds me of the guided body meditations in vipassana as well as contemplation of dead bodies in Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Practices designed to develop wisdom and acceptance of death.
Sarah W
Jun 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Olds is somehow able to get at such complex, personal realities in a way that does not exclude the reader. She sweeps you into a holy wrapping with her accessible-yet-visceral language.

I did, at times, feel like this was more of a personal project than some of her other work—something I’d get to see if I were a close friend watching her go through the mourning process—but it is gorgeous. I’d highly recommend it!
Karen Beculhimer
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is incredibly disturbing and sad, but beautifully and masterfully written.
Oct 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: incredible
It seems Sharon Olds never disappoints me. My relationship with my father was shaky and I can relate to each poem in this book. Sharon Old is one hell of a fantastic poet. LOVE her work.
Dec 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Father is a beautiful eulogy to Old’s father and how she processed his dying and his death. This is a great poetry collection to read to lament on your own losses and how to process them.
Jon Stout
Nov 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: sons and daughters
Recommended to Jon by: Robert Bly
Shelves: poetry
Years ago, a poem of Sharon Olds’ entitled “Saturn” had an impact on me because it gave me an image of a father lying on a couch, consuming his child (like the Olympian god) by indifference. This caused me to pay attention to Sharon Olds at the Dodge Poetry Festival, and to buy her book, The Father, which describes her experience caring for her father as he approached death. The image of the drunken father lying on the couch does recur, but the poet is by no means consumed by anger. On the contr ...more
Oct 31, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Astounding in its honesty. The majority of the work is essentially journaling, Olds putting on the page the days upon days upon days during which she watches the cancer slowly bear her father away. It's moving--often heart-rending--and largely unrefined. These feel like drafts and likely should; they are more raw and more real as a result. The latter poems, those that succeed her father's death, are a bit more picked over, better tended to (often to their benefit as individual poems) but they la ...more
Tshiung Han See
Apr 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I came to Sharon Olds through Amy Hempel's novella "Tumble Home," where Hempel uses the last four lines of "Wonder" as an epigram. They were a stunning four lines: "I would have traded / places with anyone raised on love, / but how would anyone raised on love / bear this death?" Olds's father is dying or dead in this sequence of poems, she keeps rehearsing the death. This might render the death un-special, but her turn of phrase (for lack of a better term) is unforgettable. There's so much insig ...more
Feb 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
Sharon Olds is terrific, but this work is not enjoyable. I did not say that it is not good, but that it is not enjoyable. This entire collection is about her father's dying and death. Olds never pulls punches and these poems are extremely visceral. Not pleasant, but I can see how the book can be appreciated and how, on some level, even comforting to one going through a lengthy death of someone close. Not for me, but perhaps you will be more appreciative.
James Lang
Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I only knew Olds from some of her more famous poems, so this was my first more sustained encounter with her poetry. This collection tells the story of her attending to her dying father and then reflecting afterward upon his death, and it's beautiful and gut-wrenching and sad and so much more. It seems he was no great father to her, but still she finds herself orbiting ceaselessly around his dying body and her memories of him after he dies, and her phrases and lines and poems are some of the most ...more
Tyrone Tan
Jan 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
It might sound morbid, but death is an extremely spiritual event. Based on Sharon Olds's book of poems, which somehow read like a novel, she somehow comes to this conclusion through her own way - writing, exploring, reflecting upon the final days of her father's life, who prior to his death, has maintained a strenuous relationship with Olds. Owing, however, to her father's death, she reaches out to her father and tells him that she forgives him for the pain he has caused her, that she forgives h ...more
Jul 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The Father chronicles the last days and death of Olds' father from throat cancer. Each poem builds upon the one before in an intense and frank narrative of forgiveness, acceptance, and love. These poems aren't overly sentimental and the poet doesn't shy away from the tough issues, speaking frankly of the abuse she and her siblings experienced as well as her father's alcoholism. But there is a beauty in seeing something like exoneration unfold within these lines, both for father and for daughter. ...more
Ingrid Keir
Jun 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book is highlights the complicated and difficult relationship we often have with parents, death and illness. Many of these poems will resonate with those who have had a family member fall ill. My favorites are "the race" and "what shocked me when my father died." If only I could write poems that had this power! Something to aspire to :)
Mar 22, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: masochists, people with dying parents, sylvia plath
I'm not sure I ever finished reading this one. It was ... unpleasant. I mean, Sharon Olds is hot and all, but sometimes she disturbs me. On the other hand, that is likely her intent. Mission accomplished, Olds!
Jessica Bates
Jul 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
These poems are about a father's slow death, and much more. The truth and courage in the telling are evident. If you're a lover of poetry, or even of lovely language, pick up this book (or any of Sharon Olds).
Julia Bade
Sep 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Powerful line meaning and strong defining images anchored me to this book. I lost my father in the same slow way and also chronicled his end and death, so the tension and images in this book of poems were very real for me.
Apr 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Sharon Olds’ strong details of her failing marriage are tragic and relatable. Olds writes with the utmost grace, candor and honesty. She shares all — the deepest parts of her uncertainty, hurt, lust and life. In sharing this with us readers, Olds becomes one of the strongest poets.
Aug 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
An unbelievably powerful journey of love and hate between Olds and her dying father. Reads like a novel, but with the punch of poetic verse.
May 12, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
I read this collection in college for a short paper I did on Olds, whose poem Sex Without Love was one of my favorite discoveries that year. Now I distill my love into Anne Carson and Walt Whitman.
Dec 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
A harrowing sequence about a daughter facing her father's cancer and mortality.
Oct 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mfa-books, poetry
I learned that a book of poems also must have a story arc. Exquisite writing. Compelling images. Haunting.
Jeremy Land
Aug 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books of poetry I've ever read. Olds manages to completely explore and find nuance in an overworked topic like fathers and daughters.
Sep 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Good--felt much less uneven than many of Old's other collections. At times gripping and horrifying. Possibly out of fashion in it's intense confessional nature.
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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 collect

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