Sharon Olds

Arias

Griffin Poetry Prize 2020
International Shortlist

Arias

Poet: Sharon Olds

Publisher: Jonathan Cape and Alfred A. Knopf

Click here to read an excerpt.

Sharon Olds

Biography

Sharon Olds was born in San Francisco and educated at Stanford University and Columbia University. The winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and England’s T. S. Eliot Prize for her 2012 collection, Stag’s Leap, she is the author of eleven previous books of poetry and the winner of many other honors, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Dead and the Living. Olds teaches in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at New York University and helped found the NYU outreach programs, among them the writing workshop for residents of Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island, and for the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. She lives in New York City.

Judges’ Citation

“The aria is a melody for single voice and these poems sing the music of what happens in the everyday with mother, father, lover, child, unknown citizen. Memory is elevated onto some plane of eternity by the pure lyric grace of this work, this witness. And work it is – there is the heft of heavy lifting, of difficult emotional material moving like magma under enormous pressure to issue volcanically, irrupting into the moment of the poem. It is not just that the personal is political, the intimate here is revolutionary. If there is elegy, there is also transformative empathy and an authoritative moral force. Like Dickinson, like Whitman, like Snyder, like Rich, hers is a voice, demotic and mythic, that defines our times.”

I Cannot Say I Did Not

I cannot say I did not ask
to be born. I asked with my mother’s beauty,
and her money. I asked with my father’s desire
for his orgasms and for my mother’s money.
I asked with the cradle my sister had grown out of.
I asked with my mother’s longing for a son,
I asked with patriarchy. I asked
with the milk which would well in her breasts, needing to be
drained by a little, living pump.
I asked with my sister’s hand-me-downs, lying
folded. I asked with geometry, with
origami, with swimming, with sewing, with
what my mind would thirst to learn.
Before I existed, I asked, with the love of my
children, to exist, and with the love of their children.
Did I ask with my tiny flat lungs
for a long portion of breaths? Did I ask
with the space in the ground, like a portion of breath,
where my body will rest, when it is motionless,
when its elements move back into the earth?
I asked, with everything I did not
have, to be born. And nowhere in any
of it was there meaning, there was only the asking
for being, and then the being, the turn
taken. I want to say that love
is the meaning, but I think that love may be
the means, what we ask with.

From Arias by Sharon Olds
Copyright © 2019 by Sharon Olds

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Photo credits:
Sharon Olds, by Brett Hall Jones