Cover image for The unswept room
The unswept room
Olds, Sharon.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 2002.
Physical Description:
ix, 123 pages ; 22 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3565.L34 U57 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating

On Order



From Sharon Olds--a stunning new collection of poems that project a fresh spirit, a startling energy of language and counterpoint, and a moving, elegiac tone shot through with humor.

From poems that erupt out of history and childhood to those that embody the nurturing of a new generation of children and the transformative power of marital love, Sharon Olds takes risks, writing boldly of physical, emotional, and spiritual sensations that are seldom the stuff of poetry.

These are poems that strike for the heart, as Sharon Olds captures our imagination with unexpected wordplay, sprung rhythms, and the disquieting revelations of ordinary life. Writing at the peak of her powers, this greatly admired poet gives us her finest collection.

Author Notes

Sharon Olds was born in San Francisco. She lives in New York City.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Olds is fascinated by the spell of sensuality and the subtleties of inheritance and ponders with forthrightness and vigor the forces that propel us through life--the sweep of sexual desire, the ache of love, the astonishment of birth, the net of motherhood, the horror of disease, the distortions of age, the certainty of death. As she has been in each of her previous precipice-pacing collections, including Blood, Tin, Straw (1999), Olds is exhilaratingly frank in her celebration of the erotic and in her ongoing analysis of her wounded life with abusive parents and bliss in marriage and parenthood. But here she adds a new dimension to her family saga by owning up to her WASP heritage and expressing shame and guilt over her culture's prejudices. This gives rise to some stunningly visceral poems about suffering and death that are rendered as unsparingly and transcendently as the most explicit and demanding of religious paintings and charged with a fierce holiness. Olds, fiery, penetrating, and unnerving, uses words as kindling, so that "fear flamed into ecstasy," anger is tempered into mercy, and redemption is found in a courageous openness to all of life. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

From her debut Satan Says (1980) through Blood, Tin, Straw (1999), Olds has tackled child sexual abuse and grownup women's sexuality on a post-Freudian (some said post-feminist) canvas of love, hate, revenge. This seventh volume of verse offers Olds's regulars all they have come to expect: "blood skin and tongue," "glass, bone metal, flesh, and the family." Olds describes "the day my folks/ sashed me to a chair"; the day her speaker "slowly cut off [her] eyelashes"; her desire "to work off/ my father's and my sins"; a father's cross-dressing; the Virgin Mary's vulva ("the beauty of her lily"); birth-control practices and pro-choice politics; menopause (at 491/2); and memories of parturition: "there came that faint, almost sexual wail, and her/ whole body flushed rose." All these moments appear, as usual, in confidently effective free verse that leaves no reader behind. Olds's followers may be delighted, or simply surprised, as they find, midway through the volume, an increasing focus on happiness: poems such as "The Hour After" and "If, Someday" portray the great sex and the commitment the speaker shares with her male partner: "I love/ to not know/ what is my beloved/ and what is I." Another group of moving poems consider her pleasures as an empty-nest parent, sharing space or conversation with "nearly-grown children." Olds has never been thought technically innovative, and this collection will not convert detractors. It will, however, offer her many fans new work to chew on, presented with her usual intense honesty, along with "some fancies of crumbs/ from under love's table." (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

As always, Olds boldly re-creates her life in verse, but here she offers more than surface narrative, cleaning out that unswept room to discover "a time of passion so/ extreme it was almost calm." A finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. (LJ 9/15/02) (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Shyness Then, when we were joined, I became shyer. I became completed, joyful, and shyer. I may have shone more, reflected more, and from deep inside there rose some glow passing steadily through me, but I was not playing, now, I felt a little like someone small, in a raftered church, or in a cathedral, the vaulted spaces of the body like a sacred woods. I was quiet when my throat was not making those iron, orbital, rusted, coming noises at the hinge of matter and whatever is not matter. He takes me into ending after ending like another world at the center of this one, and then, if he begins to end when I am resting I feel awe, I almost feel fear, sometimes for a moment I feel I should not move, or make a sound, as if he is alone, now, howling in the wilderness, and yet I know we are in this place together. I thought, now is the moment I could become more loving, and my hands moved shyly over him, secret as heaven, and my mouth spoke, and in my beloved's voice, by the bones of my head, the fields groaned, and then I joined him again, not shy, not bold, released, entering the true home, where the trees bend down along the ground and yet stand, then we lay together panting, as if saved from some disaster, and for ceaseless instants, it came to pass what I have heard about, it came to me that I did not know I was separate from this man, I did not know I was lonely. Bible Study: 71 b.c.e. After Marcus Licinius Crassus defeated the army of Spartacus, he crucified 6,000 men. That is what the records say, as if he drove in the 18,000 nails himself. I wonder how he felt, that day, if he went outside among them, if he walked that human woods. I think he stayed in his tent and drank, and maybe copulated, hearing the singing being done for him, the woodwind-tuning he was doing at one remove, to the six-thousandth power. And maybe he looked out, sometimes, to see the rows of instruments, his orchard, the earth bristling with it as if a patch in his brain had itched and this was his way of scratching it directly. Maybe it gave him pleasure, and a sense of balance, as if he had suffered, and now had found redress for it, and voice for it. I speak as a monster, someone who this hour has thought at length about Crassus, his ecstasy of feeling nothing while so much is being felt, his hot lightness of spirit in being free to walk around while others are nailed above the earth. It may have been the happiest day of his life. If he had suddenly cut his hand on a wineglass, I doubt he would have woken up to what he was doing. It is frightening to think of him suddenly seeing what he was, to think of him running outside, to try to take them down, one man to save 6,000. If he could have lowered one, and seen the eyes when the level of pain dropped like a sudden soaring into pleasure, wouldn't that have opened in him the wild terror of understanding the other? But then he would have had 5,999 to go. Probably it almost never happens, that a Marcus Crassus wakes. I think he dozed, and was roused to his living dream, lifted the flap and slowly looked out, at the rustling, creaking living field-his, like an external organ, a heart. Sunday Night When the family would go to a restaurant, my father would put his hand up a waitress's skirt if he could-hand, wrist, forearm. Suddenly, you couldn't see his elbow, just the upper arm. His teeth were wet, the whites of his eyes wet, a man with a stump of an arm, as if he had reached behind the night. It was always the right arm, he wasn't fooling. Places we had been before, no one would serve us, unless there was a young unwarned woman, and I never warned her. Wooop! he would go, as if we were having fun together. Sometimes, now, I remember it as if he had had his arm in up to his shoulder, his arm to its pit in the mother, he laughed with teary eyes, as if he was weeping with relief. His other arm would be lying on the table- he liked to keep it motionless, to improve the joke, ventriloquist with his arm up the dummy, his own shriek coming out of her mouth. I wish I had stuck a fork in that arm, driven the tines deep, heard the squeak of muscle, felt the skid on bone. I may have met, since then, someone related to one of the women at the True Blue or at the Hick'ry Pit. Sometimes I imagine my way back into the skirts of the women my father hurt, those bells of twilight, those sacred tented woods. I want to sweep, tidy, stack- whatever I can do, clean the stable of my father's mind. Maybe undirty my own, come to see the whole body as blameless and lovely. I want to work off my father's and my sins, stand beneath the night sky with the full moon glowing, knowing I am under the dome of a woman who forgives me. Excerpted from The Unswept Room by Sharon Olds All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.