Her recent collection, Stag's Leap, takes her divorce as its topic and dives into its interconnectedness with everything - the relationship itself, with others, sex, conversation, longing for and longing lack, the spectrum of human emotion. Old's often says she wants a poem "to be useful" and, as her recent collection takes a single topic and brilliantly illuminates it from various angles, she's succeeded in this regard.
Poet Carol Ann Duffy served on the final judging panel and had this to say:
"This was the book of her career. There is a grace and chivalry in her grief that marks her out as being a world-class poet. I always say that poetry is the music of being human, and in this book she is really singing. Her journey from grief to healing is so beautifully executed."
For many young poets, Sharon Olds was the first poet that allowed them to "get" poetry. Her narrative style at times reads like prose with line breaks, but upon careful dissection it's clear that a master is at work, that each line is a line for a reason.
Fortunately or unfortunately, many people know of Sharon Olds as the poet who declined Laura Bush's invite to the 2005 National Book Festival. Here are the now famous final lines to Old's response letter:
"So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it."
For an introduction into the work of Sharon Old's, check out Strike Sparks. Regardless of your poetry level or your station in life, there will be at least a few "useful" poems in this collection.