In 2008, the poet Sharon Olds came across a bilingual edition of Pablo Neruda’s “Odes” and got excited. In the poems, Neruda found cause to praise the common and the extraordinary, the concrete and the conceptual. He wrote of artichokes, and the moon, and friendship. Olds, who published her first collection, “Satan Says,” in 1980, at the age of thirty-seven, had written similar poems of tribute: “Diaphragm Aria,” “Socks,” “Material Ode,” “The Pope’s Penis.” But she liked to mix narrative into her verse, and always felt that she had trouble handling abstract concepts without attaching a story or a character to them. Now, when she sat down to write in her notebook, she found herself apostrophizing anything that crossed her mind, addressing concepts and objects directly, trying to name their component parts.
The results of Olds’s experiment are collected in her latest book, “Odes” (Knopf). In some six dozen poems, Olds sings in praise of things that are not often considered worthy of appreciation—tampons, stretch marks, fat, composting toilets, douche bags, menstrual blood—and reconsiders others that are. / Alexandra Schwartz, The New Yorker