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Contributor Spotlight on Sharon Olds

by Danielle Pringle
Sharon Olds

I may have a mild obsession with the HBO series Game of Thrones. All right, maybe it’s more than mild, but I’m positive I’m not the only one. While I’m completely addicted to the show, cringe-worthy goriness and all, as a female viewer I was disappointed that for the longest time, it was a very one-sided love affair with the human body—eager to gaze upon the female body, naked and exposed, and leave the male parts safely out of view. Add to that the repeated violence, often sexual, done to female characters, and, well, it was hard to celebrate the show’s take on sex and the human body. My viewing group and I would lament this problematic and unequal portrayal in the show, so common in TV and Hollywood. However, change came in the latest season, when, near the end of May as summer dawned, the internet was abuzz with talk of the full-frontal male nudity scene. And my, it did show everything, filling us with an odd blend of satisfaction and simultaneous shock as the screen was overtaken by the male genitalia.

Cut to the latest summer issue of Prairie Schooner, which practically leads the charge with a poem titled “Ode to the Penis.” “Someone told me,” the poem opens, “that what I write about men is objectifying.” Sharon Olds, the poet behind the aforementioned penis, is well known for her way with words—playful, irreverent, moving. A Pulitzer Prize winner and longtime contributor to Prairie Schooner, Olds just recently won a $100,000 lifetime achievement award, the Wallace Stevens Award, becoming only the sixth woman named winner in the award’s twenty-three years.

Olds is an artist, painting a blank page with words, and like many of the finest classical artists, she often takes as her subject the human body. Her latest collection answers “Ode to the Penis” with an “Ode to the Clitoris,” and in “Wild Ode” (which also appears in our Summer issue) she dissolves the idea of equality by dissolving binaries: “The air,” she writes, “is not female/ or male, or it’s both, and it’s all the other genders—/one individual gender for/ for each of us.” Olds’s legacy is long, and the award is well-deserved. Her first collection of poetry, Satan Says, was published in 1980, but a peek into Prairie Schooner’s archive shows we first published her back in 1978’s spring issue, and we’ve been hooked ever since. Olds is the author of ten collections of poetry, her latest Stag’s Leap earning her the Pulitzer Prize. She held the position of New York State Poet from 1998 to 2000 and was elected an Academy of American Poets chancellor in 2006. She teaches graduate-level poetry workshops at New York University and a workshop at Goldwater Hospital in New York.

To learn more about Sharon Olds, visit her website. If you want to read some of her featured poetry in Prairie Schooner, pick up a copy of our summer issue!

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Danielle Pringle was born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska, and is currently pursuing an MA in creative writing with a secondary focus in Medieval & Renaissance studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.