Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Blood, Tin, Straw by Sharon Olds

Do we really know what we have on our library shelves? There are so many books, compact discs, videos, and DVDs chosen by a series of librarians. Our collections are wonderful collaborations through time, of which we can only read, hear, and view a few items each week. If a librarian stays in a library for decades, perhaps she can read, hear, and view thousands of items. She will still wonder what else is there.

Before my conference trip, I browsed the poetry section in my library, looking for something unfamiliar. I found Blood, Tin, Straw by Sharon Olds. I remembered the poet’s name from Poetry 180, and the seven year old item looked shiny and clean, hardly touched by readers. Now I wonder why so many readers passed it unnoticing. It should call out to be read. I imagine it shakes on the shelf, wanting to get off.

The title Blood, Tin, Straw does indicate the content, especially blood. Olds paints very physical images of daily living, including death, childbirth, pregnancy, menstruation, and sex. These concerns permeate the poems, many of which deal with marriage and family. Olds is also quite aware of the planet and the universe and their physical natures. She begins “What Is the Earth?” by comparing the planet to the unfortunate of its dominant species.

“The earth is a homeless person. Or
the earth’s home is the atmosphere.
Or the atmosphere is the earth’s clothing,
layers of it, the earth wears all of it,
the earth is a homeless person.”

One of my favorite poems in the collection is “Elopement” in which a spur-of-the moment wedding takes place in a rural general store. The bride counts the Dutch Girl on the cocoa tin, the Campbell Soup twins, the Gerber baby, Aunt Jemima, Betty Crocker, and the Sun Maid raisin girl among the witnesses.

Blood, Tin, Straw appears to serve as a memoir in verse. Should we believe the incidents are true? In “1954” Olds remembers the story of a local murder, and in “Fire Escape” she remembers youthful disobedience. Most troubling is “The Day They Tied Me Up.” Would parents go to such extremes to punish a child for a spill?

Some readers may be disturbed by the level of sensuality in the book. I was surprised to see the author thank the Lila Wallace – Reader’s Digest Fund for support. I doubt any of these poems ever appeared in the mainstream magazine.

Sharon Olds has won many prizes and more libraries should have her collections.

Olds, Sharon. Blood, Tin, Straw. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999. ISBN 0375707352

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