The Pope’s Penis

by Sharon Olds

It hangs deep in his robes, a delicate
clapper at the center of a bell.
It moves when he moves, a ghostly fish in a
halo of silver seaweed, the hair
swaying in the dark and the heat — and at night
while his eyes sleep, it stands up
in praise of God.


I’ve been reading Sharon Olds’ Strike Sparks – selected poems from 1980-2002. If you’ve been reading Sylvia Plath (as I have), you should definitely read Sharon Olds next, if only to rest your brain and unkink it a bit after all that mental squinting. Another confessional poet, just as diamond hard, but far less allusive and with much much less of that fevered thick Amazon rainforest with so much bright and brilliant going on that in the end you just want a blindfold.

Everything you read about Olds talks about how she uses frank, direct, sometimes shocking language etc in dealing with the body and with sexuality. I don’t know, I think those must have been pretty old people writing those reviews. (Although, that said, I put The Pope’s Penis on here because at some level I’m betting that my blog will explode in the night with this on it, and I’m not even Catholic.) She’s not so much shocking as just very capable and disinclined to take long cuts where a short one will do. She tells a very very good story, a lot of her work is like snapping micro-fiction. Killer images…your/eyes filling with a terrible liquid like/balls of mercury from a broken thermometer/skidding on the floor. I love her linebreaks – I love the way she constantly breaks on the and and and but and all those really bad words to break on. And the way they really work.

She’s good on family, really good on family, and does what poets are maybe meant to do, which is make you look again at your own experiences, look at them in carefulness, in a picky, dissatisfied, but good sort of way.

So go read some Olds.

Published by

Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

2 thoughts on “The Pope’s Penis”

  1. I love Sharon. For me, her earlier work is much more shocking, while later her work is more sharp and direct. Her book “The Father” is a roller coaster of a collection.

    For me, her book “The Dead and the Living” is my favorite.

  2. This collection has pieces from both those and from five others. Agree that the work in “The Dead and the Living” really stands out — Miscarriage, New Mother, The Missing Boy, and The One Girl at the Boys Party are especial hits with me.
    By the way, yours (and everyone else’s) Bloglines feed is fixed! I got 25 posts from January down the pike this morning. Woohoo!

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