Sharon Olds
(born 1942)

Sharon Olds: "The Blue Dress"
from The Gold Cell (1987)

Sharon Olds was born in San Francisco, and educated at Stanford University and Columbia University. She teaches poetry workshops in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at New York University and helps run the New York University workshop program at Goldwater hospital on Roosevelt Island in New York. Sharon Olds was the New York State Poet Laureate (1998-2000). I enjoyed the emotional fire and honesty of her poems, and tears overflowed when I read her "The Blue Dress". Perhaps it was because I've always had loving parents in my childhood, that's why I had such great empathy for a teenager who treasured so much that birthday gift from her Dad. When I got accepted to Squaw Valley Poetry Workshop (July 1989) with Galway Kinnell, Robert Hass, Sharon Olds, and Brenda Hillman, I was so excited to meet Sharon personally. Poetry classmates told me that "Sharon would not like your philosophical poems. Go to Robert Hass's workshops— he's more your type." But Sharon did like my poems and I learned much from her craft lectures. When she came to San Jose State University for a poetry reading of her book "The Father" (autumn 1989), many students lined up for autographs of her books. But when Sharon saw me, she came over and gave me a big hug. My classmates were surprised. One poet told me "If I were you, I wouldn't take shower for a week, just so Sharon Olds' energy will be close to me to write good poems!" I was overjoyed that the poet that made me cry embraced me with a warm-hearted blessing and made my day. (Peter Y. Chou)

The Blue Dress (1987)

The first November after the divorce
there was a box from my father on my birthday— no card, but a
big box from Hink's, the dark
department store with a balcony and
mahogany rail around the balcony, you could
stand and press your forehead against it
until you could almost feel the dense
grain of wood, and stare down
into the rows and rows of camisoles,
petticoats, bras, as of looking down
into the lives of women. The box
was from there, he had braved that place for me
the way he had entered my mother once
to get me out. I opened the box— I had
never had a present from him—
and there was a blue shirtwaist dress
blue as the side of a blue teal
disguised to go in safety on the steel-blue water.
I put it on, a perfect fit,
I liked that it was not too sexy, just a
blue dress for a 14-year-old daughter the way
Clark Kent's suit was just a plain suit for a reporter, but I
felt the weave of that mercerized Indian head cotton
against the skin of my upper arms and my
wide thin back and especially the skin of my
ribs under those new breasts I had
raised in the night like earthworks in commemoration of his name.
A year later, during a fight about
just how awful my father had been,
my mother said he had not picked out the dress,
just told her to get something not too expensive, and then
had not even sent a check for it,
that's the kind of man he was. So I
never wore it again in her sight
but when I went away to boarding school I
wore it all the time there,
loving the feel of it, just
casually mentioning sometimes it was a gift from my father,
wanting in those days to appear to have something
whether it was true or a lie, I didn't care, just to
have something.

— Sharon Olds (b. 1942), "The Blue Dress"
     The Gold Cell, Knopf, New York, 1989, pp. 38-39

Sharon Olds, New York State Poet (1998-2000)
   New York State Writers Institute, State University of New York

Sharon Olds
   By Dwight Garner, Salon Interview, 1999

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P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (3-1-2007)