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Pittsfield’s Sharon Olds wins poetry prize, to read in Concord

Poet Sharon Olds, photographed in November 2008. 

(Concord Monitor photo/Ken Williams)

Poet Sharon Olds, photographed in November 2008. (Concord Monitor photo/Ken Williams)

Sharon Olds has been selected as the fifth winner of the Donald Hall-Jane Kenyon Prize in American Poetry. She will receive the annual award and read her poems at the Concord City Auditorium on Oct. 30.

Olds, 71, has published 10 books of poems, including Stag’s Leap, last year’s winner of the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. She is best known for her frank, fierce feminist poems. The subject of Stag’s Leap is her divorce after a long marriage. It explores marital love and the journey from anguish and anger to recovery after losing it.

A native of San Francisco, Olds teaches poetry and creative writing at New York University and lives and writes much of the time at Graylag, a large rural tract on Wild Goose Pond in Pittsfield.

Wesley McNair, Maine’s poet laureate and a longtime friend of Hall’s, selected Olds for the prize.

“Sharon Olds is one of the crucial poets of her generation, who has been at the forefront of the American poetry scene for more than 30 years,” he said. “She is, above all, a poet of the feeling life, and her poems have explored private and intimate subject matter with a curiosity, honesty and intensity all her own.”

He added that the award honored both Olds’s lifetime achievement and Stag’s Leap. That book shows how “Olds has come to look at love in a new way, moving beyond her initial hurt to a larger vision of forgiveness and even gratitude, and reclaiming herself as a loving spirit,” McNair said. “She teaches us how profound and generous love’s influence can be.”

The Hall-Kenyon prize honors the married poets who wrote together for nearly 20 years at Hall’s ancestral farm in Wilmot. Kenyon died in 1995. Hall lives and writes in the farmhouse and is expected to attend this year’s award presentation.

“Sharon Olds is one of the best alive,” Hall said. “I’ve followed her work from the first book, long ago, Satan Says, through the latest. She was good at the start and she’s even better now. I love her frankness, and her unique language.”

Olds joins previous Hall-Kenyon winners Ted Kooser (2010), Kay Ryan (2011), Jane Hirshfield (2012) and Billy Collins (2013).

The prize is co-sponsored by the Monitor and the New Hampshire Writers’ Project through a fund originally established in Kenyon’s memory.

Ticket information for Olds’s Oct. 30 reading at the Audi will be announced soon.

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