At its best, Blood, Tin, Straw captures effervescent moments with delectable poignancy. In "The Necklace," for example, the narrator recalls a falling strand of pearls that "spoke in oyster Braille on my chest." (She likens the pearls to the snake in the Garden of Eden, yet this beaded serpent seems more intimately related to her own family romance.) And in "My Father's Diary"--itself a strange precursor to the poems in The Father--Olds identifies the chronicle of a life with its departed creator:
My father dead, who had left meStill, Olds has a tendency to trip over her own misspent innuendo. One poem in particular, "Coming of Age, 1966," collapses under the weight of a fabricated personal nostalgia, as the poet conflates her own writer's block with Nick Ut's famous photograph of a napalmed Vietnamese girl: "Every time / I tried to write of the body's gifts, / the child with her clothes burned off by napalm / ran into the poem screaming." Olds pins the blame for this atrocity (and for her writer's block!) on Lyndon Johnson. Yet the photo dates from 1972, which lets LBJ off the hook and points the finger at Richard Nixon. It may seem ludicrous to condemn a poem for being factually incorrect. However, the entire argument here is predicated upon Johnson's culpability in delaying the narrator's "entrance into the erotic." Offensive and overwrought, "Coming of Age, 1966" exemplifies Olds's worst poetic impulses. She does, it should be said, retain much of her appeal in Blood, Tin, Straw. Yet there's still a sense that she's substituting a tried-and-true trademark for her customary, earnest ease. --Ryan Kuykendall
these small structures of his young brain--
he wanted me to know him, he wanted
someone to know him.