Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Book Review: Stag's Leap, Sharon Olds


Stag’s Leap: Poems


Sharon Olds

Category: Poetry

Synopsis: Poems from the period of Olds’ life during and after her husband left her.

Date finished: 19 June 2013

Rating: ****

Sharon Olds’ poetry and I go way back. She’s one of the first poets I found who could burn it to the ground almost every time. And if you ask me who my favorite poets are, she’d be right there in the top five: Sharon Olds, Billy Collins, Max Garland, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Bob Hicok. And I’m happy to say, she’s writing as good as she ever has.

I haven’t bought a book of poetry for years. I think I was frustrated by so much bad poetry, so many poems that I just couldn’t connect with. Not to mention that poetry’s expensive, relatively speaking. But this spring I bought a handful of titles because I had a hunger that I knew only poetry would fill.

I enjoy collections of poetry with a common theme, and Olds’ 1992 collection The Father will always be one of my favorite theme-collections. I discovered it at the time I found out my father was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. I even read parts of it during a Favorite Poets reading in the late 90s or early 2000s. This is another theme collection, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, about the dissolution of her marriage and the aftermath of her divorce. It would seem that her husband of over 30 years left her for another woman.

Reading about divorce is not something I normally care to do, although there are some great divorce memoirs. Was the book a downer? Surprisingly, no. There was enough flashback joy to keep the hovering black cloud from dropping down too far. Remarkably, there was no anger in the poems.

I was surprised that Olds wrote mostly about missing her husband’s body and their sexual intimacy. I shouldn’t have been too surprised as her work is full of sexuality (look up “The Pope’s Penis” or “Topography”), but I have to tell you, should my husband leave me for another woman, I wouldn’t be thinking much of his butt or thighs. Didn’t she miss the intellectual intimacy that comes from long marriage? I’d think that’s what I’d miss most.

If you’re not normally a poetry reader, Olds might be a good place to start. Her poems are layered but accessible, and she writes about real life. 

Some beautiful passages:

from “Unspeakable”

…Now I come to look at love
in a new way, now that I know I’m not
standing in its light. I want to ask my
almost-no-longer husband what it’s like to not
love, but he does not want to talk about it,
he wants a stillness at the end of it….

from “Running into You”

…But you seemed
covered with her like a child working with glue
who’s too young to be working with glue…

from “Years Later”

…except, in some shaded
woods, under some years of leaves and
rotted cones, the body of a warble
like a whole note fallen from the sky—my old
love for him, like a songbird’s rib case picked clean.

from “September 2001, New York City”

…There is something in me maybe someday
to be written; now it is folded, and folded,
and folded, like a note in school…

How glad I am that she unfolded, unfolded, unfolded, and wrote these poems.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

No comments:

Post a Comment