Stag's Leap
Stag’s Leap is stunningly poignant sequence of poems that tells the story of a divorce, embracing strands of love, sex, sorrow, memory, and new freedom. In this wise and intimate telling—which carries us through the seasons when her marriage was ending—Sharon Olds opens her heart to the reader, sharing the feeling of invisibility that comes when we are no longer standing in love’s sight; the surprising physical bond that still exists between a couple during parting; the loss of everything from her husband’s smile to the set of his hip. Olds is naked before us, curious and brave and even generous toward the man who was her mate for thirty years and who now loves another woman. As she writes in the remarkable “Stag’s Leap,” “When anyone escapes, my heart / leaps up.  Even when it’s I who am escaped from, / I am half on the side of the leaver.” Olds’s propulsive poetic line and the magic of her imagery are as lively as ever, and there is a new range to the music—sometimes headlong, sometimes contemplative and deep. Her unsparing approach to both pain and love makes this one of the finest, most powerful books of poetry Olds has yet given us.

Stag's Leap Details

TitleStag's Leap
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseSep 4th, 2012
PublisherKnopf
ISBN-139780375712258
Rating
GenrePoetry, Contemporary

Stag's Leap Review

  • Jon Corelis
    January 1, 1970
    The summit of contemporary verse, unfortunatelyContemporary American poetry arose a half century ago out of the confluence of a number of social and literary trends. The first was the rise of the confessional school of poets, associated especially with Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and John Berryman: poets who attempted to make poems out of their lives, frankly using their most intimate real life experiences as subject matter. At the same time, poetry rather suddenly went from being The summit of contemporary verse, unfortunatelyContemporary American poetry arose a half century ago out of the confluence of a number of social and literary trends. The first was the rise of the confessional school of poets, associated especially with Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and John Berryman: poets who attempted to make poems out of their lives, frankly using their most intimate real life experiences as subject matter. At the same time, poetry rather suddenly went from being something which ordinary people at least occasionally would read – many old enough will remember a time when the typical household had at least a few poetry books around, even if they were old chestnuts like The Oxford Book of English Verse, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, and The Complete Poems of Keats and Shelley – to something which virtually no one except poets, critics, and a few college students paid any attention to. Both as cause and effect of this disregard, poets quickly moved into the ivory tower, with the great majority of persons claiming the title poet actually making their living as academics. This migration of poets to the academy was simultaneous with the creative writing movement, in which professors believed any student could be taught to be a poet by being inculcated with the movement’s trinity of principles – “Find Your Voice,” “Show, Don’t Tell,” and “Write What You Know,” and mastering a toolkit of specialized literary devices. One of the most pernicious effects of these developments was the evolution of confessional poetry into poetry as therapy. Those original confessionalists were fine poets, but their successors adopted the same frankness without the same talent, learning, or discipline. The idea seems to have been, “Hey, those people wrote with agonized honesty about the most intimate experiences of their own lives and the result was good poetry, so if I write with agonized honesty about the most intimate experiences of my own life, it will be good poetry, right?” Today it’s reached the point where the prevalent type of mainstream American poetry, almost the only one which is taken seriously any more, resembles a rambling transcript of what one might say to one’s therapist. It’s as if the only poetic persona now considered acceptable were that of St. Sebastian. And such deeply felt, courageously honest expression of course demands a moral exemption from criticism, literary or otherwise: this is my LIFE, this is my PAIN – how can you “not like it?”It’s against this background that one needs to understand why Stag’s Leap has been greeted with near universal admiration. On its appearance, it was praised in terms gushing even for our notoriously adulatory poetry critics. Reviews from major magazines and literary web sites have described it as “moving,” “insightful,” “remarkable,” and “breathtaking.” Carol Ann Duffy, perhaps the most prominent current British poet, remarked on the “grace and gallantry” of a “world-class poet.” Stag’s Leap immediately won the prestigious British T. S. Eliot poetry prize and now, more recently, the Pulitzer. The book is indeed the summation of the creative writing poetry which has come to dominate contemporary verse– so it’s not surprising that it’s a summary of everything which is wrong, false, and disappointing about American poetry today. It’s a landmark in what has to be one of the dreariest, most uninspired, and least creative (surely there has never been a less creative literary movement than Creative Writing) periods of poetry in history. The cliché starts with the subject matter: family dysfunction, specifically divorce. This is certainly a legitimate subject for literature, but it’s not a promising one – it’s been done so many times lately that any book that wants to do it again should really do it differently than any other book has. This book doesn’t. Cliché continues with the title, which like too many recent verse collections uses a coyly clever pun (Stag’s Leap – the favorite wine of a couple – of whom the husband is the stag who “leaps” free by divorce – get it?) to place a friendly arm over the reader’s shoulder: I’m smart enough to make the pun, and you’re smart enough to understand it, so off we go together!”Opening the book, we find a series of poems each running, as most creative writing verse is supposed to, one or a little more than one standard poetry magazine page in length, divided, as so many creative writing poetry volumes nowadays are, into four or five high-level sections. On this solid basis of bromide is erected a superstructure of verse that chugs through a series of remarkably unappetizing vignettes of domestic discord. As we read on, we find that tired old creative writing workshop gimmicks are rife. For instance, the contemporary obsession with line breaks becomes almost maniacal in such passages as:Now I come to look at love in a new way, now that I know I’m notstanding in its light. I want to ask myalmost-no-longer husband what it’s like to notlove…I find this sort of thing as distracting and irritating as the sort of person? who in talking? to you puts a rising inflection? every few syllables? so it sounds? like they are always asking you questions?As to the subject matter, the personal agonies of the speaker are, to be sure, presented with the painful honesty which is held nowadays to ensure poetic quality. I don’t believe it ever does, but to say anything disapproving about such sincere disclosures of anguish would leave me open to the accusation of not being a warm, caring human being, a charge which I would find so woundingly hurtful that I feel I have no choice but passively to allow emotional honesty to fulfill its role of forestalling criticism, and be silent. About the style of this verse, however, I feel no such reticence. For a book so widely praised for its poetical accomplishment, the verse here at points actually seems startlingly sloppy, factually, stylistically, and even grammatically. For instance, grammatically: where what cannotbe seen is inferred by what the visibledoes …This is simply bad English: you infer from; you imply by. The fact that these words are confused by many people doesn’t make the confusion sound any less inept and vulgar in a supposedly serious piece of literature. Or, factually:Meanwhile the planetsorbited each other, the morning and the evening cameNo doubt the morning and the evening came, but we may be sure the planets did not orbit each other. Another standard creative writing gimmick used here, one seen regularly in recent academic poetry, is the sprinkling of deliberately obscure words: “stallor, tomentose, surcingle, ligate, latchet, slub …” (this last, I’m afraid, being a term more likely to be familiar, to youthful readers at least, in its currency as an internet slang insult than in its formal meaning of a thick spot in yarn.) Another usage I had to blink at was:… a flurryof tears like a wirra of knives …Maybe there is more than one word wirra, but the only one I know is an old-fashioned Irish exclamation of woe which, while no doubt originally Irish, has for at least a century and a half been used in English almost exclusively in the popularized dialect of sentimental stereotyped Irish songs and novels, giving the word in English contexts an ineluctable connotation of “stage Irish:” to my ear, comparing tears to “a wirra of knives” sounds as bizarre as describing surprise as “a begorrah of eyebrows.” For some reason, though, several reviewers have quoted the phrase admiringly as an example of bold poetic creativity. Well, there’s no accounting for tastes.There is of course nothing intrinsically wrong with a poet using an obscure word, but it’s a matter of why. So far as I can see, in these poems this eccentric diction rarely adds vividness to the images or depth to the connotations. But if a poem is going to send most of its readers off to the dictionary, it had better have a good reason for doing so. The only reason I can see for doing so in books like this is showing off: “See I’m a poet, so I’m using the FULL RESOURCES OF THE LANGUAGE!” (Professor, will these words be on the exam?)More evidence of shallowness of technique is provided by the throwaway allusions scattered throughout the book. Literary allusions are supposed to give depth and resonance to a present work by invoking the light of tradition to cast multiple shadows from it. But the allusions in these poems seemed to me, like the obscure words, usually just there for the sake of show, or, like the punning title, to give the reader a chance to feel clever. They take the most famous bits of great works (presumably on the assumption that those are the only bits today's readers will know or remember) and simply paste them into the verse, without much attention being paid to whether the allusions really resonate in their context. For instance, in "Material Ode" (page 7, also may be viewable in the amazon preview), we have two allusions to the famous beginning lines of Vergil's Aeneid, "of arms and the man I sing," and one to the most famous lines penned by a woman novelist, Jane Eyre's, "Reader, I married him." But these quotes have only a vague relation to the situation in the poem: all right, the poem, like The Aeneid, sings of a man, but that's as far as it goes (except for a rather inept pun on "arms" as an embrace), and the poem, like the Jane Eyre quote, is about a marriage, but that's as far as that goes.To give examples of how it could be done better, a poet who knew how to use allusion effectively could have brought in a different famous line from Vergil, copied later by Dante, "I recognize the tokens of the ancient flame," which would have connected the present situation with a classic story of an abandoned woman as well as setting up suggestions of working through a purgatorial emotional state, and maybe also ironically invoking an image of redemption through love. Or if such a poem wants to bring in a great woman novelist, the three syllables "badly done" would suggest to anyone familiar with Jane Austen's work a complex of reproach, regret, and emotional misstep which could resonate with the poem's situation. Such subtleties of allusion seem beyond this book. But given the current state of literacy in America, they would probably be beyond most of the book's audience too.As another example of careless technique, consider the lines from “Years Later” (p. 85):like the face of a creature looking outfrom inside its Knox…The problem here is that this statement is likely to be incomprehensible to anyone who hears it rather than reads it: is the creature somehow inside “knocks?” or inside the Latin word for night, “nox?” Relying on the capital letter to clarify a meaning (which is presumably “fortress”) which wouldn't come across orally is technically careless. (Though as a matter of fact even with the capital letter the phrase is a little confusing: the first time I read it, I thought the creature was in a bowl of gelatin.) This may seem like a small point, but false notes in poetry are as egregious as they are in music, at least they are if the poetry is seriously trying to be any good.Should anyone object that my comments are harsh, my defense is to point out that the reputation of a book which has won the accolades mentioned above will hardly be impaired by the opinion of a nobody like myself. But though my opinion may not be significant, I, like everyone, have a right to it, and my opinion is that this is a bad book, and that the fact that it’s been received as such a good one is shocking and discouraging evidence of the abysmal state to which the professors have reduced both our poetry and our taste.
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  • Julie
    January 1, 1970
    After 30 years of marriage, Sharon Olds's husband announced he had fallen in love with someone else, and he didn't want to be married anymore. Well, at least not to her.And Sharon was not only still in love with her husband; she didn't see it coming at all. And, man oh man, was she enamored with this man.People, I love my husband, but this woman was either obsessed with her spouse or she has some supernatural capacity to love that has eluded me, because even after 30 years of being married, she After 30 years of marriage, Sharon Olds's husband announced he had fallen in love with someone else, and he didn't want to be married anymore. Well, at least not to her.And Sharon was not only still in love with her husband; she didn't see it coming at all. And, man oh man, was she enamored with this man.People, I love my husband, but this woman was either obsessed with her spouse or she has some supernatural capacity to love that has eluded me, because even after 30 years of being married, she was pretty much still using her tongue to scoop the belly button lint out of his navel and then holding it reverently in her mouth before swallowing it.Okay, so there's a quality to Ms. Olds's poetry that reminds me of both Mary Oliver's and Margaret Atwood's. Meaning: excellent writing that is often devastatingly beautifully, and sometimes just flat-out weird.For example:Sometimes now, I think of the back of his head as a physiognomy,blunt, rich as if with facial hair,the convex stonewall shapes of the skulllike brow nose cheeks, as hard to readas surfaces of the earth. He was as mysterious to me as that phrenology--occiput, lambdoid—but known like a homeoutcrop of rockOh, come on now. . . occiput? Lambdoid? It's hard enough for poets to find people who will read their poetry; they don't need to make them run for their dictionaries, too.But, when Ms. Olds abandons the weird, scientific analogies and whatnot and is authentic, it's a beautiful thing.In her poem, Known to be Left, which was written not long after her husband left her, she writes:If I pass a mirror, I turn away,I do not want to look. . . I am so ashamed before my friends—to be known to be leftby the one who supposedly knew me best,each hour is a room of shame, and I amswimming, swimming, holding my head up,smiling, joking, ashamed, ashamed,like being naked with the clothed, or beinga child, having to try to behavewhile hating the terms of your life.Wow. So much vulnerability and honesty here, in much of this collection.
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  • Ken
    January 1, 1970
    I started this over the summer, but it was run over by the unlicensed drivers of other books. Somehow, though, it nosed its way to a spot where I could see it. You know, on those messy pile of books I have on the shelf in front of the already-crammed bookshelves.During the summer, I recall being a bit annoyed with this collection despite Olds' reputation. I have another collection of hers that I liked much more. The trouble with Stag's Leap? Every stinking poem--yes, even the good ones--is about I started this over the summer, but it was run over by the unlicensed drivers of other books. Somehow, though, it nosed its way to a spot where I could see it. You know, on those messy pile of books I have on the shelf in front of the already-crammed bookshelves.During the summer, I recall being a bit annoyed with this collection despite Olds' reputation. I have another collection of hers that I liked much more. The trouble with Stag's Leap? Every stinking poem--yes, even the good ones--is about the dissolution of her marriage. Thus, the break did me some good. Reading the last third helped in a just-a-spoonful-of-sugar-helps-the-poems-go-down way. I'm giving it 3 stars because I know it has some merit. Overall, though, I felt like I was the one going through a slow break-up. On and on and on. And if I were her ex-husband, I'd be none too happy about having our personal lives hung out on the line like so much laundry for the neighbors to see. Sheesh. Talk about Medusa's revenge!
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  • Janet
    January 1, 1970
    An entire book of poems about a divorce after thirty years of marriage examines love and loss, age and youth, the body, what it is to be together and to be alone, and successfully capturing the most beautiful, subtle moments of realization. I've never seen the subject of marriage examined with such quiet honesty. It reminded me of Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters, about Plath--though this is nowhere near as tragic, and Anne Carson's The Beauty of the Husband, especially in the descriptions of the hu An entire book of poems about a divorce after thirty years of marriage examines love and loss, age and youth, the body, what it is to be together and to be alone, and successfully capturing the most beautiful, subtle moments of realization. I've never seen the subject of marriage examined with such quiet honesty. It reminded me of Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters, about Plath--though this is nowhere near as tragic, and Anne Carson's The Beauty of the Husband, especially in the descriptions of the husband physically. But this collection is about divorce reflected in the eye of Sharon Olds, reflecting her particular temperament, which happens to be loving, generous and fair. In reading the book, I imagined many times what Plath would have said here, if she had been the one left, or what Sexton would have said. Plath was such a good hater, and Sexton could be so cruel. None of that here. The first poems are the first inkling, the first admissions, when it still might be otherwise. Then the dawning that it was going to be real. How to tell her ancient mother. How to tell her own body that he is gone--this is one of my favorites of the collection, "Poem for the Breasts":"...All year they have been calling to my departed husband,singing to him, like a pair of soakingsirens on a scaled rock.They can't believe he's left them, it's not in theirvocabulary, they being madeof promise..."Every subtle but horrible moment, like giving him back his things, things she's lived with for three decades, in "Object Loss":",,,I had not knownhow connected I'd felt, through him, to a world ofhanded-down, signed, dated, appraised things, pedigreed matter...I feel as if I'm falling awayfrom family--as if each ponderousobject had been keeping me afloat. No, they werethe scenery of the play now closing..."Although the Plath in me wanted her to sweetly dump his stuff in the pool, or sell it at a yard sale for $1, or burn it on the girlfriend's lawn. But it wouldn't be Olds, who is far too grownup for tantrums.What she does capture are the bizarre corners of divorce--how she wants to comfort him for the pain he's feeling for leaving her in "Last Look""all that day until then, I had beencomforting him, for the shock he was inat his pain--the last of leaving metook him back, to his own early losses. But now it was time to go beyondcomfort, to part..."and then there's "Not Going To Him" that insane but human way we want to be comforted by the very person who delivered us the blow, because he is the one we are closest to--very like breaking an addiction:"Minute by minute, I do not get up and just go to him...It is what I do now: not go, notsee or touch..."the book is divided up into sections--the first parting (January-December), the first aloneness (winter), then Spring, Summer, Fall and Years Later. She moves ahead and falls back, as each aspect is examined, the personal and the universal. Here is the moment she finds a picture of the other woman in the washing machine, and here the moment where she wishes he had just died, that that would be easier. Wonderful erotic detail informs us there was a reason she was so besotted of this man, and what to do with her eroticism now that he is gone--I loved that in a poem called "French Bra"--just the description is like touch:"... like a hermes heel-wing,fitted with struts and ailerons,fragile as a silk biplane, the soutien-gorge lies, lissome, unguarded..."Memories of a miscarriage they'd had, memories of a summer rental home, and then, years later--coming across him at an art opening in "Running into You": "... But you seemedcovered with her, like a child working with gluewho's young to be working with glue...When I went up to you two, at the art opening,I felt I had nothing to apologize for,I felt like a somewhat buoyant creaturewith feet of I don't know what, recovered-from sorrow..."The issue she comes back to is how she had not really known how he felt, that she had made assumptions about him, that the betrayal was not just his. A beautiful multifaceted collection equal to its subject. "
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  • Daniella
    January 1, 1970
    I'm not a poet, and I admit that there were some poems here that were hard to understand. But I felt the Sharon Olds' pain and grief. And that's what matters to me: that the poet was able to channel her emotions to me, the reader. That she was able to relate to me the ruthless beauty of what she was going through.
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  • Nina
    January 1, 1970
    The title of Sharon Olds’ poetry collection detailing her painful, unwanted divorce is the perfect metaphor, and yet that wasn’t clear to me until I read the note in the book. Stags Leap is the favorite wine of Olds and her former husband. By adding the apostrophe, Olds gives us an incredible metaphor for a man leaving his wife. She was able to use the official logo from the winery, that of a single stag leaping, perhaps throwing himself, off a cliff. Then the drawing on the label of our favori The title of Sharon Olds’ poetry collection detailing her painful, unwanted divorce is the perfect metaphor, and yet that wasn’t clear to me until I read the note in the book. Stags Leap is the favorite wine of Olds and her former husband. By adding the apostrophe, Olds gives us an incredible metaphor for a man leaving his wife. She was able to use the official logo from the winery, that of a single stag leaping, perhaps throwing himself, off a cliff. Then the drawing on the label of our favorite red wine looks like my husband, casting himself off a cliff in his fervor to get free of me. (Stag’s Leap)This book is clearly confessional poetry, and Olds finally claims the genre. In an interview in the Huffington Post, she says, after years of avoiding the label, “What's so bad about admitting I don't make anything up? So I started admitting that. Now I am happy to talk about how, for me, unlike most poets, the imagination is not very active." http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/...Olds makes good use of metaphor and simile in her details of a long marriage falling apart. She is honest in sharing that the lust and love one feels doesn’t disappear instantly. My body may never learn not to yearn for that one, (Not Going to Him) I tell him I will try to fall out of love with him, but I feel I will love him all my life. (The Flurry)The ways Olds refers to her husband throughout the collection signify the emotional transitions since he left. In the early poems, she calls him her husband, then her “almost-no-longer husband” (Unspeakable), then moves to “my then husband” (The Healers), which implies there is still a connection. She finally uses the blunt term “my ex”. These terms are not entirely chronological, however, which gives the reader insight into the complexity of the fact that while the marriage may dissolve legally in a linear progression, the emotional dissolution is more roundabout.There is agony in the second guessing, the wondering why his love ended. Then I felt in my whole body, for a second, that I have not loved enough (Telling My Mother) Dread and sorrow reaching, in time, into every reach, there comes the hour I wonder if my husband left me because I was not quiet enough in our bed. (Not Quiet Enough)Olds is able to look at the marriage and acknowledge that perhaps she really didn’t know this man. But from within my illusion of him I could not see him, or know him. (Frontis Nulla Fides)While there is plenty of angst over being left, rarely do we see anger. Even her writing is measured, polite, and considerate of how he must have been feeling. I think he had come, in private, to feel he was dying, with me, (Pain I Did Not)Eventually, in the section captioned “Years Later”, Olds says And slowly he starts to seem more far away, he seems to waft, drift (Slowly He Starts)In the final poem, “What Left?”, Olds admits that within the marriage “We fulfilled something in each other.” Rather than ending with being left, the poem concludes with the line “I freed him, he freed me.”
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  • Laura Leaney
    January 1, 1970
    My middling rating is for the collection as a whole, while individual poems I would rank more highly if I could. The series of poems were written during and after the poet's husband divorced her for another woman after thirty or so years of marriage. Oh, her! They are deeply personal, confessional in style, and sometimes embarrassing to read (for me). There was something about reading them that felt too much like looking through another woman's bedside drawer. The repetition of the theme - the l My middling rating is for the collection as a whole, while individual poems I would rank more highly if I could. The series of poems were written during and after the poet's husband divorced her for another woman after thirty or so years of marriage. Oh, her! They are deeply personal, confessional in style, and sometimes embarrassing to read (for me). There was something about reading them that felt too much like looking through another woman's bedside drawer. The repetition of the theme - the loss of this one man - was a bit unpleasant for an entire volume. Still, there were moments of beautiful detail and description of ordinary things. In "On Reading a Newspaper for the First Time as an Adult," Olds's description of the handling of paper pages is exactly right: "I am / letting fall what I have read, / and creasing what's left lengthwise, the crackly / rustle [. . . ] / that sitting waltz with the paper, / undressing its layers, blowsing it, / opening and closing its delicate bellows, / folding till only a single column is un- / taken in." Even smaller details brought joy to the reading. In another poem, "September 2001, New York City," she recalls signing her divorce papers and coming "down to the / ground floor of the Chrysler Building, / the intact beauty of its lobby around us / like a king's tomb, on the ceiling the little / painted plane, in the mural, flying." The poem is a rich meditation on life and death, but once again I wished that her husband wasn't in it. I just got tired of the guy. Despite the occasional jarring note and the soon-to-be-ex-husband / now-ex-husband motif, I enjoyed most of the work. It would be hard to live through the pain of losing a long-standing marriage so suddenly or losing the man you have loved for so many years to another woman who did not have his children, did not have the shared past with him that you did.
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  • David Schaafsma
    January 1, 1970
    Read Satan Says, her 1980 first book, as I read this latest, 2012, effort, and the first is edgier, a little scary and disturbing and thus, for me, exciting. Rage and tenderness, but sharp language for both, always surprising. We know this is confessional poetry of a certain kind. I recall reading her memoirish account of her nursing her (incestuous, and that's key) father to his death. Complicated. Tenderness and rage in surprising moments. This is not poetry to lull you to sleep, lyrical poetr Read Satan Says, her 1980 first book, as I read this latest, 2012, effort, and the first is edgier, a little scary and disturbing and thus, for me, exciting. Rage and tenderness, but sharp language for both, always surprising. We know this is confessional poetry of a certain kind. I recall reading her memoirish account of her nursing her (incestuous, and that's key) father to his death. Complicated. Tenderness and rage in surprising moments. This is not poetry to lull you to sleep, lyrical poetry, but poetry to wake you up for your own life and tragedy and passions. . documenting her life. Memoir poetry. Narrative. Not language poetry, though there is rich and exciting language within the narratives... and now, at the end of a 32 year marriage, documenting the process. And why read this? To see with what grace we can learn how to live our own suffering, how to celebrate what we can along the way. I loved getting to know Olds again. Maybe I'll have time to add more thoughts, but there are stunning poems in this new book, as strong as ever. Maybe there is more tenderness, less rage, and maybe you miss that young screaming, that shocking shout and cry, that blunt fuck you, but there are forgiveness and joy in surprising places, and that's what I need to learn, always. She teaches us how to live in some traditions of great literature, the tradition of humane letters and the tradition of writing as healing.. She has no secrets and thus she tells you one way how to write, to turn yourself inside out. Loved it, loved it.
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  • Melanie
    January 1, 1970
    Can you imagine the farthest limit to loving a person? Do we really believe love can be boundless? Sharon Olds goes down the rabbit hole, literally. I'm intimidated by how bright the entrance sign is and terrified of the long dark road back. Love is fucking insane. It's Bjork singing her state of emergency yes, but it's also Sharon Olds as daring as Plath O silk, O slub, O cocoon stolenlet those who can save themselves same themselves. (i.e. not for the faint of heart)
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  • Yair Ben-Zvi
    January 1, 1970
    A transcendent collection, truly. I read this as part of a poetry class curriculum and was taken aback by how truly and utterly absorbed I became with each subsequent poem.For those who don't know, I'm an aspiring writer, but of prose not poetry. I've read (or have "or been exposed to") a selection of some of the greats such as Eliot, Dickenson, Dante and have loved most of them (Dante in particular). But in reading those works I always felt like an interloper, an almost tolerated visitor in a s A transcendent collection, truly. I read this as part of a poetry class curriculum and was taken aback by how truly and utterly absorbed I became with each subsequent poem.For those who don't know, I'm an aspiring writer, but of prose not poetry. I've read (or have "or been exposed to") a selection of some of the greats such as Eliot, Dickenson, Dante and have loved most of them (Dante in particular). But in reading those works I always felt like an interloper, an almost tolerated visitor in a strange land. It never felt like a land that I could ever call 'mine'.Upon entering the poetry seminar these feelings surged to the fore. My instructor was an imposing woman of unmatched intensity who could pick a part lazy writing and any lack of soul with a glance. I passed the class, somehow, and actually felt and even still feel that I truly earned that grade. But call it initiation, call it an extended sojourn, whatever, but I ingested more poetry in those three months than I had ever had before. It was an intense experience that, along with several other physical and mental factors, burned itself into my neural pathways and, I think, fundamentally altered my literary hard-wiring, as it were.But to Miss Olds and her work, I feel inherently unequipped to say what I want to say outside of a few bloodless platitudes. This collection takes us through the process of a long, long, and incredibly painful divorce between a woman (presumably Olds) and her husband of decades. With full language that borders on prose without ever bursting or trivializing its source genre, we don't read these poems as experience them in a sensual labyrinth that takes lets us inhabit moments in the life (and death) of this marriage. It's a painful read, but not maliciously so. Sharon Olds bares her soul to us with a soulful ache that resonates off the page and fills you to the brim. There's little in the way of 'ease' here. Though not surreal or absurdist (the poems possess a silken coherency) effort is asked of the reader to expand their literary sensibilities (attaining, if only momentarily, TS Eliot's vaunted 'poetic sensibility' as stated from his introduction to Barnes "Nightwood")to encompass the horizons Olds leads them across. Think of your eyes used to a darkness or soft light having now, only now, a dire need to take in the empyrean brilliance of these very painful, but very real, poetic landscapes.It's visceral, brutal, but will leave you with the kind of ache that is almost loving, a pain you're glad to have because you know its presence means you're alive.
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  • Elizabeth Trundle
    January 1, 1970
    I bought Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds last year because her face flickered by on my facebook news feed and I liked her face. I remembered I had a boyfriend in college who went around with books by Sharon Olds and Jorie Graham. Which is pretty interesting now that I think of it, but at the time I thought all twenty-year old men could relate to the poetry of older women with daddy issues.Stag’s Leap is a book of poems about a divorce. But not just any divorce. The worst kind of divorce. What is the I bought Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds last year because her face flickered by on my facebook news feed and I liked her face. I remembered I had a boyfriend in college who went around with books by Sharon Olds and Jorie Graham. Which is pretty interesting now that I think of it, but at the time I thought all twenty-year old men could relate to the poetry of older women with daddy issues.Stag’s Leap is a book of poems about a divorce. But not just any divorce. The worst kind of divorce. What is the worst kind of divorce? I used to think they were all bad. But now I know a few divorced people (as opposed to children of divorced people) and I see that divorce is not bad. People wouldn’t get divorced if it were a bad choice. It looks like a very good choice, even a fantastic thing, for the married people who choose it. It’s really an act of deep acceptance. This marriage isn’t working. Let’s get divorced.But sometimes it’s good for one partner, bad for the other. That’s what Stag’s Leap is about. The worst kind of divorce being this: after thirty years of marriage, Sharon Olds’ husband left her for another woman.The poet found a photo of her husband’s mistress in the washing machine. She showed it to him.SHE: Hey, honey, isn’t this a photo of that woman you work with?HE: Yes, we went running together, she gave me the photo. It must have fallen out of the pocket. Of my shorts.SHE: Oh.In the photo, the other woman was wearing a bathing suit.Stomach-ache. All over.Here’s the arc of the book: complacency, discovery, shock, despair, fear, anger (restrained), acceptance, liberation. At last Olds sees that her husband has freed her, and himself, from a bond that was built on buried truths and undiscovered selves.But you know what? The sex was good. Up until the day he packed his stuff up and moved across the city. The sex was good, people.[SPOILER ALERT IF THERE CAN BE SUCH A THING IN A BOOK OF POEMS]Well, he eventually marries the mistress.Does Sharon Olds find a new guy or gal?We don’t find out.She is mourning the death of her young sexual self. Which left when her husband walked out. Can’t get that back.She builds poem after poem from the same five colors and the same stack of wood by the sea. Reshaping. Retelling. Seeking. Sculpting. And it’s so deliciously good. You read the poems, you feel the pain, you cry, you keep reading, you get used to the pain, you don’t cry anymore. You keep reading, you get a little weary of the pain, you flip ahead a few pages. What happens next is . . .
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  • Linda
    January 1, 1970
    I'm kind of stunned that this won a Pulitzer Prize. It is described as "unflinching." Sometimes I wonder if there are a few things in this world that, when we look at them, we wouldn't be better off flinching. I first learned about Sharon Olds in my Contemporary Poetry class, which as a sophomore English major was one of my first deep -- I mean, really deep -- dives into literature, literary pretense, and all that separates them. That's the class where I learned about all the modern biggies, you I'm kind of stunned that this won a Pulitzer Prize. It is described as "unflinching." Sometimes I wonder if there are a few things in this world that, when we look at them, we wouldn't be better off flinching. I first learned about Sharon Olds in my Contemporary Poetry class, which as a sophomore English major was one of my first deep -- I mean, really deep -- dives into literature, literary pretense, and all that separates them. That's the class where I learned about all the modern biggies, you know, your Gary Snyders and your Adrienne Riches and your Ezra Pound influences and all that, and where I wrote a big ol' term paper on Allen Ginsberg and where I began to realize that I belonged with these poetry-spoutin' English department people (I refer, of course, to the professors as well as the students). I don't really remember which of Sharon Olds' poems we read in that class, but anyway, since then she's been on my radar. In 2013, the good Pulitzer folks saw fit to bestow upon her their honor. Why? Why, oh why?Like scatological humor and some of our natural body processes, I find these poems a)unnecessary to share and b)definitely not that artistically great to warrant taking that risk that sharing them would be unnecessary. Besides the general "meh" ness of the emotions revealed (we get it. you were in love.) there's something kind of unseemly about them. Like, have you no shame? Or didn't your parents teach you to put on a brave face? Ever? I think I'm supposed to relate to the universal themes of love/relationships/heartbreak and so forth while reading this book. I don't. I don't feel her pain upon reading these poems. I feel pity for her. I feel embarrassed for her. I imagine that's not what the poet wants?Shakespeare's sonnets these ain't. I'd say skip this, unless you're (sigh) a Pulitzer completist, like someone I know...
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  • Kiri Stewart
    January 1, 1970
    My favorite collections of poems are ones whose content is full of emptiness, loss, longing for departed intimacy and wistful memories of sex and the perfection of physical love; sparks / fire / consuming / the end, death at each conclusion, a life fully and perfectly lived in a few moments of love.The acuity of separation and bereavement in this book for a dissolved and disbanded marriage is taut and pulls hard on the reader's compassion and sensitivity; this could be me, probably IS me ... I j My favorite collections of poems are ones whose content is full of emptiness, loss, longing for departed intimacy and wistful memories of sex and the perfection of physical love; sparks / fire / consuming / the end, death at each conclusion, a life fully and perfectly lived in a few moments of love.The acuity of separation and bereavement in this book for a dissolved and disbanded marriage is taut and pulls hard on the reader's compassion and sensitivity; this could be me, probably IS me ... I just don't know it yet. I hope it is not so. But Sharon Olds guides the way through grief with startling maturity and objectivity. It is off-putting in places how well-adjusted she is to the changes of her life.Then, in other poems, she allows herself selfish emotion and protection from guilt and responsibility. Although it is an entirely different experience than Donald Hall's Without, Stag's Leap is no less charged with mourning and questions and once-filled spaces now emptied.I don't know why I love to live in those sorrow soaked places, but Stag's Leap felt like home for me, and it is one of my favorite collections of poetry.
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  • Abby
    January 1, 1970
    Gentle, gut-wrenching divorce poems, written with the lucid grief that Sharon Olds seems to so effortlessly own.“Bruise Ghazal”Now a black-and-blue oval on my hip has turned blue-violet as the ink-brand on the husk-fat of a primecut, sore as a lovebite, but toolarge for a human mouth. I like it, my flesh brooch—gold rim, envy-colorcameo within, and violet mottleon which the door-handle that bit is a blackpurple with wiggles like trembling decapedelegs. I count back the days, and forwardto when i Gentle, gut-wrenching divorce poems, written with the lucid grief that Sharon Olds seems to so effortlessly own.“Bruise Ghazal”Now a black-and-blue oval on my hip has turned blue-violet as the ink-brand on the husk-fat of a primecut, sore as a lovebite, but toolarge for a human mouth. I like it, my flesh brooch—gold rim, envy-colorcameo within, and violet mottleon which the door-handle that bit is a blackpurple with wiggles like trembling decapedelegs. I count back the days, and forwardto when it will go its rot colors and thenslowly fade. Some people think I shouldbe over my ex by now—maybeI thought I might have been over him moreby now. Maybe I’m half over who hewas, but not who I thought he was, and notover the wound, sudden deathblowas if out of nowhere, though it came from the coreof our life together. Sleep now, Sharon,sleep. Even as we speak, the work is beingdone, within. You were born to heal.Sleep and dream—but not of his return.Since it cannot harm him, wound him, in your dream.
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  • Aseem Kaul
    January 1, 1970
    Sharon Olds' Stag's Leap embodies the worst excesses of confessional poetry - how easily it can turn into an exercise in banal narcissism. There is an R.S. Thomas poem where he responds to a set of poems from an amateur poet saying "I understand why you wrote them / But why send them to me?". That's exactly how I feel about Stag's Leap. That Ms. Olds needed the cathartic release of these poems after her husband left her is understandable, but to inflict them on the rest of us is frankly inexcusa Sharon Olds' Stag's Leap embodies the worst excesses of confessional poetry - how easily it can turn into an exercise in banal narcissism. There is an R.S. Thomas poem where he responds to a set of poems from an amateur poet saying "I understand why you wrote them / But why send them to me?". That's exactly how I feel about Stag's Leap. That Ms. Olds needed the cathartic release of these poems after her husband left her is understandable, but to inflict them on the rest of us is frankly inexcusable. A handful of poems about divorce would have been interesting (and there is just about enough good material in the book for, say, five or six poems), but an entire book devoted to that subject seems like pure self-indulgence, and to compare your 'loss' to the pain suffered by those who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks as Ms. Olds does (seriously, I'm not kidding!) is to cross over into bathos.
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  • Sienna
    January 1, 1970
    The night after a friend recommended Sharon Olds to me, I found her newest collection at a bookstore. Of its background I knew nothing and, to be honest, if I had been aware that these poems detail the dissolution of a thirty-year marriage, I might have kept my distance. It's been that kind of year. Many of these pieces do cut so close to the bone that the act of reading becomes uncomfortable, almost painful. And yet they're beautiful: Olds allows us to bear witness to her own changing emotions The night after a friend recommended Sharon Olds to me, I found her newest collection at a bookstore. Of its background I knew nothing and, to be honest, if I had been aware that these poems detail the dissolution of a thirty-year marriage, I might have kept my distance. It's been that kind of year. Many of these pieces do cut so close to the bone that the act of reading becomes uncomfortable, almost painful. And yet they're beautiful: Olds allows us to bear witness to her own changing emotions in the face of betrayal, loss and abandonment. She shares her strength and her weakness. Instead of recriminations or platitudes, she gives us uncertainty, distance, hope. She wants so badly to emerge from this experience wiser, unbroken, more alive that I can't help but respect her and seek more of her words. I disagree with the reviewer who described Stag's Leap as detached; no, these poems beautifully convey the complex, often unbearable tide that washes up with heartbreak, bringing with it the ugliest, most exquisite emotional flotsam and jetsam. I'm both sorry and fiercely glad that so many of these works resonate with me, that I can appreciate just how much attachment — and release — they contain.I am traveling and my suitcase is full, so this book will go to others who will appreciate it. But first I have to record some of my favorite parts.I am so ashamedbefore my friends — to be known to be leftby the one who supposedly knew me best,each hour is a room of shame, and I amswimming, swimming, holding my head up,smiling, joking, ashamed, ashamed,like being naked with the clothed, or beinga child, having to try to behavewhile hating the terms of your life. In me nowthere's a being of sheer hate, like an angelof hate. On the badminton lawn, she gother one shot, pure as an arrow,while through the eyelets of my blouse the no-see-umsbit the flesh no one seems nowto care to touch.(from "Known to Be Left")Approaching GodthåbSo much had become so connected to himthat it seemed to belong to him, so that now,flying, for hours, above the Atlanticstill felt like being over his realm.And then, in the distance, a sort of land —rows and rows of tilted, ruched-backpyramids and fangs of snow —appeared, and along its bitten hems, in thewater, hundreds of giant, whitebeings, or rafts, nuzzled the shore,moon-calves, stoats, dories, ships,tankers green-shadowed cream, a familyof blossom-tree icebergs, his familiars — nevermine, but once contiguous to what I felt was almost mine,they were like the flowers a boreal storybookking would give his queen, hoarfrostlilies. It struck cold awe to my heart,now, to look at who I had beenwho had thought it impossiblethat he or I could touch another.Tu wit, tu woo — lhude singgoddamn, cuckoo, to look backand see myself living, vowblind, in cloudcuckold land. The glacierscape called itup, the silent, shining tulle,the dreaming hats and cubes, the theoremsand corollaries, that girl who had thoughta wedding promise was binding as a lawof physics. Now, I stood outsidethe kingdoms, phyla, orders, genera,the emerald-sided frozen plenty,as if, when he took his stones and went home, he tooksnow, and ice, and glaciers, and shores,and the sea, and the northern hemisphere,half of the great blue-and-white aggieitself, I sat on the air above itand looked down on its uninhabitable beauty.Tiny SirenAnd it had been a year since I had stood,looking down, into the Whirlpoolin the laundry nook of our August rental, notsure what I was seeing — it looked like a girlbrought up in a net with fish. It wasa miniature woman, in a bathing suit,lying back after the spin cycle —the photograph of a woman, slightlyshaped over the contours of a damp towel.I drew it out — radiant squarefrom some other world — maybe the daughterof the owners of the house. And yet it looked likesomeone we knew — I said, to my husband,This was in with the sheets and towels.Good heavens, he said. Where?! Inwith the sheets and your running shorts. Doesn't itlook like your colleague? We gazed at the smileand the older shapely body in its gleamingrainbow sheath — surprise troutof wash-day. An hour later, he found me,and told me she had given him the picturethe day they went running togetherwhen I was away, he must have slipped it inhis pocket, he was so shocked to see itagain, he did not know what to say.In a novel, I said, this would be whenthe wife should worry — is there even the slightestreason to worry. He smiled at me,and took my hand, and turned to me,and said, it seemed not by rote,but as if it were a physical lawof the earth, I love you. And we made love,and I felt so close to him — I had notknown he knew how to lie, and his telling metouched my heart. Just once, laterin the day, I felt a touch seasick, as ifa deck were tilting under me —a run he'd taken, not mentioned in our home,a fisher of men in the washing machine.Just for a few minutes I had felt a little nervous.What precision of actionit had taken, for the bodies to hurtle throughthe sky for so long without harming each other.(from "Crazy")The ShoreAnd when I was nearing the ocean, for the firsttime since we'd parted —approaching that place where the liquid stillbornrobe pulls along pulverized boulder —that month, each year, came back, when we'd swim,first thing, then go back to bed, to the kelp-field, ourgreen hair pouring into each other's greenhair of skull and crux bone. We were likea shore, I thought — two elements, touchingeach other, dozing in the faith that we wereknowing each other, one of usmaybe a little too much a hunter,the other a little too polar of affection,polar of summer mysteriousness,magnetic in reticent mourning. His firstmate was a husky pup, who died,from the smoke, in a fire. Someone asked him,once, to think from the point of viewof the flames, and his face relaxed, and he said,Delicious. I hope he can come to thinkof me like that. The weeks before he left,I'd lie on him, as if not heavy,for a minute, after the last ferociousends of the world, as if loneliness had comeoverland to its foreshore, breaker,shelf, trench, and then had fallen down to whereit seemed it could not be recovered from. Elements,protect him, and those we love, whether we bothlove them or not. Physics, author of ourdeath, stand by us. Compass, we are sinkingdown through sea-purse toward eyes on stalks.We have always been going back, since birth,back toward not being alive. Doing it —it — with him, I felt I shareda dignity, and inhuman sweetnessof his sisters and brothers the cieberg calf,the snow ant, the lighthouse rook,the albatross, who once it breaks out of theshell, and rises, does not set down again.And itentered my strictured heart, this morning,slightly, shyly as if warily,untamed, a greater sense of the sweetnessand plenty of his ongoing life,unknown to me, unseen by me,unheard by me, untouched by me,but known by others, seen by others,heard, touched. And it came to me,for moments at a time, moment after moment,to be glad for him that he is with the onehe feels was meant for him.(from "September 2001, New York City")What Left?Something like a half-personleft my young husband's body,and something like the other halfleft my ovary. Later,the new being, complete, slowlyleft my body. And a portion of breathleft the air of the delivery room,entering the little mouth,and the milk left the breasts, and wentinto the fat cuffs of the wrists.Years later, during his cremation,the liquids left my father's corpse,and the smoke left the flue. And evenlater, my mother's ashes leftmy hand, and fell as seethe into the saltchop. My then husband madea self, a life, I made beside hima self, a life,gestation. We grewstrong, in direction. We clarifiedin vision, we deepened in our silence and our speaking.We did not hold still, we moved, we are movingstill — we made, with each other, a movinglike a kind of music: duet, then solo,solo. We fulfilled something in each other —I believed in him, he believed in me, then wegrew, and grew, I grieved him, he grieved me,I completed with him, he completed with me, wemade whole cloth together, we succeeded,we perfect what lay between him and me,I did not deceive him, he did not deceive me,I did not leave him, he did not leave me,I freed him, he freed me.
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  • Liam
    January 1, 1970
    Today is my 53rd birthday. On my birthday I try to enjoy some of the great pleasures of my life. I like to read from the Iliad and did so. I like to read an e e cummings poem so I recited one I have memorized. One I read first in 7th grade, which must have been 1973.I decided not to take jog: a ran very few times this past year. I fractured my shoulder over Labor Day and that put off my exercising for months, or at least I let it put it off.I enjoy sipping good teas so drank a Nishi First Flush Today is my 53rd birthday. On my birthday I try to enjoy some of the great pleasures of my life. I like to read from the Iliad and did so. I like to read an e e cummings poem so I recited one I have memorized. One I read first in 7th grade, which must have been 1973.I decided not to take jog: a ran very few times this past year. I fractured my shoulder over Labor Day and that put off my exercising for months, or at least I let it put it off.I enjoy sipping good teas so drank a Nishi First Flush from Japan, and then an aged puer ginger tea. Then sipped a red wine all the while reading Stag's Leap. Stag's Leap is a good collection of poetry. It is not very uplifting, so reading this on my birthday put me in a mellow mood. Mellow is a word seldom used now. The poems all form a theme. Her husband left her after 30 years of marriage. The only people I've known for 30 years are family.I have only been in love a few times, and none of them lasted very long.The collection is accessible and well done. But after several poems I tired of reliving this parting. I wanted Sharon to say something terrifically positive, and well had to wait for it.The triumph is certainly allowing readers to live through her emotions as she grows accustomed to be without her husband. We learn a lot about him. He ran. He practiced medicine, he left her for a colleague. Good riddance.
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  • Duncan
    January 1, 1970
    In this book, the author details the tremendous difficulty she experienced in moving on with her life after the end of her 32-year marriage. She notes several times the feeling that she hardly knew him, even after all the time they spent together. Overall, I found the poetry dull: for me, all the minute details she used to describe her feelings overly drew out the message, introducing boredom into my experience rather than heightening the emotions. It reminded me of a Hollywood movie where somet In this book, the author details the tremendous difficulty she experienced in moving on with her life after the end of her 32-year marriage. She notes several times the feeling that she hardly knew him, even after all the time they spent together. Overall, I found the poetry dull: for me, all the minute details she used to describe her feelings overly drew out the message, introducing boredom into my experience rather than heightening the emotions. It reminded me of a Hollywood movie where something sad happens, but the director tries to overwork the melodrama to the extent that you begin to care less rather than more because you don't feel invested enough in the material for a powerful reaction to be elicited. There are some nice little bits here and there - e.g. 'When anyone escapes, my heart leaps up. Even when it's I who am escaped from, I am half on the side of the leaver.' - but for me, these moments were too often buried in detail I was unable to care about.After all the glowing reviews this book has received, I am really disappointed that I was unable to get into it.
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  • Jeannie B.
    January 1, 1970
    Wow. Sharon Olds has given the world a rare gift in this book. If you buy one poetry collection this year, make this your choice.Sharon Olds manages to take her most deeply personal moments, her private pain, and her triumphant re-definition of self and render them as universal touchstones. She speaks to the deeply held emotions we all share and pulls us into her journey. Every poem in this collection has its "A-ha!" moment, where we long to reach out a hand and say, "Yes, I know EXACTLY what yo Wow. Sharon Olds has given the world a rare gift in this book. If you buy one poetry collection this year, make this your choice.Sharon Olds manages to take her most deeply personal moments, her private pain, and her triumphant re-definition of self and render them as universal touchstones. She speaks to the deeply held emotions we all share and pulls us into her journey. Every poem in this collection has its "A-ha!" moment, where we long to reach out a hand and say, "Yes, I know EXACTLY what you mean." Sharon Olds resurrects herself after a stunning loss, and lets us all know that the journey back to wholeness is survivable. The confessional poets are sometimes held in disdain, I know, for focusing on minutiae or on the too particularly personal...but Sharon Olds renders those arguments obsolete. Male, female, married, unmarried, young or reaching those years of gravitas...none of these labels matter as you read this collection. If you're human and have known love, loss, and moving forward - this book will speak to you.
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  • M Hunt
    January 1, 1970
    This Pulitzer-winning collection of poems is like 65 Songs About Joe - for grownups. It's all about pain, and its 'Joe' is Sharon Olds' ex-husband, who left her for another woman after 30 years of marriage. Olds identifies moments and gestures that built her life over 30 years, then redefines them with the realization that, "the touch I had from you became not the touch of the long view, but like the tolerant willingness of one who is passing through."The imagery is beautiful. Each poem made me This Pulitzer-winning collection of poems is like 65 Songs About Joe - for grownups. It's all about pain, and its 'Joe' is Sharon Olds' ex-husband, who left her for another woman after 30 years of marriage. Olds identifies moments and gestures that built her life over 30 years, then redefines them with the realization that, "the touch I had from you became not the touch of the long view, but like the tolerant willingness of one who is passing through."The imagery is beautiful. Each poem made me want to read the next, but each successive piece slowly increased the flow of an acid drip to the gut. A visceral and exhausting collection.
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  • Tonya
    January 1, 1970
    Beautiful poetry about the end of a long marriage. Tender, wistful, bitter and confused - it is difficult to process and often hard to continue. Clearly, she did not want her marriage to end and doesn't seem to understand why it did. This is not to say that she was ugly or unaccepting - just that the bitter and the sweet blend together - but even in her niceness and civility to she makes it clear that she thinks her husband was small. A moving look at the end of a marriage.
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  • Antonomasia
    January 1, 1970
    [3.5 The .5 is important. I don't like all of this, but I would go back to some of it.] When anyone escapes, my heart / leaps up. / Even when it's I who am escaped from / I am half on the side of the leaver.Yes. I have always thought similar. But these words aren't quite my idea of poetic, not of award-worthy poetic, of a work so highly praised I keep hearing about it though I shut out most news. But this must be what is great poetry, today.I felt about the whole book much as I felt about those [3.5 The .5 is important. I don't like all of this, but I would go back to some of it.] When anyone escapes, my heart / leaps up. / Even when it's I who am escaped from / I am half on the side of the leaver.Yes. I have always thought similar. But these words aren't quite my idea of poetic, not of award-worthy poetic, of a work so highly praised I keep hearing about it though I shut out most news. But this must be what is great poetry, today.I felt about the whole book much as I felt about those lines: empathy, and frustration at their almost-ness. I am very fussy about poetry, but when I love it I love it unreservedly. And I have most particular notions of what I am looking for. "Serious" emotional poetry such as this needs to be impressionistic, to be moments of thought and feeling distilled, unmoored from context and explanation.But these poems contain too much of those three latter to be poetry to me. Also too much of factual detail that rings with the aspic-frozen feel of trauma recounted - but that stuff only sounds right as prose. Many of the pieces frustrated me in being laid on the page as poetry when they are really prose poems. The over-use of enjambment (as also mentioned here) was absurd and kept dragging me out what should have been immersion. It made the overlong sentences and moments of prosaicness even more obvious. When it sounds, as that reviewer says, like extracts from a therapy session:"seeking how to accept him as he was""not to have lost him when the kids were young""I wonder if my husband left me because I was not quiet enough...""I had not known how connected I felt, through him, to a world..." This idea needs to be transmitted in fewer words."Then my mind goes back to the summer rental" - Urgh, no, just start writing about it without explaining. That's what poetry's for. You can always put a footnote in if you feel it's really necessary.Why keep saying "my then husband" clunk clunk? Why not simply say "he"? We know already who it's about.Poetry is for me about dispensing with the need to constantly explain, foreground, justify, demonstrate insight and self-awareness to the world and instead simply feel. Where she says "seemed to belong to him" I would want to say "belonged to him": the primal unreasoning unboundaried heart of it, consciously, temporarily, dumping neocortical analysis and detachment. (Perhaps you can tell from such pernicketing that I have been discovering what it is to write my own daft poetry? You're supposed to do that at 15 not 35, but twenty years ago I needed to not feel most things and was very well-practised.)But let that rant not distract from the fact that there are many lyrical and metaphorical and unclunky lines in these verses too. No one poem was my idea of perfect, but nearly all contained some perfect lines, varying in number. For whatever reason, not always the above, these are the poems I liked the best:Silence, with Two TextsObject LossLoveThe HealersLeft-Wife Goose - Possibly the best thing here: very welcome silliness made of bits of traditional nursery-rhymic verse. The collection was devoid of humour until here.Something that KeepsApproaching Godthåb (She doesn't say why she's going to Godthåb, and leaves us to infer or look up where it is if we don't know. Hooray.)DiscandiedAnd most of the poems in the last section, 'Years later': and so they would be, because distance in time means more impression and memory, and unmooring from reportage fact.It would only be fair to quote some lines I like as I did those which I didn't. But must, for now, leave that until later.I saw these poems described as being "about the struggle to move on from" when they're not really, they're simply about occasions of being and feeling within the weeks, months and years after someone. Sharon Olds takes her own time. It brought back a quotation from the previous book I read, At Last by Edward St. Aubyn: "The people who tell us to 'get over it' and 'get on with it' are the least able to have the direct experience that they berate navel-gazers for avoiding." And for all the prosaic lines I complain of, Stag's Leap embodies that.
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  • Rick
    January 1, 1970
    Stag’s Leap won the prestigious Eliot Prize and, at least for this reader, was more of a return to the power and vibrancy of Olds’s earlier work.The collection begins with a couple of take your breath away poems, “While He Told Me” and “Unspeakable,” which capture some naked truths with nuance and depth. In the first the title is explicit while the lines of the poem do their best to look away or to carry on as if. “While he told me, I looked from small thing / to small thing, in our room.” They Stag’s Leap won the prestigious Eliot Prize and, at least for this reader, was more of a return to the power and vibrancy of Olds’s earlier work.The collection begins with a couple of take your breath away poems, “While He Told Me” and “Unspeakable,” which capture some naked truths with nuance and depth. In the first the title is explicit while the lines of the poem do their best to look away or to carry on as if. “While he told me, I looked from small thing / to small thing, in our room.” They get undressed and go to bed and make love—or is it something else when love has just been denied after years of affirmation? “Near sunrise, behind overcast, he got / up to go and read on the couch, / as he often did, / and in a while I followed him, / as I often had, / and snoozed on him, while he read, and he laid / an arm across my back.” In the second poem, “Unspeakable,” she begins, “Now I come to look at love / in a new way, now that I know I’m not / standing in its light.” And: “He shows no anger, / I show no anger but in flashes of humor, / all is courtesy and horror.”The poems arc in sections through time—January and December to Winter to Spring to Summer to Fall to Years Later, translating that small but eviscerating personal tragedy of a marriage’s breakup, of love’s failure, of the betrayal of time, memory, and promise into something as universal and unique as a fingerprint. There are memories that hold no clues to the unexpected decision to leave her. There are considerations of their relationship with recognition of imbalances. “But I did not tend / my knowledge of who he was—nor did he / his of me, nor did he care to.” There are the details of telling children, parents, friends. “I always feared this would happen, / I thought it would be pure horror, / but it’s just home, Mom’s house / and garden, earth, olive and willow, / beech, orchid, and the paperweight / dusted with opal, inside it the arms of a / nebula raking its heavens with a soft screaming.” There are unexpected encounters. “Seeing you again, after so long, / seeing you with her, and actually almost / not wanting you back / doesn’t seem to make me feel separate from you.” There are new relationships and evidence of acceptance that what was once is no more. “Sometimes a beloved dies, / and sometimes love.”It is rueful, thoughtful, and as even-handed as one could be about such an intentional end by one of two: “And maybe what he had for me was unconditional, temporary / affection and trust, without romance, / though with fondness—with mortal fondness. There was no / tragedy for us, there was / the slow-revealed comedy / of ideal and error.” It’s a comedy without humor, just bittersweet irony. There is understated brilliance in “mortal fondness” and the notion of “ideal and error.” It is the brilliance of recognition of love we have failed and love that has failed us.
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  • Ann
    January 1, 1970
    Sharon Olds' career has been an amazing trajectory. Her first book of poems, Satan Says, was all raw talent. Then she fell into the uncovered memories of childhood abuse fad of the time. In one poem, she compared her parents' abuse of her to the Shah of Iran torturing political prisoners. These poems were affecting all right, but they also weren't fair. Olds' marriage and especially the birth of her daughter and son provided an anchor for her, and an outlet for remarkable poetry. This poetry was Sharon Olds' career has been an amazing trajectory. Her first book of poems, Satan Says, was all raw talent. Then she fell into the uncovered memories of childhood abuse fad of the time. In one poem, she compared her parents' abuse of her to the Shah of Iran torturing political prisoners. These poems were affecting all right, but they also weren't fair. Olds' marriage and especially the birth of her daughter and son provided an anchor for her, and an outlet for remarkable poetry. This poetry was like nothing anyone had seen before. She was amazingly frank, funny and brutal about herself; she displayed an amazing physicality and sensuality, even when writing about her children's bodies. Then came further incrimination against her mother and father, and honest attempts at forgiveness. Her voice has been compelling all the way. Her facility with language can hit you sideways, and it's like watching a car wreck to see how far she will go to reveal her truth. Each new collection of poetry is an event in my life. I sat down with the newest one, all excited and expectant. It's hard reading, though. The most somber book she's done, it chronicles her breakup with her husband. Some of the feelings are raw, some are numb or self-critical. I admire her for this book, even if the poems don't give me the same wild buzz as some of her earlier taboo poems. The title poem knocks it out of the ballpark.from "Stag's Leap"Then the drawing on the label of our favorite red winelooks like my husband, casting himself off a cliff in his fervor to get free of me....Even when it's I who am escaped from,I am half on the side of the leaver....And when I wrote about him, did hefeel he had to walk around carrying my books on his head like a stackof posture volumes, or a rack of horns...Does the oldvow have to wish him happinessin his new life, even sexualjoy? I fear so, at first, when I stillcan't tell us apart.
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  • James Murphy
    January 1, 1970
    I think one reason I like the poetry of Sharon Olds so much is that it's personal without being confessional. A Sharon Olds poem lets you in on Sharon Olds in a way that makes you feel confided in, included. In previous volumes she's written about her children, her parents, past loves, and her own marriage. That she often writes erotically also adds to my enthusiasm. Here, in Stag's Leap, she continues all that. It's a volume about the end of her marriage, about her husband leaving her for anoth I think one reason I like the poetry of Sharon Olds so much is that it's personal without being confessional. A Sharon Olds poem lets you in on Sharon Olds in a way that makes you feel confided in, included. In previous volumes she's written about her children, her parents, past loves, and her own marriage. That she often writes erotically also adds to my enthusiasm. Here, in Stag's Leap, she continues all that. It's a volume about the end of her marriage, about her husband leaving her for another woman. I think it's a particularly harrowing subject, and it's a testament to her gifts as a poet that she can write with such grace about a subject which must be painful for her. I think a reason I like her so much is the measured way her poems move toward her point. Without using lyricism so much--Stag's Leap may be her least lyrical book--she carries the reader along in an increasing flow of impressions to a conclusion. Her strength is the analogy. The newborn baby is seen as god. The moment she surprised her father in the bathroom is seen as the end of a journey. Her daughter's presence at the swimming pool is seen in terms of her math skills. Here the stag leaps to freedom. And it's here, in a powerful poem about the September day she and her husband signed the final papers, she gives us the image of an airplane tumbling like a child's jack into a skyscraper. The chaos and destruction of that day is the wreck of her marriage.Sharon Olds writes beautiful poetry. Stag's Leap may be her most powerful book and it contains, like jacks held in the child's hand at the moment right before broadcast, poems that will tumble through your mind.
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  • Mark Robison
    January 1, 1970
    I loved the premise of this book of poetry: Olds analyzes the fallout from her husband of 30 years leaving her by dissecting such scenes as him first telling her to meet him a few years afterward when he’s remarried. It’s certainly painful in parts but Olds sabotages her own poems by throwing in too many big words that ruin their flow and she often goes off on tangents that could only be praised in a writers workshop. I'll just pick a random page to give a feel for her style: “But I did not tend I loved the premise of this book of poetry: Olds analyzes the fallout from her husband of 30 years leaving her by dissecting such scenes as him first telling her to meet him a few years afterward when he’s remarried. It’s certainly painful in parts but Olds sabotages her own poems by throwing in too many big words that ruin their flow and she often goes off on tangents that could only be praised in a writers workshop. I'll just pick a random page to give a feel for her style: “But I did not tend/ another’s rows. But I did not tend/ my knowledge of who was — nor did he/ his of me, nor did he care to./ Braiding of summer, harvest, winter,/ moonlight, noon, frost, enough,/ lie quiet on the wall that guards the dishes,/ honor the clove now gone to ash,/ the clove once split at its core by the liquid shoot.” All I can say is, Huh? There were scenes — not passages — within poems I liked a lot, though. In one, she starts finding chocolate that her husband had hid around the house because she couldn't be trusted not to eat it all. Something similar happens at my house, and I can imagine, after my death, my wife finding treats I’d hidden and how she would feel. I suspect the hurt and betrayal that oozes from these pages may be more useful than the writing for some readers. Grade: C+
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  • Jan Priddy
    January 1, 1970
    I was not certain I could read an entire book of poems about the dissolution of a 30-year marriage, but again and again Sharon Olds found something news and marvelous to say. Though her husband was the one who left and it is clear he was unfaithful during the marriage, this is more about Olds looking into her own life, asking what she missed and how she failed to keep her relationship as strong as she assumed it was. Did she speak too much, was her writing of their relationship a burden or betra I was not certain I could read an entire book of poems about the dissolution of a 30-year marriage, but again and again Sharon Olds found something news and marvelous to say. Though her husband was the one who left and it is clear he was unfaithful during the marriage, this is more about Olds looking into her own life, asking what she missed and how she failed to keep her relationship as strong as she assumed it was. Did she speak too much, was her writing of their relationship a burden or betrayal, could she have abandoned the arts as her life work? from "The Easel"...What if someone had told me, thirty years ago: If you give up, now, wanting to be an artist, he might love you all your life — what would I have said? I didn't even have an art, it would have come out of our family's life —what could I have said: nothing will stop me. There is beautiful sounding here, haunting assonance and rhythm. I do not always understand her line breaks, but who am I to wonder at how she makes it all work.
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  • Caroline
    January 1, 1970
    Oh my – I’ve read this collection in a single sitting, swallowed it down in one gulp. In the past people have offered me poems by Sharon Olds and I’ve joined in with the discussions of excellent poems, like Monarchs but without ever really ‘feeling’ the poems. All that changed last night with her reading of two poems from Stag’s Leap at the Royal Festival Hall as part of the T.S.Eliot 2012 Prize reading. Now I understand.These poems matter and have meaning to anyone who has loved and lost the pe Oh my – I’ve read this collection in a single sitting, swallowed it down in one gulp. In the past people have offered me poems by Sharon Olds and I’ve joined in with the discussions of excellent poems, like Monarchs but without ever really ‘feeling’ the poems. All that changed last night with her reading of two poems from Stag’s Leap at the Royal Festival Hall as part of the T.S.Eliot 2012 Prize reading. Now I understand.These poems matter and have meaning to anyone who has loved and lost the person – in this case a husband of thirty years. These poems are not just about loss, but are also full of compassion for herself, for him‘And it came to me,/ for moments at a time, moment after moment,/to be glad for him that he is with the one/ he feels is meant for him…’These poem are about how to live and how to go on living. It is a collection that I shall return to over and over.
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  • Jamie
    January 1, 1970
    I adore the Confessional poets of the 1950s and Sharon Olds is seriously channeling that school. This collection was really interesting in the way it told the story of one event - her divorce with her husband, but deftly told in beautiful poetic form. Some of the best poetry I have read in years 'When anyone escapes, my heart / leaps up. Even when it's I who am escaped from, / I am half on the side of the leaver' what a beautiful way to examine power relationships, feeling sympathy for the leave I adore the Confessional poets of the 1950s and Sharon Olds is seriously channeling that school. This collection was really interesting in the way it told the story of one event - her divorce with her husband, but deftly told in beautiful poetic form. Some of the best poetry I have read in years 'When anyone escapes, my heart / leaps up. Even when it's I who am escaped from, / I am half on the side of the leaver' what a beautiful way to examine power relationships, feeling sympathy for the leaver even when she is left. A beautiful collection of poems.
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  • J.S. Watts
    January 1, 1970
    Edgy, raw, unashamedly confessional poetry. Well crafted, as you would expect from Sharon Olds and, for me, slightly uncomfortable because of the open rawness, the energy and anger in many of the poems and my awareness that she is spilling not only her unwashed life across these pages, but also the lives of her family and, in particular, the ex-husband. Whilst applauding the poems, the sense of voyeurism gives me a sense of unease, but then again, every oyster needs its grain of dirt to shape a Edgy, raw, unashamedly confessional poetry. Well crafted, as you would expect from Sharon Olds and, for me, slightly uncomfortable because of the open rawness, the energy and anger in many of the poems and my awareness that she is spilling not only her unwashed life across these pages, but also the lives of her family and, in particular, the ex-husband. Whilst applauding the poems, the sense of voyeurism gives me a sense of unease, but then again, every oyster needs its grain of dirt to shape a pearl.
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