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Stag's Leap: Poems by Sharon Olds
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Stag's Leap: Poems (2012)

by Sharon Olds

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A wonderfully intimate collection of poems centering around the abandonment of the author after decades of marriage by her now ex husband. It starts with the mental distancing at home and ultimately leads to divorce and all the questions about what went wrong. These are heart felt and written straight from the heart. She is far more fair to her ex spouse than I would have been in a similar situation. Every single poem is a gem and I certainly see why the collection won the Pulitzer Prize ( )
  muddyboy | Nov 28, 2013 |
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 Texts
Object Loss
Love
The Healers
Left-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 Keeps
Approaching 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.)
Discandied
And 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.

Read 8 May 2013 ( )
  antonomasia | Aug 15, 2013 |
As a man, married to the same woman for almost 40 years, I am amazed that I could be so moved by one woman's poetry about her divorce. These are powerful, powerful poems. ( )
  nmele | Jul 8, 2013 |
Thirty year marriage. Husband left for another woman.

OMG this is my story.

So when I read the description for this book, the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry, I had to reserve it from the library.

It's a life shattering event and she tells it honestly and openly, and from my point of view, very realistically. She says things I've never been able to articulate; emotions I've never admitted out loud.

From the title poem, Stag's Leap (a favorite wine she and her husband shared) is this bit often quoted in reviews:

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.

One of my favorite of the poems is 'Last Look' which I don't seem to be able to edit into a neat excerpt. The last phrase however, is that she feels blessed
'not to have
lost someone who could have loved me for life.'

Like all poetry that really touches you, it's hard to say "Oh, yes, I finished that book in May." Snatches come back at odd times and odd situations and there is a subtle shift in outlook from that point onward. I know I'll revisit bits many times. Although I'd recommend this book to anyone who has loved completely and lost, I feel she sang to my heart. This is definitely one that I'll have to purchase my own copy--the library copy just won't do.

4 stars ( )
  streamsong | Jun 2, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307959902, Hardcover)

In this wise and intimate new book, Sharon Olds tells the story of a divorce, embracing strands of love, sex, sorrow, memory, and new freedom.

As she carries us through the seasons when her marriage was ending, 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; the radical change in her sense of place in the world. 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 she has yet given us.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:31:22 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

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. -- Cover, p. [4]… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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