on 14 November 2012
This arrived yesterday as part of my Poetry Book Society subscription. I didn't chose it, I didn't know Sharon Old's work, I am not a great reader of contemporary poetry, but I loved this from the first page. This sequence of poems about the end of her 30 year marriage is beautiful and moving. They feel so true it is frightening: like an accident you don't want to look at, but are nevertheless compelled to study just to try to understand how such a thing can be.The end of love is the saddest story in the world and I know this better from reading this book.
on 20 April 2013
Sharon Olds won the TS Eliot Prize last year for this collection, Stag's Leap, and the judges were apparently unanimous, something that rarely happens with literary prizes. I'm always in two minds about Sharon Olds' poetry - it's musical and muscular and beautifully constructed, but a part of me feels . . . What do I feel? Slightly embarrassed, squeamish even, about the frankness of her revelations, particularly about other people. I would never be able to expose my family like that - but perhaps that just being British! In the beginning, such frankness was very original - a woman `writing the body' in a way that had never been written before. But then it became a little boring - I sometimes wanted her to write about other things. So I approached Stag's Leap with caution, and was bowled over by it.
Stag's Leap is the label of a vineyard - the favourite wine of Sharon and her husband of thirty years. But it became the symbol of her husband's leap for freedom when he left her for another woman - a medical colleague. In the sequence of poems that tells the story of the breakdown of her marriage and its aftermath, she freely admits the part her own revelatory poetry had played in it.
Her husband was a very quiet, private man, and she was the opposite, and she had never realised the impact her very frank and uninhibited poetry was having on him. In revealing the details of her own sex life, she had also revealed his.
One of her poems describes how her husband would stand up whenever there was a call for `a doctor in the house', and she would be proud. But she realises now that `when words were called for, and I stood' it was very different for him. Now when the call comes he and his new wife can stand up together - partners in everything.
During the break-up, Sharon Olds is astonished by the courtesy with which they treat each other, the habit of physical intimacy that still exists in those last days.
. . . `He shows no anger,
I show no anger but in flashes of humour,
all is courtesy and horror.'
She goes through all the phases of relationship grief - bewilderment, anger, self-blame, the pain of loss, numbness, to acceptance. Being able to see things from his point of view is an extra pain.
. . . `did his spirit turn against the spirit which
tolled our private, wild bell
from the public roof top, I who had no other
gift to give the world but to hold what I
thought was love's mirror up to us.. .
. . . `but then one day
I woke, and feared he felt he was the human
sleeper, and I the glittering panther
holding him down, and screaming.'
Stag's Leap tells the story from the moment of discovery when Sharon finds another woman's photograph in her husband's running shorts - a woman she knows. The night he tells Sharon that he is in love with the other woman and that he will `probably' leave her. The story moves through the dividing of possessions, the construction of a life alone, the realisation that what she had taken for granted was a good relationship was quite the opposite for him. `I hadn't known he could lie'.
The sequence is very moving, perhaps because of its absolute honesty and humility, but it also thrills in the way it uses language - this is a major poet in complete command of technique and language. The complex rhythms and linguistic twists in `Left-Wife Bop', `Red Sea' and `Left-Wife Goose' leave you giddy. The ending is very powerful - in `Years Later', they meet again, briefly.
. . . `And then there is the spring park,
damp as if freshly peeled, sweet
greenhouse, green cemetery with no
dead in it - except, in some shaded
woods, under some years of leaves and
rotted cones, the body of a warbler
like a whole note fallen from the sky - my old
love for him, like a songbird's rib cage picked clean.'
on 21 January 2013
This is amazing! As I read it explained exactly how I have felt over the last few years. The disintegration of my own 20 year marriage was devastating and destructive. All the nuances of pain are here, and the potential to heal. I read every word knowing totally what was meant, and yet, although the most painful of things I have had to endure, this work is incredible, in put down able and eminently readable. It is a work of power and has the abilinto aid reflection and healing.
on 19 January 2015
Another friend recommendation. Stag’s Leap is a collection of poems by the hugely talented Sharon Olds. I didn’t want to read this, as a close friend is currently experiencing similar circumstances, but I’m so glad I did. Even reading the sample on Amazon had me welling up with tears.
Olds explores the end of her thirty-year marriage with such skin-stripped truth and agonising imagery, it feels like a kind of therapy in itself. Somehow, The Arrival and Stag’s Leap touch on connected themes – how to adapt to changed circumstances, how to change and how to remain oneself.
Olds rips her heart out and lays it in a stainless steel bowl for us to observe. The process of separation and recovery is deeply, viscerally touching, and if – like me – you’re partial to walking into the sea and crying salt into salt, this cathartic experience will both empty and arm you.
on 2 June 2015
Beautifully crafted poems, so much so you could run them through your fingers, some flow, others snag, which is good. Brave and bold, as always Sharon Olds tackles what others fear. Honest, or so it seems, account of her marriage break up.... and its aftermath and recovery. Albeit one side of the story, but a rewarding one at that. Particularly admired the poem about telling her Mother about the break up. People are important to her, and I think that's why she resonates with her readership
on 7 March 2013
A friend recommended Sharon Olds poetry but warned me about the subject matter i.e. heartbreak! I just read a couple at a time - I cried a lot and although it is very painful to experience her heartbreak when her husband falls in love with 'a. n. other' and relive one's own pain in past relationship breakdowns she always manages to say something profound and true about love. It is the fact that she describes the joy of love so exactly that makes the end so very painful, as in 'unspeakable'
'to stand in his thirty-year ' When he loved me, I looked
sight, and not in love's sight out at the world as if from inside'
I feel an invisibility'
Or as in' The Flurry' I tell him I will try to fall out of
love with him, but I feel I will love him
all my life'
I cannot recommend this poetry highly enough - read her and recognise your own heartbreak - it is a genuinely cathartic experience for those of us burned by love and loss .
on 6 March 2013
Sharon Olds' has written some of the most beautiful, accessible love poetry of modern times. It arose from her long marriage to the man who, after 30 years, left her for another woman. "Stag's Leap" is a collection that describes what happened in that long and terrible process. Some was written shortly after the break, some years later. Throughout, Olds lays herself bare with a courage that is breathtaking. She is consistently unsparing and honest, but she is never cruel, never sentimental, never self pitying. Throughout, she remains generous and tender towards the man who was her lover and the father of her children.
"Stag's Leap" won this year's T S Eliot prize, and Olds has recently been described as "America's greatest living poet". It would be hard to disagree.