Today I’m reading Sharon Olds’ Stag’s Leap (2012)
Stag’s Leap (2012), include poems that explore the details of Sharon Olds’ divorce from her former husband. The book won the prestigious T.S. Eliot prize earlier this year; in awarding the prize, Carol Ann Duffy, chair of the final judging panel, said: “This was the book of her career. There is a grace and chivalry in her grief that marks her out as being a world-class poet. I always say that poetry is the music of being human, and in this book she is really singing. Her journey from grief to healing is so beautifully executed.”
In a Salon interview, Olds addressed the aims of her poetry. “I think that my work is easy to understand because I am not a thinker. I am not a…How can I put it? I write the way I perceive, I guess. It’s not really simple, I don’t think, but it’s about ordinary things—feeling about things, about people. I’m not an intellectual. I’m not an abstract thinker. And I’m interested in ordinary life.” She added that she is “not asking a poem to carry a lot of rocks in its pockets. Just being an ordinary observer and liver and feeler and letting the experience get through you onto the notebook with the pen, through the arm, out of the body, onto the page, without distortion.”
Olds might not be an abstract or intellectual poet, but she seems to be an exceptionally considerate and kind woman. The way she writes about her former husband, with love and respect, is rather impressive.
Here is her own words on herself:
By the time I was six months old, she knew something
was wrong with me. I got looks on my face
she had not seen on any child
in the family, or the extended family,
or the neighborhood. My mother took me in
to the pediatrician with the kind hands,
a doctor with a name like a suit size for a wheel:
Hub Long. My mom did not tell him
what she thought in truth, that I was Possessed.
It was just these strange looks on my face—
he held me, and conversed with me,
chatting as one does with a baby, and my mother
said, She’s doing it now! Look!
She’s doing it now! and the doctor said,
What your daughter has
is called a sense
of humor. Ohhh, she said, and took me
back to the house where that sense would be tested
and found to be incurable.
6 Comments Add yours
Wonderful stuff! Honest and personal poetry. Thanks a million for introducing me to a poet I had no idea about and for the great video. Listening to the music in her voice calms me and makes me want to explore her work in more detail. Cheers!
Up until this recent book, which she admits is about her divorce, Olds has long maintained that the “speaker” in her poem is not necessarily herself, no matter how plain and autobiographical the poems seem. It is interesting to me to see how she has distanced herself from her persona in past poems–and how these new poems offer more of the biographical…while employing the same voice.
do you think she was hiding, or protecting herself/family/friends?
are we becoming more tolerant of the personal voice? (like what before was considered a weakness has become a strength?)
Good questions. The personal voice was active in “confessional poetry” and then was criticized (as a weakness, I guess). Yet the personal is part of what engages so many readers!
I do think she was protecting her children, and perhaps family members. I know she has said she had a terribly difficult relationship with her mother; then, not so many years ago, Olds wrote gorgeous, moving poems about a dying mother. She says that was her IMAGINED response to an IMAGINED mother–not the mother she actually had. Which is wildly interesting, I think.
Are we more tolerant of the personal voice? I am not certain…I believe poetry critics might give a different answer than poetry readers.
What you say about her relationship to her mother is really interesting, and unexpected, because also in SL she writes kindly about her. Even if this passage made me wonder about the mothers ability for compassion:
And the moment I told her,
she looked at me in shock and dismay.
But when will I ever see him again?!
she cried out. I held hands with her,
and steadied us, joking.