Sharon Olds tells the story of her divorce in an intimate collection of poems that explore confusion, melancholy, love, sex and freedom

Sharon Olds, Stag’s Leap

Published 2012 by Alfred A. Knopf, 112p

 

Everyone dies. Sometimes a beloved dies, and sometimes love.

It took her fifteen years to reflect on her divorce and then find the strength to write about it. Sharon Olds, one of the most appreciated contemporary American poets, had been married for more than thirty years when her husband decided to leave her for another woman.

It is wisdom and contemplation that Olds uses to reflect on her divorce, avoiding violence and uncontrolled outburst. She opens her heart and admits how insignificant and lost she felt when her husband told her he wanted to leave.

I feel an invisibility/ like a neutron in a cloud chamber buried in a mile-long/ accelerator, where what cannot/ be seen is inferred by what the visible/ does.

He shows no anger,/ I show no anger but in flashes of humour,/ all is courtesy and horror. And after/ the first minute, when I say, Is this about/ her, and he says, No, it’s about/ you, we do not speak of her.

The passion and physical contact persist for a while, a necessary exercise of learning to separate, to undo the routine, a time when Olds realizes she will lose her husband’s smile and the heat of his body, his presence and their rituals together.  The book’s title borrows the name of their favourite wine and the stag’s leap becomes a metaphor for Olds’s   husband trying to escape from her, leaving her like an empty landscape.

The healing takes time, it is a journey through seasons, as Olds presents it. She learns to block her impulses to go to him, she grieves and then, slowly, she recovers, creating a separate world, parallel to her ex-husband’s. She burns his old easel and disciplines herself in a living alone life.

When a caught mouse corpse lay hidden, for a week,/ and stuck to the floor, I started setting/ the traps on a few of our wedding china/ floral salad plates.

Years later, they meet again, in a park and take a friendly walk discussing about their two children. They smile to each other but she doesn’t feel him like being there; he is just a gentleman whom she appreciates but whom she doesn’t love anymore. There was a fulfillment they set in each other during their marriage and there is still a connection between them due to their kids but the transition had happened and Olds found her freedom again.

Olds is graceful and brave. Her confessional poetry is a sign of strength and her insightful discourse is just absorbing.

Follow Sharon Olds for a TED Talk on The Poetry of the in-between:

 

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