Stag’s Leap: Poems by Sharon Olds (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. 112 pp)
Born in San Francisco, Sharon Olds graduated from Stanford University and earned a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University. Olds teaches creative writing at New York University. Her work has received many awards including a Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the San Francisco Poetry Center Award.
There’s a story about how people meet. I met my wife in the union building at the University of Washington. My parents met at a Halloween party. Some relationships are an obvious result of a connection—school, church, or work. A friendship emerges; first impressions become lasting relationships.
Other relationships are serendipitous. Aziz Ansari has a funny bit in his latest comedy special about a couple that met in the parking lot of Bed, Bath, & Beyond and the sheer improbability of such an event ending in marriage.
There’s also a story about how people split. We often don’t want to tell it. Most often, the pain of a split forces our minds into a numb state where any learning is impossible to attain. We can build from heartache but it takes time. Especially caught in the throes of a difficult event, the thought of life after such circumstances seems impossible, like teleporting coast-to-coast in an instant.
But the moment of schism and the painful reworking of a life in its wake have its own beauty, a fact brilliantly developed in Sharon Olds’ Stag’s Leap.
Relationship Gone Sour
Stag’s Leap outlines Olds’ deteriorating marriage—the small observations of a life reworking itself.
Olds notes the heart wrenching aspect of a relationship gone sour:
“I tell him I will try and fall out of
love with him, but I feel I will love him
all my life. He says he loves me
as the mother of our children, and new troupes
of tears mount to the acrobat platforms
of my ducts and do their burning leaps.
some of them jump straight sideways, and for a
moment, I imagine a flurry
of tears like a wirra of knives thrown
at a figure to outline it—a heart’s spurt
of rage. It glitters, in my vision, I nod
to it, it is my hope” (6).
In Stag’s Leap, the reader receives a glimpse of a woman torn by the actions of a man. There is a love but what does it mean anymore?
Additionally, Olds ponders the distance between a functioning marriage and the new way of life:
“When we lived together, the silence in the home
was denser than the silence would be
after he left. Before, the silence
was like a large commotion of industry
at a distance, like the downroar mining. When he went,
I studied my once-husband’s silence like an almost
holy thing, the call of a newborn born
Isn’t it interesting that in something so simple as silence, one can observe and analyze the value of a relationship?
Taking the name of this collection of poems from the famed winery, Olds uses the wine as a metaphor for her relationship.
“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” (16).
While not quite a “woe-is-me” mentality, Stag’s Leap attempts to find the meaning in an emotionally complicated situation. Why are they separating? What did he do? What did she do? We often can’t assign a truth-value to such a messy scenario. Olds feels as if her husband deracinated her from his life. How can any objective analysis occur?
Time Heals Wounds
Yet, in time, wounds heal. With distance, we sometimes can see how life has advanced. Olds notes,
“I completed with him, he completed with me, we
made whole cloth together, we succeeded,
we perfected 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” (89).
Clearly, she has come to a place of acceptance about her divorce. I wouldn’t go so far as to say she would prefer this path and I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend that people take drastic measures because they’ll find a better life in the long run.
But Olds points to the idea of learning from the scenarios that cause pain. It is a testament when you can learn from the heartache and become a better person from it.
I really enjoyed Stag’s Leap. Olds’ honesty is refreshing and her lyrical ponderings are beautiful. Her poetry reminds me of the many stories we have developed from our relationships. People arrive; people leave. Cherish your relationships, but it’s not a bad idea to learn to love the pain.
Verdict: 4 out of 5