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Laura Allen

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The Dark Forest
Joel Martinsen, Cixin Liu

Stag's Leap: Poems

Stag's Leap: Poems - Sharon Olds (I've read this collection quickly as an assignment for a class, so I reserve the right to revise my assessment at some point.)

I've always been a fan of certain aspects of Sharon Olds' poetry, such as her richness of language and metaphor, and her ability to describe and evoke emotions directly from the body, where they actually originate, belong. This collection made me cry almost the entire way through, so I'd count it as a success in terms of its power; but did I like it?

In thinking of the book as a whole, I suddenly saw it as a very powerful piece of not only lyricism, but, unfortunately, of passive aggression. It feels as if this book is the only way she found to get revenge on the husband who scorned her, the only recourse she seems to feel she has. It was really the poem "Years Later" that brought it into focus. This poem is actually quite creepy, and at once I saw through the husband's eyes just how self-absorbed this narrator- and I would definitely want to separate the narrator from the poet, since books have their own sort of trajectory-- actually is. Once I saw that, I couldn't unsee it. While beautiful and tragic and dramatic, this book also reveals some deep, unaddressed flaws. It's incomplete. It doesn't mature through its suffering; if it had, it would be a very, very different book.

That said, it won a Pulitzer, so there's that. And it is indeed moving and beautiful; some of the descriptions of loss are so apt that one can't help sobbing with fellow-feeling. Every poet, and many non-poets, should certainly read it. But to pick it up again, for pleasure or edification or enlightenment? It probably won't be high on my list.