Stag's Leap

Stag's Leap

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by Sharon Olds

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Stag’s Leap is stunningly poignant sequence of poems that tells the story of a divorce, embracing strands of love, sex, sorrow, memory, and new freedom.

In this wise and intimate telling—which carries us through the seasons when her marriage was ending—Sharon Olds opens her heart to the reader, sharing the feeling of

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Stag’s Leap is stunningly poignant sequence of poems that tells the story of a divorce, embracing strands of love, sex, sorrow, memory, and new freedom.

In this wise and intimate telling—which carries us through the seasons when her marriage was ending—Sharon Olds opens her heart to the reader, sharing the feeling of invisibility that comes when we are no longer standing in love’s sight; the surprising physical bond that still exists between a couple during parting; the loss of everything from her husband’s smile to the set of his hip. Olds is naked before us, curious and brave and even generous toward the man who was her mate for thirty years and who now loves another woman. As she writes in the remarkable “Stag’s Leap,” “When anyone escapes, my heart / leaps up.  Even when it’s I who am escaped from, / I am half on the side of the leaver.” Olds’s propulsive poetic line and the magic of her imagery are as lively as ever, and there is a new range to the music—sometimes headlong, sometimes contemplative and deep. Her unsparing approach to both pain and love makes this one of the finest, most powerful books of poetry Olds has yet given us.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
No contemporary poet writes better about love and passion than Olds. In her 12th collection (following One Secret Thing), she documents the unraveling of her marriage, offering poems that are careful dissections without being maudlin. Here, for instance, is how she defines love after divorce: "when I thought/ we were joined not for breath's time,/ but for the long continuance,/ the hard sweets of femur and stone." Whether she's talking about the last time she and her husband slept together, finding a photo of her husband's lover in the dryer, or how she took up newspaper reading in his honor, these poems are intense, mourning as much as recording the break. Occasionally, Olds drops a clunky line or, as in the poem "The Red Sea," incorporates a double list of vocabulary words. But on the whole the collection is stunning and reads almost like a poetic novel until you reach the poem where Old announces, "my old/ love for him, like a songbird's rib cage picked clean." VERDICT Beautiful, well-crafted poems that map the end of a marriage; the poet's talent and wisdom are on display in poems that arrow to the heart over a route that is word- and image-rich.—Doris Lynch, Monroe Cty. P.L., Bloomington, IN
Publishers Weekly
Known for her unadorned, emotionally direct, sometimes sexually explicit free verse, Olds has amassed a large and loyal following over 30-odd years and 10 books. In her new collection every poem speaks to the collapse of a 30-year marriage, precipitated by the ex-husband’s affair. Hence the memorable title: “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.” Olds begins as the marriage is ending: “I want to ask my/ almost-no-longer husband what it’s like to not/ love, but he doesn’t not want to talk about it.” Years later, he is a memory: Olds can “watch my idea of him pull away/ and stay, and pull away,” like a kite. In between there are violently mixed feelings, erotic memories, loneliness, anger, and resolve in a book that takes its arc from the divorce, but its organization from the seasons, moving from winter to spring to “years later,” and frequently looking back: “Maybe I’m half over who he/ was, but not who I thought he was, and not/ over the wound, sudden deathblow/ as if out of nowhere.” (Sept.)

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.96(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.36(d)

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Stag's Leap

By Sharon Olds


Copyright © 2012 Sharon Olds
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307959904

The Last Hour

Suddenly, the last hour
before he took me to the airport, he stood up,
bumping the table, and took a step
toward me, and like a figure in an early
science fiction movie he leaned
forward and down, and opened an arm,
knocking my breast, and he tried to take some
hold of me, I stood and we stumbled,
and then we stood, around our core, his
hoarse cry of awe, at the center,
 at the end, of our life. Quickly, then,
the worst was over, I could comfort him,
holding his heart in place from the back
and smoothing it from the front, his own
life continuing, and what had
bound him, around his heart—and bound him
to me—now lying on and around us,
 sea-water, rust, light, shards,
the little eternal curls of eros
beaten out straight.

Stag’s Leap

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.
His fur is rough and cozy, his face
placid, tranced, ruminant,
the bough of each furculum reaches back
to his haunches, each tine of it grows straight up
and branches, like a model of his brain, archaic,
unwieldy. He bears its bony tray
level as he soars from the precipice edge,
dreamy. When anyone escapes, my heart
leaps up. Even when it’s I who am escaped from,
I am half on the side of the leaver. It’s so quiet,
and empty, when he’s left. I feel like a landscape,
a ground without a figure. Sauve
qui peut—let those who can save themselves
save themselves. Once I saw a drypoint of someone
tiny being crucified
on a fallow deer’s antlers. I feel like his victim,
and he seems my victim, I worry that the outstretched
legs on the hart are bent the wrong way as he
throws himself off. Oh my mate. I was vain of his
faithfulness, as if it was
a compliment, rather than a state
of partial sleep. And when I wrote about him, did he
feel he had to walk around
carrying my books on his head like a stack of
posture volumes, or the rack of horns
hung where a hunter washes the venison
down with the sauvignon? Oh leap,
leap! Careful of the rocks! Does the old
vow have to wish him happiness
in his new life, even sexual
joy? I fear so, at first, when I still
can’t tell us apart. Below his shaggy
belly, in the distance, lie the even dots
of a vineyard, its vines not blasted, its roots
clean, its bottles growing at the ends of their
blowpipes as dark, green, wavering groans.

My Son’s Father’s Smile

In my sleep, our son, as a child, said,
of his father, he smiled me—as if into
existence, into the family built around the
young lives which had come from the charged
bouquets, the dense oasis. That smile,
those years, well what can a body say, I have
been in the absolute present of a fragrant
ignorance. And to live in those rooms,
where one of his smiles might emerge, like something
almost from another place,
another time, another set
of creatures, was to feel blessed, and to be
held in mysteriousness, and a little
in mourning. The thinness of his lips gave it
a simplicity, like a child’s drawing
of a smile—a footbridge, turned over on its back, or seen
under itself, in water—and the archer’s
bow gave it a curved unerring
symmetry, a shot to the heart. I look back on that un-
clouded face yet built of cloud,
and that waning crescent moon, that look
of deep, almost sad, contentment, and know myself
lucky, that I had out the whole
night of a half-life in that archaic
hammock, in a sky whose darkness is fading, that
first dream, from which I am now waking.


Excerpted from Stag's Leap by Sharon Olds Copyright © 2012 by Sharon Olds. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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