Tuesday, February 21, 2012

One Secret Thing by Sharon Olds

    If you've ever read anything by Sharon Olds, then you know that she writes highly provocative poetry.  If humanity has an exposed nerve anywhere, she will find it.  Her writing may be uncomfortable to read at times, but the raw truth of it and self-exposure is brave and bold.  In "Self Portrait, Rear View," she views her own aging body and wonders if anyone has ever died, / looking in a mirror, of horror.  Olds is not afraid to reveal herself as she reveals others.  In "Pansy Coda" she writes: I am tired of hating myself, tired / of loathing. I want to be carried in a petal / sling, sling of satin and cream, / I want to be dazed, I want the waking sleep. One Secret Thing is a constant bombardment of images of war, decay, death, and abuse, juxtaposed with the purity and nature of birth, life, and love.  It is emotionally challenging, but also greatly rewarding.

   The most common thread throughout this 5 part collection comes in the form of conflicting images of motherhood, specifically the narrator's relationship with her own mother.  In "Cassiopeia" we see a struggling relationship with a mother who was not meant to be a mother coupled with the tragedy of the feeling that some barrier between us is dissolving only as the mother reaches her deathbed in "The Last Evening."  And then there is the stark portrayal of death, from its first rattle to the disposal of the flesh.

   These poems seem to assert that, even if our bodies will never stop betraying us in their constant decay, our memories and souls can extend beyond the rubble of skin and bones through our relationships and impressions.  If you are squeamish, Sharon Olds is probably not the poet for you.  With explicit images of birth, sexuality, violence, and death, Olds makes Sylvia Plath look like Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  But if you brave the wholeness and completeness of her poetry, you may get the inspiration to sharpen your senses and daringly view the world as Olds does - even if only for a brief, stinging moment - it will leave a mark.

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