Synopses & Reviews
Sharon Olds completes her cycle of family poems in a book at once intense and harmonic, playful with language, and rich with a new self-awareness and sense of irony.
The opening poem, with its sequence of fearsome images of war, serves as a prelude to poems of home in which humor, anger, and compassion sing together with lyric energy—sometimes comic, sometimes filled with a kind of unblinking forgiveness. These songs of joy and danger—public and private—illuminate one another. As the book unfolds, the portrait of the mother goes through a moving revisioning, leading us to a final series of elegies of hard-won mourning. One Secret Thing is charged throughout with Sharon Oldss characteristic passion, imagination, and poetic power.
The doctor on the phone was young, maybe on his
first rotation in the emergency room.
On the ancient boarding-school radio,
in the attic hall, the announcer had given my
boyfriends name as one of two
brought to the hospital after the sunrise
service, the egg-hunt, the crash—one of them
critical, one of them dead. I was looking at the
stairwell banisters, at their lathing,
the necks and knobs like joints and bones,
the varnish here thicker here thinner—I had said
Which one of them died, and now the world was
an ants world: the huge crumb of each
second thrown, somehow, up onto
my back, and the young, tired voice
said my fresh loves name.
from “Easter 1960”
"The ninth outing from Olds (Blood, Tin, Straw) should again please the many admirers of her raw, vivid and often explicit poems, but might surprise few of them until the end. As in all her books, Olds works in a demotic free verse, driven by rough enjambments and shocking comparisons: she devotes much of her energy (three of five sections here) to sex, remembered pain and parenthood the dramatic, abusive household in which she grew up and her tender relationship with her own daughter. Olds depicts the traumas of her first decades with undeniable, if occasionally cartoonish, force: 'When I think of people who kill and eat people,/ I think of how lonely my mother was.' Olds can also offer high-volume poetry of public protest, as in the set of sonnet-sized poems against war with which the book begins. What seems new here are Olds's reactions to her mother's last years, and to her mother's death. On an antidepressant, briefly 'adorable,' and then in failing health, 'my mother sounds like me,/ the way I sound to myself one/ who doesn't know, who fails and hopes.' Both the failures and the hopes find here a voice that takes them seriously. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Olds completes her cycle of family poems in a book at once intense and harmonic, playful with language, and rich with a new self-awareness and sense of irony.
About the Author
Sharon Olds was born in San Francisco. Her poetry has been chosen as the Lamont Poetry Selection and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. She lives in New York City.