23 January 2014

On Reading: Stag's Leap, part five

The "Summer" section of Stag's Leap only has four poems and they left me frustrated. Perhaps it's because I taught a form class last semester and I've become enamoured with form, constraints, and poetic devises, that these free verse (and not, may I point out, free verse in the sense of organic verse) confessional poems are starting to feel like a drag. More than halfway through, there has been little deviation--almost no stanzas, few indentations. They look and sound the same.

I reread the four poems of "Summer" only once. I assume if I gave this section closer read, I'd be rewarded, but I simply didn't want to. The subjects of these four poems were none that I wanted to sink into deeper. The one that held my attention the most, "Skleekit Cowrin'" turned me off with its heavy-handed symbolism--mice traps on the wedding china, leaving the mouse corpse on the plate on the porch and it being infested by bugs. I'm sure that there is more artistry in the poem and the others in "Summer" but I don't have the patience or inclination to find them right now.

The following section, "Fall," only has four poems as well, but this section appealed to me more. I read "Haircut" as I was in the salon waiting for one of my own, which was a nice little gift. It probably does not need to be noted that my haircut was nothing like the one in the poem.

That said, I find "Crazy" the most compelling in the section. Ultimately, it's a revisitation and reconsideration of what it means to be "crazy for each other"--a phrase the speaker claims to have used (often) in the past. It begins:
I've said that he and I had been crazy
for each other, but maybe my ex and I were not
crazy for each other. Maybe we
were sane for each other, as if our desire
was almost not even personal--

Olds' choice to have "crazy" end the first and begin the third line not only draws attention to the word in its repetition and prominent places on the lines, but also transforms them into their own parenthesis, having the second line--a line which simply announces she and her ex--be surrounded by "crazy." It's a subtle nod to what the poem will explore. Perhaps the crazy was not them, but outside of them.

The speaker ruminates on what the alternatives were, if they weren't crazy for each other--a marriage arranged by the elements (with "a fire of pleasure like a violence/of kindness); they were "sane for each other"; that their union was inevitable "like the earth's and moon's paths" (that line got an eye roll from me, I admit--so hard to invoke the heavens that way). The speaker then admits that despite these other options, she was crazy about him
--oh for God's sake
I was besotted with him. Meanwhile the planets
orbited each other; the morning and the evening

Her invocation of celestial bodies returns, this time paired with "each other," a term used throughout in reference to her and her ex--three times in the first four lines of the poem alone. Here, the reader can't but help fuse the speaker and her ex with objects in the sky.

Now that the speaker is confident with admitting that she was crazy for him, she considers what he felt for her and settles on "mortal fondness," a phrase that feels both full and paternalistic, or perhaps avuncular.

With this realization, that yes, he had positive feelings for her, but nothing near what she felt for him, Olds ends the poem, returning to the celestial imagery and "each other":
What precision of action
it has taken, for the bodies to hurtle through
the sky for so long without harming each other.

Is there relief or gratitude in this? The tone implies this, but there is also a hint of accusation in "what precision of action/ it has taken" suggests deliberate action on the ex's part, avoiding the implosion for as long as they had.

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