In One Secret Thing, her ninth collection, Sharon Olds completes her cycle of family poems.
The book opens with a poem in twelve parts, which focuses on fearsome images of war. This vision of strife between nations is followed by indelible new poems of conflict within a family. Here are poems of home in which anger, joy, danger, and desire sing together with lyric energy—sometimes comic, sometimes with unblinking forgiveness.
The collection in its entirety is intense and harmonic, moving from minor key to major to minor, and it is rich with a level of self-awareness and irony new in Olds’s work. One Secret Thing is a double portrait, of a child and a difficult parent. As the book unfolds, the portrait of the mother goes through a moving revisioning.
One Secret Thing culminates in a series of elegies of hard-won mourning. Throughout, the poems are shot through with Olds’s characteristic passion, zany imagination, and poetic power.
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.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.