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Stag's Leap: Poems

4.10  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,692 Ratings  ·  248 Reviews
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 i
Paperback, 112 pages
Published September 4th 2012 by Knopf
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Mary Well there had better be, if the stag is running away from a poet.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jon Corelis
Jan 01, 2014 Jon Corelis rated it did not like it
The summit of contemporary verse, unfortunately

Contemporary American poetry arose a half century ago out of the confluence of a number of social and literary trends. The first was the rise of the confessional school of poets, associated especially with Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and John Berryman: poets who attempted to make poems out of their lives, frankly using their most intimate real life experiences as subject matter. At the same time, poetry rather suddenly went from being
Apr 07, 2013 Nina rated it it was amazing
The title of Sharon Olds’ poetry collection detailing her painful, unwanted divorce is the perfect metaphor, and yet that wasn’t clear to me until I read the note in the book. Stags Leap is the favorite wine of Olds and her former husband. By adding the apostrophe, Olds gives us an incredible metaphor for a man leaving his wife. She was able to use the official logo from the winery, that of a single stag leaping, perhaps throwing himself, off a cliff.
Then the drawing on the label of our favori
Laura Leaney
Mar 12, 2016 Laura Leaney rated it liked it
My middling rating is for the collection as a whole, while individual poems I would rank more highly if I could. The series of poems were written during and after the poet's husband divorced her for another woman after thirty or so years of marriage. Oh, her! They are deeply personal, confessional in style, and sometimes embarrassing to read (for me). There was something about reading them that felt too much like looking through another woman's bedside drawer. The repetition of the theme - the l ...more
David Schaafsma
Nov 23, 2012 David Schaafsma rated it it was amazing
Read Satan Says, her 1980 first book, as I read this latest, 2012, effort, and the first is edgier, a little scary and disturbing and thus, for me, exciting. Rage and tenderness, but sharp language for both, always surprising. We know this is confessional poetry of a certain kind. I recall reading her memoirish account of her nursing her (incestuous, and that's key) father to his death. Complicated. Tenderness and rage in surprising moments. This is not poetry to lull you to sleep, lyrical poetr ...more
Yair Ben-Zvi
Jan 01, 2014 Yair Ben-Zvi rated it it was amazing
A transcendent collection, truly. I read this as part of a poetry class curriculum and was taken aback by how truly and utterly absorbed I became with each subsequent poem.

For those who don't know, I'm an aspiring writer, but of prose not poetry. I've read (or have "or been exposed to") a selection of some of the greats such as Eliot, Dickenson, Dante and have loved most of them (Dante in particular). But in reading those works I always felt like an interloper, an almost tolerated visitor in a s
Elizabeth Trundle
Dec 16, 2013 Elizabeth Trundle rated it it was amazing
I bought Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds last year because her face flickered by on my facebook news feed and I liked her face. I remembered I had a boyfriend in college who went around with books by Sharon Olds and Jorie Graham. Which is pretty interesting now that I think of it, but at the time I thought all twenty-year old men could relate to the poetry of older women with daddy issues.

Stag’s Leap is a book of poems about a divorce. But not just any divorce. The worst kind of divorce. What is the
Jeannie B.
Feb 08, 2013 Jeannie B. rated it it was amazing
Wow. Sharon Olds has given the world a rare gift in this book. If you buy one poetry collection this year, make this your choice.

Sharon Olds manages to take her most deeply personal moments, her private pain, and her triumphant re-definition of self and render them as universal touchstones. She speaks to the deeply held emotions we all share and pulls us into her journey. Every poem in this collection has its "A-ha!" moment, where we long to reach out a hand and say, "Yes, I know EXACTLY what yo
Dec 06, 2013 Duncan rated it did not like it
In this book, the author details the tremendous difficulty she experienced in moving on with her life after the end of her 32-year marriage. She notes several times the feeling that she hardly knew him, even after all the time they spent together.

Overall, I found the poetry dull: for me, all the minute details she used to describe her feelings overly drew out the message, introducing boredom into my experience rather than heightening the emotions.

It reminded me of a Hollywood movie where somet
Dec 30, 2012 Liam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
Today is my 53rd birthday. On my birthday I try to enjoy some of the great pleasures of my life. I like to read from the Iliad and did so. I like to read an e e cummings poem so I recited one I have memorized. One I read first in 7th grade, which must have been 1973.

I decided not to take jog: a ran very few times this past year. I fractured my shoulder over Labor Day and that put off my exercising for months, or at least I let it put it off.

I enjoy sipping good teas so drank a Nishi First Flush
Dec 28, 2012 Sienna rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012, poetry
The night after a friend recommended Sharon Olds to me, I found her newest collection at a bookstore. Of its background I knew nothing and, to be honest, if I had been aware that these poems detail the dissolution of a thirty-year marriage, I might have kept my distance. It's been that kind of year. Many of these pieces do cut so close to the bone that the act of reading becomes uncomfortable, almost painful. And yet they're beautiful: Olds allows us to bear witness to her own changing emotions ...more
Jan 23, 2014 Melanie rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Can you imagine the farthest limit to loving a person? Do we really believe love can be boundless?

Sharon Olds goes down the rabbit hole, literally. I'm intimidated by how bright the entrance sign is and terrified of the long dark road back.

Love is fucking insane. It's Bjork singing her state of emergency yes, but it's also Sharon Olds as daring as Plath O silk, O slub, O cocoon stolen

let those who can save themselves same themselves. (i.e. not for the faint of heart)
Dec 30, 2014 Linda rated it it was ok
I'm kind of stunned that this won a Pulitzer Prize. It is described as "unflinching." Sometimes I wonder if there are a few things in this world that, when we look at them, we wouldn't be better off flinching.

I first learned about Sharon Olds in my Contemporary Poetry class, which as a sophomore English major was one of my first deep -- I mean, really deep -- dives into literature, literary pretense, and all that separates them. That's the class where I learned about all the modern biggies, you
Jun 04, 2013 Rick rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Stag’s Leap won the prestigious Eliot Prize and, at least for this reader, was more of a return to the power and vibrancy of Olds’s earlier work.

The collection begins with a couple of take your breath away poems, “While He Told Me” and “Unspeakable,” which capture some naked truths with nuance and depth. In the first the title is explicit while the lines of the poem do their best to look away or to carry on as if. “While he told me, I looked from small thing / to small thing, in our room.” They
Jan 06, 2013 Ann rated it it was amazing
Sharon Olds' career has been an amazing trajectory. Her first book of poems, Satan Says, was all raw talent. Then she fell into the uncovered memories of childhood abuse fad of the time. In one poem, she compared her parents' abuse of her to the Shah of Iran torturing political prisoners. These poems were affecting all right, but they also weren't fair. Olds' marriage and especially the birth of her daughter and son provided an anchor for her, and an outlet for remarkable poetry. This poetry was ...more
Kirk Stewart
Feb 19, 2016 Kirk Stewart rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
My favorite collections of poems are ones whose content is full of emptiness, loss, longing for departed intimacy and wistful memories of sex and the perfection of physical love; sparks / fire / consuming / the end, death at each conclusion, a life fully and perfectly lived in a few moments of love.

The acuity of separation and bereavement in this book for a dissolved and disbanded marriage is taut and pulls hard on the reader's compassion and sensitivity; this could be me, probably IS me ... I j
Aseem Kaul
May 19, 2013 Aseem Kaul rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry-new
Sharon Olds' Stag's Leap embodies the worst excesses of confessional poetry - how easily it can turn into an exercise in banal narcissism. There is an R.S. Thomas poem where he responds to a set of poems from an amateur poet saying "I understand why you wrote them / But why send them to me?". That's exactly how I feel about Stag's Leap. That Ms. Olds needed the cathartic release of these poems after her husband left her is understandable, but to inflict them on the rest of us is frankly inexcusa ...more
M Hunt
Apr 21, 2013 M Hunt rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult
This Pulitzer-winning collection of poems is like 65 Songs About Joe - for grownups. It's all about pain, and its 'Joe' is Sharon Olds' ex-husband, who left her for another woman after 30 years of marriage. Olds identifies moments and gestures that built her life over 30 years, then redefines them with the realization that, "the touch I had from you became not the touch of the long view, but like the tolerant willingness of one who is passing through."

The imagery is beautiful. Each poem made me
J.S. Watts
Dec 14, 2014 J.S. Watts rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Edgy, raw, unashamedly confessional poetry. Well crafted, as you would expect from Sharon Olds and, for me, slightly uncomfortable because of the open rawness, the energy and anger in many of the poems and my awareness that she is spilling not only her unwashed life across these pages, but also the lives of her family and, in particular, the ex-husband. Whilst applauding the poems, the sense of voyeurism gives me a sense of unease, but then again, every oyster needs its grain of dirt to shape a ...more
Nov 19, 2013 Shaun rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Perhaps the only book of poetry I have on my "favorites" list. And well-deserved I might add! This is an incredibly well-written book of poems regarding the author/poet's divorce and the effect it had on her psyche and her security. Earth shattering, world ending and heart breaking to read; exactly what it feels like to go through divorce.

Well done and bravo, Sharon Olds for a well-written and well-deserved Pulitzer Prize. May you find some solace in that.
Mar 23, 2013 Casie rated it it was ok
I guess it's just that I don't come from a family of women who base their whole existence on a man. I was hoping for more due to her style but she just dwells forever on her divorce. Tiresome.
Jan 07, 2014 Craig rated it it was amazing
From the moment I turned the first page I knew this book was going to be pretty special.

The first poem, ‘While He Told Me,’ has an unique tone. It’s clearly about a husband’s betraying his wife and yet the language used to describe the wife’s response is not angry; it’s affectionate and even needy:

“I called out something like flirting to him”

“I lay in dreading
bliss to feel and hear him sigh
and snore.”

It feels wrong. Why is she not lashing out? Why is there not a fight? And yet it also feels enti
Jan 13, 2014 Brian rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I'm going to start this by saying that I know absolutely, positively, nothing about poetry other than my visceral reactions to some of it. When I was in 8th grade, I had an English teacher that introduced all of us to T.S. Eliot by way of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, which I immediately adored and still do. Because of works like Prufrock, I keep trying poetry every once in awhile, and so I picked this up thinking "well, it won the Pulitzer, must be something to it" and frankly the subjec ...more
James Murphy
Jan 13, 2013 James Murphy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think one reason I like the poetry of Sharon Olds so much is that it's personal without being confessional. A Sharon Olds poem lets you in on Sharon Olds in a way that makes you feel confided in, included. In previous volumes she's written about her children, her parents, past loves, and her own marriage. That she often writes erotically also adds to my enthusiasm. Here, in Stag's Leap, she continues all that. It's a volume about the end of her marriage, about her husband leaving her for anoth ...more
Dec 25, 2012 Ángel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Sleekit Cowrin’

When a caught mouse lay dead, for a week,
and stuck to the floor, I started setting
the traps on a few of my ex's and my old
floral salad plates. Late
one night, when I see one has sprung, I put it on the
porch, to take it to the woods in the morning, but by
morning I forget, and by noon—and by after-
noon the Blue Willow's like a charnal roof
in Persia where the bodies of the dead were put for the
scholar vultures to pick the text
of matter and the text of spirit apart.
The mouse has become
[3.5 The .5 is important. I don't like all of this, but I would go back to some of it.]

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.

Yes. I have always thought similar.
But these words aren't quite my idea of poetic, not of award-worthy poetic, of a work so highly praised I keep hearing about it though I shut out most news. But this must be what is great poetry, today.
I felt about the whole book much as I felt about those
Feb 13, 2013 Jennifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A funny book to be reading in the run up to Valentine's Day. I decided to read this collection of her poems about the break up of her long marriage after hearing Sharon Olds read from it when she won the TS Eliot prize for poetry. I'd never read any of her poetry before but the whole bore out the promise of that brief excerpt. There is a real sense of unforced restraint (the separation is not recent), what feels to me an authentic reflection from someone who is accustomed to writing and publishi ...more
What would it be like to be married to someone who uses both your lives in her writing. What would it be like if when you married the poet, she wasn't a poet at all and then she made her life into poems? I don't know if that was exactly how the story goes for Sharon Olds and her husband, but I can't quite imagine having the world know about your life through your lover's poetry.

Olds has always used her life and those in it as part of her poetry. Charles Bainbridge in The Guardian in 2006 said, "
Dec 03, 2012 Kasandra rated it liked it
An intriguing look at divorce after a long marriage, some of these are without a doubt 5-star poems. But too many pieces here feel detached, disinterested, as if the author were a journalist ordered to stay objective. I'd like to have read more passionate poems mixed in, as well. The overall effect I got after reading this was that the poet never seemed to know her husband very well, and gave up attempting to "crack" him fairly early into the marriage, so that by the time he left, she is clearly ...more
Sep 14, 2013 Susan rated it liked it
Ok, so call me a heretic. Though it won the Pulitzer Prize, I'm not very enamored with Stag's Leap, Olds' chronicle of the end of a 30-year marriage. For me, Olds covers old territory here. Nothing wrong with that—we all write the quintessential themes over and over again. But I wanted Olds to go beyond where she's gone before, to reframe loss. I wanted her to focus less on the body (for my taste, she is overly concerned with the flesh in all her work) and explore more the complicated and contra ...more
Barbara A
Sep 10, 2013 Barbara A rated it it was amazing
My habit is to write these little jottings only after I have finished a book, but in the case of "Stag's Leap", I am not at all sure that I will ever 'finish'.....I will re-read this again and again, for each poem has such perfectly chosen language, such heart-breaking imagery, such passion. I was deeply affected by this poetic 'autopsy' of a marriage in a way that was not quite the same as having read Joan Didion's "A Year of Magical Thinking", another intense volume about loss. I do not know w ...more
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Born in San Francisco on November 19, 1942, Sharon Olds earned a B.A. at Stanford University and a Ph.D. at Columbia University.

Her first collection of poems, Satan Says (1980), received the inaugural San Francisco Poetry Center Award. Olds's following collection, The Dead & the Living (1983), received the Lamont Poetry Selection in 1983 and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Her other col
More about Sharon Olds...

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“I did not know him, I knew my idea
of him.”
“I did not deceive him, he did not deceive me,
I did not leave him, he did not leave me,
I freed him, he freed me.”
More quotes…