Have you ever been to Reid of Liverpool? Well, you should have. You definitely should have: but I warn you, if you’re a bookworm – you may not want to leave.
Reid is a secondhand book shop on Mount Pleasant, complete with log-fire, plumes of dust, and a poetry collection that spans an entire wall. It’s where I stayed transfixed for about 2 hours. It’s also where I discovered Sharon Olds.
I desperately wanted to find some new poetry (where better place to look?) and was determined to leave this bookstore with a new oh-my-gosh-love-of-my-life poet.
I’d heard of Sharon Olds before: In 2012, she won the prestigious TS Eliot Prize for Stag’s Leap – a collection detailing her recent divorce. Olds is known for her controversial subject matter and I’d been intrigued by a couple of poems I’d read online. When I saw One Secret Thing (£10.00, Jonathan Cape) I snatched it off the shelf right away.
This collection is filled with tactile imagery, conjuring the sensation of flesh on flesh, tiny fingers in a parental palm:
… On the back of my hand, a luminous
wedge, a patch of Alamogordo –
the new-risen moon, the last quarter,
as if my mother, in her sleep, took
a ladle, and poured this portion…
The poet is speaking to all female experience: she examines our bodies, our relationships with our mothers and our internal struggles with image consciousness. Her poem, ‘Home Ec’, is stirringly intimate. However, these are issues explored by many poets wishing to reach out to a female audience – they are the pit-stops and eternally pilfered topics of fresh-faced Plathites.
Olds’ poetry goes far deeper than this, giving our personal experiences a vast kind of historical gravity. One of the major themes of the collection, particularly in the first section (simply titled ‘War’), is the Second World War and the Holocaust. The way these themes of womanhood and everyday wartime experience work seamlessly together is perhaps what gives this collection a feeling of extreme completeness.
There is something richly fulfilling in her imagery which covers the mundane: the “sweater drawer”, to the “cranking of the solar system”. Her style is incredibly distinctive: you get a thrill from the fluid rush of unshaped stanza.
One Secret Thing is unnervingly close to the bone, but that brings comfort with it.
Note to self: raid Reid every weekend.