By Sharon Olds, reviewed by Laura Eve Engel

In her eleventh collection, Olds’s familiar, frank lyricism applies itself to new dimensions as these poems attempt to balance abuse, miscarriage, divorce, and the death of loved ones with an awareness of political and social privilege. Taking their place among Olds’s best work, the plainspoken and awestruck explorations in this collection broaden the confessional subject to include experiences of whiteness and guilt, conscience and conscientiousness. Olds weighs the effects of having been “encouraged to speak / from behind a tree as if I were the tree, / […] as a white adult, to speak / out from within a white adult,” grappling openly with the ways in which “how / easy that has made my life is almost invisible to me.” Following the collection’s opening poem, an elegy for Trayvon Martin, with a penitent meditation on the act of writing from a grief that may not be hers to claim, Olds admits that she is still a student of her own privilege and the pervasive ease and ownership it confers: “I am seeing it more clearly, that song / can be harmful, in its ignorance / which does not know itself as ignorance. / I have crossed the line….” This collection asserts an honest belief in trying to understand and transcend one’s limits whenever possible—and a willingness to learn to identify those moments when it isn’t.

This review originally appeared in the Books Noted section of American Poets, Fall-Winter 2019.