Dos Madres Press
108 Pages; Print, $18.00
Flame Tree Press
80 Pages; Print, $12.00
"Little Book" in Sharon Olinka's Old Ballerina Club gives the reader a clear sense of Olinka's style of writing poems. She speaks from the viewpoint of a small cookbook saved by chance or design from the Mosul Library in Iraq. The stanzas are brief, the lines telegraphic: "The spines of my / friends shake. // I am the lucky one... / Saved by a man's hand, / stuffed in a coat pocket."
The small book seems to represent its author, who by the poem's end, speaks quite anthropomorphically: "Within me voices / whisper of flour, cinnamon and honey. // Who will see / my page on pudding, / and smile?"
The endearing simplicity of this poem belies the seriousness of its theme—things and people lost in wars—and its short phrases like "deemed dangerous" and "missing my home" do not upset its continuity. In musical terms, this is Satie, not Chopin.
"Pan de Muerte" works in a similarly light and elegant way, while "Old Ballerina Club" seems over-emphatic and less satisfying once we understand in the first stanza that the aged ballerinas now use canes and speak only of scandals long ended. Why should there be such lines as appear in stanza two: "Babies gone, houses, landscapes bits / of green paint on a moving stage. / Done with work. Done with men"?
The core of this stanza is the very original observation that the dancers live in a stage set reality of painted landscapes. Why throw in any less poignant phrases? The idea of stanza three is that the dancers eye the poet skeptically; stanza four unnecessarily projects the "I" out onto 57th Street in New York, among a crowd of "losers and whores." So the sharp focus of stanza one completely changes, and its intelligence is lost. This is a frequent occurrence in Old Ballerina Club.
Most of the final stanzas are out of focus, blurred, or as embroidery-worthy as "When I stood / with others, / knew their joys, / sustained work, / and what they had lost, / what life took from them, // only then / did I know real love" from "Old Photo."
"The Angel Raphael Speaks to God" is a thoroughly adventurous poem in which the angel begs God to prevent the World Trade Center disaster. "The Honor Killing," perhaps the most powerful poem in the book, is about the stoning of a woman in Diyarbakir in Turkey. Here the telegraphic style with its lists works powerfully from the first stanza to the last. Here is the first stanza:
Why did youdo it, Maryan?Go with that boy.Your parentsneeded you. We needed you.We knew something was wrongwhen you sewed redsequins on your head scarf.Like a movie star.Then came love noteshidden between tworocks. They say afterthe first rock hits,then the third, the tenth,a girl passes out.Your slits of eyespeered at usin the hospital. I saidIf you hear me,blink. And you did.
"The Old Hipster" is a fine poem about disillusioned love, just as "Raw Freedom" chronicles the passage from careless youth to careful middle age. "Ode" is a description of adolescent sex: "The blood flower of your mouth... / moist skin, cock hard / in tight jeans. The flower blooms / especially in hell."
I sense that Olinka has almost too much to write about and is sometimes able only to sketch all the subjects she needs to draw in much greater detail. This is clear in "Time and A Mirror" in which we find a bewildering list of autobiographical facts: "Neighbors / leave the Bronx / for suburbs. Abandon me and my crazy mother. // I live in a slum, see corpses. My ear hurts, beat up by a gang of girls..." The corpses alone deserve a whole poem.
"For a Man with a Guava in His Mouth" sketches a real love story we would like to understand...