Of Sharon Olinka’s poems, the poet Jim Daniels says “…[they] ripple with intense clarity and passion.” I could not agree more. In this beautifully crafted book from Dos Madres Press, her poems are tough, blunt, and always in the voice of a poet who demands truth of herself and the world around her. Atherton’s 12 gorgeous collages are well placed and absolutely haunt the reader as they echo Olinka’s search for myth VS reality throughout.
In the first section of 25 poems titled “Quagmire,” she explores personal and family mythologies, grappling with how they merge or not into reality at times. In these poems she reminds us that there is, “Always a new room / in the museum of wounds” but that we are essentially creative and healing creatures. That our “Art is a wound / given to strangers.” This section closes with a riveting 10 poem sequence of persona poems called The Donkey Lady. I say riveting because it is based on a local San Antonio legend about a supposed Donkey Lady which in itself is compelling, but also because Olinka has given the creature voice and humanity, a past and present. This sequence is a bold poetic challenge which she handles so well. These poems are haunting with their suggestions and truth, exciting in their craft and narrative. Atherton’s collages framing them are thought provoking and so creative of theme and image. A perfect mix.
The second section of 28 poems aptly titled “Reconciled,” continues toward uncovering and laying down the bare truth of her personal and political experiences as a young woman and now as a mature poet. Some of these are Confessional poems. Some are personal and political Odes honoring her dead, and honoring the women of Turkey where she traveled. And though her language and admissions are unflinching, these poems do not blame or wallow, instead they arrive at a mature acceptance that allows the speaker (and the reader) to move, go on gracefully. This section too deals with wounds. In her poem “Old Photo”, she comes to the conclusion that Art cannot redeem us. That it is only when she “…stood with others, / knew their joys, / sustained work, / and what they had lost, / what life took from them, / only then did [she] know real love.” And isn’t it love that finally redeems us all in the end? Old Ballerina Club is a terrific read, as well as a visual feast.
—Reviewed by S Stephanie