There are, it should be noted, some terrific pieces in this book: "Tousled Darling" is a love poem to a child that only Olds could write; "The Prepositions" is a well-wrought meditation on "the breaking of childhood, the beginning of memory"; and "The Falls" conveys a life-or-death situation with intense luminosity. In "The Promise," the poet pledges to her love, "if the ropes/binding your soul are your own wrists, I will cut them." And in "Culture and Religion" Olds mixes The Wizard of Oz and "the only other movie/I had seen,"--a "Crucifixion documentary"--in fascinating ways:
And the witch wanted
to torture them to death, like Jesus
--Blood, Tin, Straw--what they
were made of was to be used to kill them.
These lines, laying out the connection between the self and the menacing outside world, help explain why the first three sections of the book ("Blood," "Tin," and "Straw") focus so relentlessly on a controlling first-person voice. But in the last two sections, "Fire" and "Light," Olds reaches beyond her traditional poetic motifs and outlines a determined philosophy of hope, looking out to where "beyond the body itself, we are making/love." The impulse is a welcome one: It's time to move on.