Wednesday, November 29, 2006



The Good City by Sharon Olinka
(Marsh Hawk Press, New York, 2006)

Rarely does one come across a collection as heartrending and thought provoking as Sharon Olinka’s The Good City. Journeying between past and present, male and female, victim and persecutor, Olinka has created a powerful collection that lingers in your conscious.

Olinka taps unapologetically into feelings of painful alienation. Whether it is an immigrant in Smyrna, a tourist, or trying to come to grips with a home you no longer recognise or that you have had to make for yourself in a foreign land, she creates poignant images.

All of the men
gone to Melbourne or New York. And places
where they flicker in showy profusion
like cheap candles. Or mumble in store fronts,
shadows meeting shadows.
--"Orpheus Social club, Members Only"

These lines conjure up for me the image of a small café that was frequented and owned by Polish immigrants on Acland Street in St Kilda, Australia when I lived in Melbourne from the end of 1999 to the beginning of 2001, an Australian feeling like an alien in her homeland and pining to return to England. Perversely, I related to the community of exiles that drank vodka in the middle of the afternoon, reminisced about their homeland, and had their plates piled high with exotic spicy smelling sausages and sauerkraut, or sweet delicate pastries.

However, this book is not all forlornness. At other times, a lovely sense of fantasy accompanies the reader. A peeping through the looking glass at a time of mystery and exoticism.

When I die
bury all my jewellery
with me. Give my poems
to Heroditus Atticus.
He will know
what to do with them.
My daughter
will inherit this house.
And five groves
Of fig trees.
--"Courtesan, Ancient Smyrna"

One can smell the heady perfumes and see the rich drapes of the house her daughter will inherit. With such an exotic locale and time, it would be difficult for Olinka to not achieve such evocatism. The title poem, "The Good City," brings together all the elements of Smyrna. It is deliberately confused, like the jumble of thoughts that the poet creates the poem out of. The jumble haunts her and she ends the poem with mournful envy for our simpler lives:

You can come here
anytime, be a tourist.
The dead will not deter you.
You can imagine Smyrna.

While the collection revolves around Smyrna/Izmir, Olinka infiltrates its sacred hold on the reader with poems about 9/11, Beslan, Keats, and Beauty and the Beast among others. While there is a large sense of melodramatic soap that accompanies Ataturk Fights Osama bin Laden for the World: November, 2001, Olinka has patriotically attempted to apply a bandage to the gaping wound by the World Trade Centre.

Osama knows
right away, he’s made
a mistake.

A spirit can’t be killed. The first thrust,
to the heart
bounces right off
Ataturk. Now Osama
bobs and weaves.
It’s all defense,
from here.

For "spirit" read New Yorker, the US, the Western World: you get the picture. The only poem that I felt disappointed in was "Ataturk Fights Osama bin Laden for the World: November, 2001." I feel it is a little too long, losing impact the longer it meanders and becoming a poem to reach the end of, not to savour. Its obvious patriotism is commendable, but for this critic, a little too melodramatic. "Beslan Child Hostage," on the other hand, contains none of the sentimentality the above poem has, and it is perhaps a stronger and better poem for its bluntness.

Don’t think of me
with angels. When air
touched my perspiring skin,
I howled. In my mad dash
from the gym, shit
ran down my thighs.

I found myself returning to this poem again and again. Its images possessed me. Its very shortness and lack of artifice creating the most impact of all the poems that were not a part of the Smyrna/Izmir thread.

Sharon Olinka is an incredibly sensitive poet. Her poems transport the reader wholly to the scene in which they take place. I love everything about this collection. The book is a good size, the poems are evenly and thoughtfully arranged, the glossy cover is a fine mixture of images that help cement the pictures her words create in the reader’s mind. Some of the poems run together as little verse novels within the larger collection and I enjoyed the change of pace this afforded. Olinka is a professional, and her work will go a long way. I look forward to her next collection. The Good City is a great read and I will savour it again and loan it to my friends. That is high praise.


Fionna Doney Simmonds has published many reviews of poetry both in print and on the net. Formerly the Poetry Editor for feminist literary ezine, she has recently left that position in order to concentrate more on her writing. Living in the beautiful English county town of Shrewsbury, Fionna continues to draw inspiration from all around her and look for more ways in which to develop a wider appreciation of poetry in herself and others.


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