Half poetry, half photography, this new collection is a cannily crafted hybrid.
Olsen’s poetry, which drives her book, is loosely divided into sections built around three themes: light and darkness, love and “blissful surrender.” Pieces of the first appear in “Beauty’s Passing”: “And yet here I now stand, / here in this sliver of time, / watching dark shapes / where gloom pervades / in harrowing fashion.” Much of her verse feels similar—compact, approachable, unpretentious. In other pieces, her lines stretch out and flow, notably in a touching ode to her husband, “On Seeing the Invisible”: “Standing above the fog he surveys the unseen, memories rising up from times past, faint drumbeats bearing messages from uncounted and discounted ancestors.” The telling shift between “uncounted” and “discounted” is both lovely and provocative, and Olsen fills her poetry with such subtle wordplay. This is clever work, but the author is too circumspect to flaunt her talent; she often sneaks wit in at the ends of lines, letting it hit late, when her reader is perhaps less guarded. The “bliss” that infuses the last section of the book is perhaps—or sometimes—the joy of mystical union. Thus, in “Stillness Is Not Silence,” she opens, “When silence descends, / I sink into the sound of stillness, / the symphony of all symphonies, / the universal hum, / God’s voice holding me aloft.” That she engages the spiritual makes sense given her academic training in religious studies. Perhaps the book’s only flaw is the fact that the color photographs she pairs with her poems occasionally overwhelm them. Especially striking is the landscape Olsen matches with “Tall Grasses in the Wind”: A lush hillside meets blinding blue sky in the background, while an enticing waterway bisects the photograph lengthwise. The picture is so pleasant readers might almost forget the poem that accompanies it.
A deftly balanced mélange of word and image to delight both the mind and the eye.