Get our latest essays, archival selections, reading lists, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
by Lisa Olstein
Copper Canyon Press, $16 (paper)
This collection’s title, rather than indicate a diminutive visitor, is a directive to conceive of the world as a “little stranger” than we have hitherto thought, thereby unlocking a series of revelatory meanings: “Have you been pulled asleep / from your home and put back / near to where you were but not exactly?” The result is metaphorical language that is at times deployed, perhaps necessarily, as a blunt instrument, but more frequently delivered with incisive grace. In testing the humming network beneath the ordinary, it takes a nervy poet to pull off the following, from “This is a Test of the Internal Emergency Broadcast System”: “This is not an emergency. / This is winter saying, I decapitated / your small glass bird. // Hungry deer step from the woods / on velvet-gloved legs. / This is a test.” Olstein’s titles are often enigmatic, designed to apply a productive friction to the contents of the poem. Her sentences frequently read as discrete aphorisms, but they work us closer to understanding: in the “Elegy” series, for instance, they bring us closer to reconciling the dead body with the world’s beauty, which it eventually constitutes. A standout of this collection is the “Dear Sir” epistolary series, which commences with the aim of connection but eventually disintegrates into the devastating admission that most of our communication is accursedly self-centered.
Benjamin Landry is a 2014–2015 Research Associate in Creative Writing at Oberlin College and the author of Particle and Wave (University of Chicago, 2014), as well as poems in Kenyon Review Online and Guernica.
Vital reading on politics, literature, and more in your inbox. Sign up for our Weekly Newsletter, Monthly Roundup, and event notifications.
How would I know / when I’m empty and quiet like breath?
Historian Gerald Horne has developed a grand theory of U.S. history as a series of devastating backlashes to progress—right down to the present day.
Reflecting on three monumental works of modernism—James Joyce’s Ulysses, T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus—a hundred years on.