Little Stranger
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.