Monday, August 21, 2006



Oxbow Kazoo by John Olson
(First Intensity Press, P. O. Box 665, Lawrence, KS 66044)

[First Published in The Wandering Hermit Review]

What are we doing when picking up a book if not looking for a little company? The prose poetry of John Olson is good company. I don’t often think of poems as delightful, but Olson’s are. I don’t very often read a prose poem and think to myself, “self, that was delightful!” But I do after reading certain of Olson’s prose poems. The poems themselves are full of delights because the poet is delighted to be writing them. Olson is having fun and so we do, too. He’s all hopped up and high on language and we catch a contact buzz by reading along.

               THERE IS a light in the meat of a word incinerating it, bringing it to mind, incarcerating it, releasing it, impregnating it with tense and experience. The light in the meat of a word anticipates a loom of integument. One word supplies the context for another word. Word to word affects razor and axe. Liquid in an amnion. Residue on a drawer. Yoruba yam or Asian bronze. Greek velour or Spanish string. The word is an eye looking back at you. It falls through your mind with the weight of a formula....
(from “Embryo”)

To play the “who’s he write like” game for a second, of his prose poet predecessors I find Olson most reminiscent of Breton and Stein. There’s a bounciness to the writing, a buoyancy. Less pissed off adolescent angst than Rimbaud. Not quite as completely butt-ass crazy as Artaud. Less of a storytelling impulse than Baudelaire.

Many of these forebears turn up in the poems in Oxbow Kazoo. Here, for example is the beginning of “Arthur Rimbaud On Horseback:”
               REMEMBER ARTHUR. Arthur Rimbaud on horseback. He is very well which is an advantage when he is riding.
               A horse is an architecture of muscle, decorum, and bone. Arthur is riding the horse before and behind. He is riding the horse trembling and
               A bed of a river when it is very wide bares an elevator in the sand. Why is there an elevator in the sand? And are there rocks? Is there gunplay? Are there shadows that border the 17th century?

Here’s the fourth paragraph of “Gertrude Stein in Tennessee:”

               Suppose Gertrude Stein visited Tennessee would there be a renaissance and if so a renaissance of what? Would there be words would there be accuracy and pairs and concrete and survival? There would be marigolds marigolds and seams. Mosquitos, a mosquito, this mosquito is daily and along the river more, and along the river tracks. When and where and what and meaning. Gertrude Stein in Tennessee and a hound dog and a brooch and a pooch and a porch and a portico.

And here are the last two paragraphs of the poem in the collection with my favorite title, “An Accidental Treatise on the Paragraph Glands of Gravy Canyon,” which concludes with another nod to a forebear:

               Important conclusions can be drawn from a propeller. When the propeller turns, the sentence moves forward stirring material from the bottom of the mind and then veers into the horizon. This may be perceived as a slightly curving line, or mark denoting heaven and Saturday.
               The main reason for this assumption is water. In the course of time snow melted and rain fell and be came a fetus. If, then, we understand the process of development as a boundary continually expanded into thumbs and ligaments, we can see how Paris might be full of people, and poets like Guillame Apollinaire.

Beckett turns up too, as do Whitman and Dickinson and Picasso and Van Gogh and Chuck Berry and Jack Keruoac and Philip Lamantia and others. But enough on that theme. There’s lots else going on in Oxbow Kazoo.

For instance, there are a few fine examples of the Olsonian Sudden Flurry of Spurious Facts. What, you ask, is an Olsonian Sudden Flurry of Spurious Facts? Let’s just say that there are certain moves one looks forward to encountering when reading a new book by a writer whose work one’s enjoyed in the past, much as a sports fan will watch for a signature spinning slam dunk or such. I could, I suppose tell what an Olsonian Sudden Flurry of Spurious Facts is, or present an example, but it’d be better if you’d dive into Oxbow Kazoo (as well as Free Stream Velocity, Eggs & Mirrors, and Echo Regime) to see if you can’t figure it out on your own. In conclusion, a brief cento composed from three lines stolen from poems in Oxbow Kazoo:

You might say music is a lake floating down a river
Ink is a vast possibility of fluid sleeping in a pen
And the syrup pours slowly like the dream of a rose


Steve Potter's writing has appeared in Arson, Big Toe Review, Blue Collar Review, Drunken Boat, Freefall, Knock, Pindeldyboz and 3rd Bed. He lives in Seattle where he edits and publishes The Wandering Hermit Review.


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