Seeking the Other Side, forthcoming THIS spring by Fleur de Lis Press, is a collection of poems in three parts: Ways of Touching, Tree Forms, The Casey Poems. The cover features a painting of Yvonne Petkus, my friend and colleague here at WKU, and for that I am so grateful!
Here are few tickler blurbs . . .
“I know this hole, but how?/I have to kneel to look through,” writes Jane Olmsted in her powerful collection, Seeking the Other Side. The “hole” quoted refers to the literal cavity that has caught her attention, yet Olmsted’s looking at the negative space of a great loss, too—a loss that must be lived with, if not understood. This poet ruptures the cliche, asking “Would the glass remain half-full if a fist/ripped out the heart and settled/into that slippery absence?” There are no answers metaphor or pathetic fallacy can provide, only more thoughtfully shaped questioning, “habits of noticing,” “strange pronunciations/of familiar places.” Poems about memory, loss, and the self’s adjustments are collected with poems about trees and the forms of trees, which provide arms and roots to what feels devastatingly vacant. In life as in thought, “there is cavity involved,” yet, as this poet makes beautifully clear, there is form and shape and listening: “if you have no answer,/ go then to the lonely place—/I will meet you there.”
–Lisa Williams, author of Gazelle in the House
Electric with love and grief, the poems in Jane Olmsted’s Seeking the Other Side bear witness to what we might think unspeakable: the murder of the poet’s twenty-year-old son. But they bear witness to life as well, from the oak tree outside her Kentucky window to the bristlecone pine by Chaos Creek in Colorado. So deep is her relationship to nature that she writes herself into that oak tree, feels the roar of its cambium and the “tubes of xylem” fill her spine. In the final poem, a requiem, she takes on the wind-twisted torque of the pine as she reaches for her lost son “until the winds/have turned me full/and then it is I who turn the winds.” Inhabiting the mythic and the forensic, immeasurable loss and precise post mortem calculations, Olmsted’s poems stand up to the terrible facts of her son’s death, her struggle to survive it and to behold him whole in memory, dream, and through “a sacred portal between this world and / this same world made better.”
–George Ella Lyon, author of Many-Storied House
“Born out of the heartbreak that accompanies a devastating personal loss, these poems transcend the personal and reach for the other side of grief, seeking “a crackling testament to our joy.” Mourning her youngest son, Casey, taken suddenly and senselessly from her and from this life, Jane Olmsted unflinchingly shows us “how a nanosecond can hold a swirling cosmos of befores and durings and afters.” These are, ultimately, poems that celebrate, savor, and affirm life.”
–Tom C. Hunley, author of Plunk
SEEKING THE OTHER SIDE is not about getting over grief but about the self-metamorphosis required to survive living with it. The questioning here–of the self, of the culture–takes place at a white-hot intensity that makes the emotional displays of the old Confessional poets look tame by comparison. Leaders of the gun lobby should be incarcerated underground at Mammoth Cave and forced to memorize and recite aloud (through stone chambers in the dying light) such poems as “Cicada,” “Blessed by the Dalai Lama,” “Hydrostatic Shock,” “Architecture of Loss,” and “The Weight of the Human Heart.”
–Frank Steele, co-author of Singing into that Fresh Light
The chapbook Tree Forms, published by Finishing Line Press, is based on poems inspired by trees I encountered in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Kentucky, partly during the fall of 2009, when I went out west on a solo camping/visiting trip, and partly afterwards, in the months following our son’s death. Tree Forms can be ordered from Finishing Line Press. Just click on their link and see my listing (alphabetical). The cost is $12.00 plus $1.50 shipping. It’s also available on amazon.com.
Reviews are available below. Here are a couple of examples (the chapbook doesn’t include the pictures–that’s my coffee table dream!).
When I Fall
When I fall, I’d like it to be
in a very clear lake
at the top of a mountain.
I’d like to know that I will see
the mounting fuzziness of moss
and beneath, the hard calcium
of other elements
that fishes dart beneath me
in the sun, and above, the brilliant stars
pulse in harmony.
I’d like to fall with a splash
and ripples that hit the shores and come
back to me, saying
yes, it’s there.
When I fall, I’d like to know it’s near home,
that my roots, even exposed
if not exactly what they were before.
Make it green with a hint of blue,
and me, bleached of all color
just a path, narrow and tentative
for some tiny creature
seeking the other side.
Tree Forms has an anchor in this world: in October of 2009 Jane Olmsted lost her youngest son Casey to murder. Camping alone in the Southwest on a kind of vision quest, she also finds another world, a kind of dream world in which she interacts with trees. The poems that result are meditations, prayers, incantations, railings, symphonies, reflections, dissections, dreams, lamentations. In “The Hole,” she writes of “a sacred portal between this world and / this same world made better, / where we might find happiness at last.” You won’t be the same after you read these poems. “It’s not so much turning your back / on what’s there, / as deciding what to let in,” Olmsted writes. Let these poems in –Elizabeth Oakes, author of Farm Girls, The Luminescence of All Things Emily, and Mercy in the New World.
“If these limbs could unbend, they’d set the record straight,” Jane Olmsted writes in the opening poem of this collection. Through hiking, camping, reading and writing, she seeks to know trees, indeed to become a tree, anchored in heaven and earth. As the poems move into the darkness of her son’s death, she reckons with his life, his words, his leaving. No trees can contain this suffering, but they offer companionship on the soul’s harsh journey. –George Ella Lyon, author of Back: Poems
In Tree Forms, Jane Olmsted’s delicate descriptions give us glimpses of trees stunted by wind, twisted by weather, trees felled, “dissected and exposed” or “flinging a lump of needles, so like the beginning of joy.” In poem after poem, Olmsted reaches through “tree forms” to discover “another way to live inside myself” or lose herself “in the heart of the matter” or to recover (by way of relentless confrontation) what has been blasted from her life. The volume rises toward three superb final poems that gather the accumulated force of Olmsted’s central metaphor to confront an unbearable loss–the death of her son. In her exquisite poem, “The Hole,” and in others in her elegant little volume, a reader experiences what Wallace Stevens described as “the poem of the mind in the act of finding what will suffice.” If poetry offers us containers for emotion and allows our states of being to find form on the page, Olmsted’s poems suffice–and more: they heal, they hope, they acknowledge “we have hurt ourselves most grievously/and yet here we are.” –Leatha Kendrick, author of Second Opinion (2008)