KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 11: Spring 2019
Ekphrastic CNF: 536 words [R]

Gooey Evolution

by John Olson

Examining and consolidating his affinities with nineteenth century French painting, Matisse painted with a new subtlety with which the nineteenth century painting received new illumination. Ocher walked in a stratosphere of grace. Yellow grew an orchestra of jingling bells. Black became a zone of placental navigation. Green plugged into a surge of telepathy. Blue agreed to disagree. And then parachuted upward into a realm of clashing cymbals.

Red hands held a universe of clay.

The human form had become unmanageable. The human form could no longer be controlled pictorially. He had to let it travel. Male or female, clothed or naked, the human form stomped into glory.

Tickets were purchased. Suitcases packed. The human form sneezed the dust of centuries and dove into fresh new energies of rampant ventilation.

Feelings sailed through pineapple syncopation. Fairies gamboled about in the garden.

This explanation finds its source in the nineteenth century’s preoccupation with the medium of paint. Even pre-modernist painters such as Géricault and Daumier were more acutely aware of how the edges of a shape cut into the space around it. This was the problem that haunted Cézanne. His art arrived like a new dispensation.

Now we can begin to talk about painting.

Painting, what’s painting, painting is bristles and daubs and gooey evolution. Colors dwell in tubes. They’re squeezed onto palettes. They’re applied to a canvas. Schools of tuna glide through gradations of blue. A man eats alone at a solid oak table. A storm of red liberates fingers of black. A galaxy of suns emerges from a cloud of pink. A woman ponders a new pair of glasses. Spanish orange breaks out of a structured jungle green into armadillo brown.

Painting is images and forms. Painting is consideration and cylinders and searching. Milieus of tin attached to a salvo of gunmetal gray. Milk in a bucket. Books on a shelf. A door hinge pondered in dark Rembrandt rust.

Matisse leans forward and makes a black line flow down. Two lines, three lines, four lines. An arm appears, breasts, a white cap, tufts of black hair, a leg moves forward slightly, a solid black line forms a gracefully alluring buttocks, a hand holding a towel lightly, so that it might drop at any instant, so relaxed, so informally poised is this woman, the carpet is red, she gazes at a vase of white flowers on a table, the light in the room is a mellow tint of yellow, two pillows—one green, one chartreuse and speckled with red—rest at the head of a red bed. The bed is a deeper red than the carpet. The difference in shades is subtle. But the sense of calm is not. It’s voluptuous as a woman after a bath.

Naked. Holding a towel. Gazing at flowers.

In a hotel in the south of France. In paint. In color and space. In imagination. In the warmth of an afternoon. The fullness in the way the towel flows from the woman’s hand to the floor. That’s called form, and is a manner by which something presents itself, manifests itself, as a man with a brush brings it into being, into light and vision, into the flowering of the mind.


—Reprinted with author’s permission from his blog, Tillalala Chronicles (7 December 2018)

John Olson
Issue 11, Spring 2019

is the author of nine books of poetry, including most recently these published by Black Widow Press: Dada Budapest (June 2017), Larynx Galaxy (2012), and Backscatter (2008). He is also the author of The Nothing That Is (Ravenna Press, 2010), an autobiographical novel from the second-person point of view, and three novels published by Quale Press: In Advance of the Broken Justy (2016); The Seeing Machine (2012), about French painter Georges Braque; and Souls of Wind (shortlisted for a Believer book of the year award in 2008), in which French poet Arthur Rimbaud visits the United States in the 1880s and meets Billy the Kid while on a paleontological dig in New Mexico.

Born in Minnesota, Olson has lived several decades in Seattle, Washington, and is married to the poet Roberta Olson. His writing notebooks have been exhibited at the University of Washington, and his prose poetry has been published and reviewed in print and online poetry magazines around the world. He was one of eight finalists for the 2012 Arts Innovator Award from Artist Trust, and received a Genius Award for literature in 2004 from Seattle’s alternative weekly newspaper, The Stranger.

Clayton Eshleman, distinguished poet, editor, and translator (noted in particular for his translations of works by César Vallejo), says: “Olson is an original, and that accomplishment is an extraordinary feat at this point in the long history of literature.... He is writing the most outlandish, strange, and inventive prose poetry ever in the history of the prose poem.”

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Featured Author John Olson in Issue 8 of KYSO Flash

Tillalala Chronicles, Olson’s blog (from which Five Commentaries on Imminent Doom are excerpted in Issue 9 of KYSO Flash)

Six Prose Poems by Olson in Alligatorzine (Issue 64); includes “Words and Warts and Puppets With Cleavage” and “Why I Never Wear Suspenders”

John Olson Interview by Matthew Burnside at BOAAT Press (18 December 2014); includes this Q&A excerpt:

Burnside: Your writing can be very funny at times. Some of your titles alone are funnier than most jokes I’ve heard (“Smack That Pickle Against the Ribs” + “All Labial and Hard from Jackhammer Drool” + “Bubbles Yell in the Louvre” + “Words and Warts and Puppets with Cleavage” + “Fuck Daylight”). How important is comedy in poetry?

Olson: Very. I’m a closet stand-up comic. I keep my clothes in stitches.

John Olson: A Poet of Excess and Expansion by Christopher Frizelle in The Stranger, “Genius Awards” (14 October 2004):

...Olson is a poet of excess and expansion. His best poems are rich, sturdy, absurd, startling, tightly strung, and scattershot.

...A central theme in [his] work is dislocation—usually the dislocation between feeling and science, or feeling and neutrality, or the extreme agility and awful futility of language—and there is a way in which Olson seems dislocated in time and space. His presence seems implausible. He knows this....

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