KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 9: Spring 2018
Lyric/Craft Essay: 939 words [R]

Please, Somebody Help Me

by John Olson

I have to wait for the feeling of nausea to diminish to begin writing. Anything. Much less poetry.

Poetry? Was Adorno ultimately right? No poetry after Auschwitz? Have I been kidding myself all this time? Have I not been taking life seriously enough? Am I one of those elitist postmodern ironists dismissing everything with my cool aesthetic and Technicolor Tom and Jerry heart? Is this my punishment? Is Trump my albatross?

Jesus. What an ego. Do you see what has happened? It’s contagious. Trump has already caused my ego to swell.

No worry. It will inflate and pop. It always does. Swirl around the room in fart sounds.

Seriously. I must write something. Something huge. Something monstrous. Something to make time go backwards and undo it all. The whole election. The whole last 36 years.

1980. That’s when it all began to happen. John Lennon murdered in the Dakota. Ronald Reagan elected president.

Mt. Saint Helens erupted.

Pac-Man came out.

Atari released Space Invaders.

The world, pretty much, turned to shit.

Can’t help but compare this world (crabalocker fishwife pornographic priestess corporation T-shirt, to paraphrase Lennon) to that other world, the world in which I’d attained manhood, the world renowned for its drugs and soul-searching, the world of 1965 to 1967, a world in which it was still possible for an eccentric writer like Richard Brautigan to make a living (Trout Fishing in America sold more than two million copies) by writing droll, imaginative prose. Unimaginable, now. That world (Allen Ginsberg, Robbie Robertson, Michael McClure, and Bob Dylan standing, smiling, in front of the City Lights bookstore) is emphatically, categorically gone. It’s as dead and gone as the Pony Express, horse-drawn ploughs, floppy-hatted outlaws in the sepia tints of old photographs. And I, in my elder years, have washed ashore on a new continent. A continent of shameless incontinence. Of SUVs and shopping malls.

Selfie sticks and nail salons.

Which is why, on any given day, I can’t get Rip Van Winkle out of my head. I have become Rip Van Winkle. I live in a time I cannot make sense of. I cannot digest. I cannot process. This means I have to invent my reality most of the time. That’s dangerous. I don’t recommend it.

Actually, reality—real reality—actual reality—is pretty cool. I won’t call it awesome because everybody uses that word. But it is. It’s awesome. Reality is awesome.

Here’s why: steam kettles whistle, cats sleep with their paws in the air, my shoes go squich squich squich on the sticky floor of the men’s room at Pacific Place where we’ve just watched Amy Adams learn the language of extraterrestrials in Arrival which was followed minutes later by the sound of helicopters as we entered downtown traffic in Seattle and headed home and discovered there had been another march protesting Trump’s presidency: 5,000 students leaving their classes, 5,000 students marching in the streets, 5,000 students under the muffled racket of TV news helicopters.

We arrived home. Checked the recycling bin. We’ll take it down early in the morning, we decided. I turned on the heat, our apartment became warm, electricity is amazing, never ceases to amaze me, how much longer will we have electricity, how much longer running water and decency, how much longer will we have people to care for us when we’re sick, how much longer before the oceans rise engulfing New Orleans and Long Beach, how much longer before money vaporizes and we regret not having a plot of soil and packets of seeds. Shovels, hoes, and the knowledge to grow things.

Reality can be tricky. Right when we think you’ve got a bead on it, it slips away quick as a quark in a particle accelerator.

Poetry works better than particle accelerators because (to quote Charles Olson, no relation) poetry is a high energy construct. Which amounts to the same thing as a particle accelerator except that the particles accelerated in poetry are churning inside my descriptions of fog, which are plump with radar, and caress the air into which they’re born, and bears them, making everything paradoxical and topsy-turvy, the way reality was meant to be, before it became linear and one-dimensional. We need to break that system up and make sure it never darkens our poetry again. Are you with me? Of course you are.

There is no such thing as a literal oar. All oars are ores of the ouroboroi of consciousness, each in our own birch canoe, slapping the waves, slipping through time, slicing through space, naked in rupture, sympathetic to soap, impelled by vision, pulsing with experience.

And this is how we paddle out of our bodies and into the mulling air of giants. These words want to caress the treasure in your eyes called seeing. These words are alive with thirst and these words contain the turnstiles of abstraction. Colors walk in the bones of thought.

Do you see what I’m attempting to do with logic?

Destroy it? No. But make it correspondent, yes. Correspondent to our incantations. Correspondent to our candles and wax and walks by the river. Correspondent to the anguish we share. Correspondent to the worry dragging itself through our afternoons. To the chatter of crows. To the alchemy we use for changing lead into gold. To the folding of ourselves into one another at night. To the invention and re-creation of ourselves during the day.

Life is a delicate noise.

Please, somebody help me find a conclusion here that we can all agree upon. Because seriously. I’m hesitant to turn the knob and open the next door.


—Published previously in Dispatches from the Poetry Wars (14 August 2017); appears here with author’s permission

John Olson
Issue 9, Spring 2018

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 here in KF-9)

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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