Daniela Olszewska, The Twelve Husbands of Citizen Jane (Beard of Bees Press, 2010)
[note: review originally published 20Sep2011]
Part of the problem with writing poetry reviews is that every once in a while you write one for the poetry editor of a magazine, and you wonder whether that will ever affect your chances of getting published there. (Okay, knowing that to be the case beyond a doubt.) The other part of the problem with writing poetry reviews is the inherent ambiguity in trying to cast a critical eye on poetry; one person’s weakness is another person’s strength. And so here before me I have The Twelve Husbands of Citizen Jane, a very small (six-page) chapbook written by Olszewska, the poetry editor for Black Warrior Review, which frustrated the hell out of me for both the reasons above. In spades.
That’s kind of typical of a book like this, though, the whole “one person’s weakness” thing. Because I look at what goes wrong with book A, and my mind immediately says “you know how X did that so much better? What was the difference there?”, and I spend the next could of hours digging around in the archives to see if I can get a handle on the mechanics of why X did that better. And usually failing. What really beat me over the head about the twelve poems here is that they don’t really do anything. Which, in the right hands, is not at all a problem, if the author is so fully grounded in image or sound that the fact that poem Y isn’t about anything becomes irrelevant (as in the case of, say, Timothy Donnelly), or whatever poem Z is about ends up being secondary at best to the beauty of the language and the way it’s constructed (many of the surrealists wrote in this vein; Louis Aragon was especially proficient). But I don’t see Olszewska’s stuff being all that rooted in either, and that makes all the difference. **
For those of you too young, or with too much taste, to remember where I got the subtitle for this review, here’s the video for the song. It was everywhere for about five minutes in the mid-eighties.