In lyric and narrative verse, William Olsen explores subcultures ranging from the suburban middle class to the urban drug culture to the art world, and along the way, constantly probes at the very nature of human language. Drawing surprising and illuminating connections between the political and historical, the prosaic and the personal, civilization and nature, these poems try to make sense of the individual’s experience of time, memory, and society. The range of Olsen’s images form an organic connection between the physical and the abstract and his hypnotic mixture of colloquial and eloquent language create a sound and music that are uniquely his own.
That’s what infinity did, contain and threaten,
until friends complied by going one by one
to resurface obligingly in memories, and it sometimes still feels
we left them at our leisure, that such choice was good
so long as a larger choice seemed to succeed it,
nor could gazing bereave us of common sense,
nor would all plenty and foison fall into penury,
nor would shame forever drop its heavy head.
Infinity felt like life, and it said so, and waited.
It even spelled our autumnal names in solid gold
leaves that an inexhaustible supply of wind
tossed for such pleasure as we had said and said
until it transformed into the profound conviction
that the right track was lost—imagine—forever,
it turned our tears into pebbles that can’t seep away,
that can’t fly away, that we don’t dare to pronounce,
yet it seemed concocted out of a clear beautiful sky,
yet it peeped out the woodshed and drank from the gutter spout,
yet it wrestled with itself and sank in eager mud
that presently it might be outwardly known
along with all the other creatures that perish,
heartbreaking idea among many heartbreaking ideas.