WAITING FOR THE RAPTURE by KIRBY OLSONJON LEON reviews
Waiting for the Rapture by Kirby Olson
(Persistencia Press, 2006)
The Public Be Damned
State of the Union
Protestants once lived
a life of service,
but ever since the Sixties
the service has sucked.
Like church sometimes poetry sucks. A lot of poetry sucks right now actually. And a lot of poetry readings are like church services in their absolute stillness. Waiting for the Rapture is not like a lot of poetry. It’s brought out by PR Primeau’s Persistencia Press, a germ size publisher in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Along with chapbooks Persistencia also publishes an assembly of literary marginalia including a zine of minimalist poetry called Dirt, a surrealist journal called Starfish, another zine called No Wave, and erotic broadsides under the Lipstick! imprint. Each publication is strict in its simplicity and devoted to the obscure, odd, or overlooked. Persistencia Press is truly an inspiring effort in a landscape populated by the ornate and moneyed publishers. It is a renegade even by small press standards.
Waiting for the Rapture is the 49 year old Lutheran Surrealist’s first collection of poetry. From this we gather he is not a slick prick peddling his poems like fly-swarmed swine to the market. 29 poems are stapled to a royal magenta cover emblazoned with an iconographic cross. The poems exhibit precision, compositional asceticism, and an uninhibited drive to convey something. No one is writing like Kirby Olson because no one has the guts to write something like this:
is always in
No matter if one agrees with Kirby Olson that “The solution to Hegel is Kierkegaard.” To ignore his poetry for this is to miss the importance of his utterance. It is a book with a premise, unashamed and oppositional. No surprise that politics is fashionable material for concocting fake-poems for faker publishers. Waiting for the Rapture is an example of true dissidence. It is also a triumph for the lo-. That is the diametric opposite of high bourgeois coming out of the too-cool-for-school school. Intentionally inaccessible poetry will never restore our form to the interest of the public. Waiting for the Rapture exemplifies the necessity of creating an opening toward contemporary society.
In the book’s title poem Olson illustrates the individual plight.
While I walked through the parking lot
where there were many cars –
sick & bulbous, with sweet
frost metal –
a blackbird flew single
through the choleric blush
of overhead lamps.
The “sick and bulbous” could refer to the bloated poetry industry in crisis. The blackbird, a voice concerned passes briefly through the light. There is the forever conflict: a poet outside rarely noticed for the shimmering flash (trash) around them. The blackbird unseen against the black of night and seen suddenly for an instant as it passes through the lamplight is also a referent to the unexpected moment when Christ returns. Carefully subtle the book is awake with elegiac observation and true human feeling. Longing persists through the work. In the poem “Blue Light” Olson could’ve attempted to describe the blue light but instead he illustrates an anxious awe, anticipating the moment that no human can put into words:
For thirty years I have wanted to describe
the blue light on the stones outside the church window
. . .
and I would still like to describe the dove flying in the blue light
Kirby Olson tags himself a surrealist yet these poems resound with the consciousness and variety of hyperreality. In a poem called “Machines” the author submits a refresh of WC Williams:
No ideas but in machines.
The democratization of poetry has served to populate literary culture with the calculated impersonality of carpets. The entire system itself functions like rote assemblage. Little value is placed upon spirituality or the personal. Reading these poems I am reminded of Spicer’s low ghost and his belief in the other. Waiting for the Rapture is a humble and inimitable prize to be appreciated for its commitment to authorial vision and the perseverance to stay that vision at the risk complete obscurity. It isn’t fashionable and for that it is advanced.
But at last
into this rushing kick of world,
a noon transparency enters. Disguised
as a detective, He puts His finger on your shirt button,
marking you for heaven.
Jack Spicer opens A Textbook of Poetry:
Surrealism is the business of poets who cannot benefit by surrealism. It was the first appearance of the Logos that said, “The public be damned,” by which he did not mean that they did not matter or he wanted to be crucified by them, but that really he did not have a word to say to them. This was surrealism.
Spicer, a self confessed Calvinist, understood the possibilities of theology in poetry and the world. Immortality is perhaps the poet’s right. In Waiting for the Rapture Olson’s “leap” allows for a double persistence toward the realization of a world. Inscribed on the first page is a line from Hebrews:
For we have no lasting city,
but we seek the city which is to come.
It’s unclear why Kirby Olson relies on the surrealist epithet to define his work. Each poem attempts to deliver the very real and exhibit a touching world. “Christmas Eve” is a prototypical example wherein Olson simply recounts the events of a single night. It is moving in its belief and vulnerability.
We went to church tonight . . .
A frantic feeling; the Nativity Scene is illegal
because it’s too powerful, the priest said.
Richard really sang “Hark the Herald”
& I wept.
The kids played with trucks downstairs.
The extraordinary faith which allows Olson this optimism apart from the secular lends a certainty to his poems—a major contribution lacking in contemporary poetry. Like their author we can only hope these poems find eternal life.
Jon Leon is author of Boxd Transistor. Some recent articles and poems appear in Jacket, Magazine Cypress, Ghost Play, and Dusie. He lives in San Francisco.