Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Book Review: Jeni Olin's Hold Tight

Hold Tight: The Truck Darling Poems
Jeni Olin
Hanging Loose Press
231 Wyckoff Street, Brooklyn, NY 11217
9781934909140, $18.00, www.amazon.com

by Connor Stratman

Jeni Olin, who actually goes by the name Truck Darling, is noted for her visceral, surreal, chaotically allusive poetry. Her first book, Blue Collar Holiday, was praised by John Ashbery as being "wonderfully caustic and vulnerable. Raw and strangely accommodating." That collection saw Olin within the throes of dealing with the death of a lover, the breakdown of youth, and the collision of symbols.

In her new collection, Hold Tight, we see this same crashing, internally hostile world transformed through new eyes by the poetic voice of Truck Darling, a voice that manages to be distinctive yet eerily disembodied at the same time. This time out, we find poetry that aims low and emerges high, a jarring yet coherent aesthetic which challenges readers to make sense of the contradictions of language put in front of them. In "Doll Steak," she writes:

"Do your sinuses itch, little wolf,
like boys in steaming ghettos beaming
handsomely with sinister little dolls,
racked, trembling with nightsweats,
all the coloring books streaked with piss?"

The center of the world is perpetually shaky, uncertain. The voice finds itself in many places at once, able to verbally respond but not so able to comprehend. Language falls away from being a tool of communication and towards a mode of action. The action of language is imperfect but is nevertheless a way of standing still within time, the "swampy terrain" of temporality.

Reading this book is much being on a rollercoaster going too fast, with all the visual world around you spinning so quickly that a dreamlike nausea comes on. This nausea produces an oceanic feeling, unsettling yet reassuring. The poems are based on this seemingly chaotic yet ordered movement, and the pace never lets up until you put the book down. You feel "Drawn & quartered, I'll fuse again,/my spine creamy."

Hold Tight holds up as one of the best books of poetry of the last decade, holding steady ground against many other modern masterworks like Gabriel Gudding's Rhode Island Notebook, Jennifer Moxley's The Sense Record, and Graham Foust's A Mouth in California. I would also say that Jeni Olin/Truck Darling is among the finest living poets in America, and this collection proves that statement. For all her linguistic invention, startling imagery, and wide-ranging allusions, it's difficult to imagine a more truly effective poet working today. Read this book.

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