The first thing you need to know about Matthew Olzmann is that his deadpan is impeccable. The first time I met him, I was awkward as hell, because I was already a fan of his work – and the fact that he didn't crack a smile through the whole conversation didn't help. It wasn't until later that I realized he'd been slipping dry jokes into our talk all along.
I truly appreciate being surprised, which is part of why I adore Olzmann's writing so much. I'd almost describe his writing as disingenuous, it's so quietly subversive. Olzmann writes some of the best contemporary love poetry I've read, taking what many assume to be the most basic genre of our art form and transforming it into moments that can be funny, devastating, yet absolutely devotional – in other words, Olzmann's poems pay fitting tribute to the real thing. He makes it look so easy, too: one of my favorite aspects of his technique is his brilliant use of anaphora and repetition - again, elements that might seem simple, but which are exceedingly difficult to master. These are a few small examples of a marvelous body of work that only continues to grow: buy his book and find out for yourself.
The poem printed below first appeared in The Southern Review.
Art of the Mime: An Educational Camp for Children
This seems like such a bad idea, it can’t
possibly be real, but there it is--
with a flyer promising Intensive craft workshops
by today’s top practitioners.
Imagine: rows of sad
little children, all locked in sad
little boxes of silence, all pressing their sad
little hands against glass that does not exist.
I mean, there must have been other options
for these parents who obviously hate their kids.
Perhaps catapults? An opening in the circus?
Or just old-fashioned chores until they
pass out from exhaustion? Nothing
like sleep to silence a howling kid.
And believe me, as a boy I howled until
my own parents longed for ways to shut
me the hell up. Why don’t you go practice
your mime routine? they could’ve said.
I filled the world with so much noise,
they needed earplugs to pray.
I threw tantrums like canisters of tear gas,
put my complaints in a cannon and shot
out the roof of our house. Even now,
I am a sound that does not stop.
I say I can’t, I need, I want, and Is there a God
and yes there is and It’s Me Me Me,
until, like the mine, I too am trapped
in a box that can’t be seen.
I too have a hand that pushes
against a wall, that searches for a seam.
Matthew Olzmann's collection of poems, Mezzanines, received the 2011 Kundiman Prize and was published by Alice James Books. He has been awarded fellowships and scholarships from The Kresge Arts Foundation, Kundiman, and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. His poems and stories have appeared or are forthcmoing Kenyon Review, New England Review, Hobart, Necessary Fiction, The Southern Review, Gulf Coast, Hyphen Magazine and elsewhere. He is a Visiting Professor of Creative Writing in the undergraduate writing program at Warren Wilson College, and the Co-Editor of The Collagist.