Geoffrey Olsen lives in Brooklyn, New York and works at the Cooper Union in Manhattan. He is the author of the chapbook End Notebook (petrichord press, 2008). His chapbook, Not of Distends * Address Panicked, is out from Minutes Books (https://notofdistends.blogspot.com/)
I greet Geoffrey Olsen at the beginning of a great career, having longing which for yet foregrounds some starter where. Geoff in his multiple manifestations thus far is clearly onto something, and we are here today pleased to celebrate the publication of his second chapbook, Not of Distends * Address Panicked, published by Minutes Books. Being a friend of Geoff’s and having learned a great deal through fascinating conversations with him over the years, I understand his writing as influenced by the innovations of Language poetry along the axis where it intersects with the body and with what we would traditionally refer to as experience, the relationship between thought and phenomena. Geoff’s poetry hovers with regard to the philosophical problem of skepticism, arguing neither that words are merely textual objects nor that words merely refer to external things, but taking on a more nuanced and complex position by means of which we experience the pleasures of organic embodiment on a macro and micro scale. Geoff’s language is cell division and multiplication at the intimate level just as much as we can feel the presence in it of breathing, jotting, glancing, presence, and song. Geoff’s writing “wrecks the mind” as Scalapino says of Philip Whalen’s poetry, by using a virtuoso toolbox of effects, by arriving at ostranenie through the detour of parataxis (Gesundheit!). The way Geoff tweaks parts of speech so that they deliberately disrupt or fail to fulfill the syntactical contract we expect creates ardent moments, sincerity effects. The music carries force and momentum despite, or perhaps even because, it is so grammatically garbled, clipped, deranged, and interrupted. As in the work of Coolidge, one figure who comes to mind as I read this new chapbook of Geoff’s, the moments when grammar turns aside from its ordinary syntactical functions are not noise; rather, they are one level of music in play, another of which is the system of internal rhymes that weaves throughout this text. As writing my rubbed writes my eye rhyme, my A game. As in Emerson the writer is a transparent eyeball, but having to work through language as material, finds that eyeball continually situated somewhere and thus implicated, embodied in this instance for example like that of a sheep or hunted animal. The gaze in Geoff’s work is not liberated so much as laden with pathos, stunned. If two familiar definitions of distends here are “to enlarge or stretch out from internal pressure” or “to become expanded,” the writer is not so much extending self into landscape or into memory out of imperialistic self-importance, as he is narrating the experience of being impinged upon, of being radically sensitive to stimuli. All this is a way of saying that, of course, he does Leslie Scalapino proud, and in this text we can hear new music which we need to heed carefully, which demands our best attention. Please welcome Geoffrey Olsen to Zinc Bar.