A poet and professionally produced playwright with a BA in chemistry from University of California-Berkeley and an MA in creative writing from San Francisco State University, David Olsen was formerly an energy economist, management consultant, and performing arts critic. He has lived in Oxford, England, since 2002. These are his fourth and fifth full-length collections. His Unfolding Origami (2015) won the Cinnamon Press Poetry Collection Award, and Past Imperfect (2019) is also from Cinnamon Press. After Hopper & Lange, another full-length poetry collection, was published by Oversteps Books earlier in 2021. Poetry chapbooks from US publishers include Exit Wounds (2017), Sailing to Atlantis (2013), New World Elegies (2011), and Greatest Hits (2001).
THE LOST LANGUAGE OF SHADOWS by David Olsen
David Olsen's fifth collection, The Lost Language of Shadows, is divided into two sections, the first titled Dramatis Personae. Its poems are mostly portraits or personal narratives of the sort found in Robert Lowell’s Life Studies. The second section, The Lost Language of Shadows, deals with issues of war and peace, social and economic justice, and environment and climate change.
Praise for The Lost Language of Shadows:
"There is much that is poignant in David Olsen's fifth full collection. An eye for detail successfully allies his precision to a natural tenderness, and the particular with the universal. He is a sympathetic and humane observer of a world in which humanity is often confronted by the unpredictable. As alert to nostalgia as he is to suffering, and the vicissitudes of recent history, he still finds time to linger on life's everyday delights, or to speculate in passing on a snow angel having an afterlife. A beautifully written and deeply thoughtful collection.
~ Paul Surman
Readers' Comments on The Lost Language of Shadows
"We have read through your latest compilation with great pleasure and appreciation. We took turns at reading the poems aloud and then discussing each one. We both especially like the second section, but all — like your previous books — are clear and telling and tend to leave a subtle flavour in the memory. Your writing comes from a deeply sensitive and clever mind.
In Dramatis Personae one immediately rang a bell with me – ‘L’Heure Bleue’ with its mention of ‘Evening in Paris’ scent, which my mother used, too.
We found the sadness of ‘Before me a Desert’ and ‘Spring Blush’ most affecting.
The Lost Language of Shadows — the second section — kicks off with two stunners. ‘Flora of Arras’ is as disturbing and distressing as much of the poetry that came out of the First World War, including that of Edward Thomas himself. It is a little gem of a tour de force.
‘Duty of Care’, describing those heart-breaking ranks of white headstones, paints a panorama repeated in miniature in our village graveyard, where there are two ranks of servicemen’s graves, with grass and perennial beds tended exactly as you describe. The couple of rows here, in this tiny, quiet village, reflecting the acres and acres at Bayeux, somehow enhance poignancy.
‘Passchendale Farm’ is another thump to the heart when you get to the final line, the earth ‘unnaturally fertile and black’. And not only because of the thousands of tons of nitrogenous ordnance that fell…
‘Petri Dish’ is perhaps the most important poem in the book. Or it carries the most important message ... [as] a metaphor for the state of the planet.
And finally, ‘Uncharted’. We both liked this one very much, although it’s a cold, bleak stare into the eye of reality."
~ Heather and Roger Burt
NOCTURNES by David Olsen
"Nocturnes confirms David Olsen as a poet of increasing surety and depth. The language is fresh, supple and embodied. The snow that packs around silver birches is not so much weather as memory accruing in drifts and hollows, and we see the dark releasing stars ‘from cerulean confinement / to indigo liberty’. But the pressure on language is not only in finely tuned and distinctive imagery, but also in the interrogation of the medium of poetry itself: words.
How do they carry their load of emotional resonance, and how does this play into our illusions? How do we actually become language? How do the impressions of a scene cohere into narrative?
There are huge questions at work here: deeply personal, existential, but also ethical and political. Whether exploring the pursuit of sleep at night, or the ‘deadly virus’ of ‘inbred bigotry’, there is a humane intelligence at work in these poems, one with the courage and vulnerability to face ‘the months of silence’, admit to the visions of memory that go on ‘wrestling with the dark’. Ultimately, it is the tenderness of losses and wounds – and the exquisite poignancy and grace with which they are faced – that sets Nocturnes apart as a collection of heart-breaking elegance."
~ Dr Jan Fortune, Editor and Publisher, Cinnamon Press
"There is a pleasing lyrical vein to these quiet poems that speak more loudly to us when we look beneath the surface."
— Neil Leadbeater reviewing Nocturnes in Write Out Loud, Dec. 2021