The Hand Of God And A Few Bright Flowers

This volume, selected by David Wagoner as one of five winners in the 1987 National Poetry Series, derives its power from Olsen’s meticulous attention to the intricacies of nature, which serve as a backdrop against which emotions and experiences are illuminated. “In Memory of Jean Rhys” contrasts Rhys’s internal world with the vast and impassive forces of nature: “All this work/ to hear the sea lions. . . . / Just how their skin endures the water scares/ us, who will never know: such clarity/ will make some miserable, others happy.” Olsen employs detail with such precision that the progression of the poems often seems to be controlled more by the association of images than by logical development of an idea or theme. Although mildly frustrating, this elusiveness also proves captivating and charmingly unpredictable. As in the painting he describes in “Breughel’s Peasants and the Month of August,” Olsen’s work freezes moments and presents them, illustrating without drawing conclusions: “There’s too much not to want it all to happen./ The surfeit clothes the summer in daylight wheat,/ engulfs the reapers like good weather the short/ time it takes for art/ to terrorize them into their timeless instant.” Olsen has won two Academy of American Poets awards and a YHMA/The Nation Discovery award.

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Selected by

David Wagoner