READ LOCAL First is your glimpse into the working minds and hearts of Utah’s literary writers. 15 Bytes regularly offers works-in-progress and / or recently published work by some of the state’s most celebrated and promising writers of fiction, poetry, literary non-fiction and memoir.
Today we present Price-based Jason Olsen.
A professor of English at Utah State University Eastern, Jason favors us with an excerpt of his full-length collection, Parakeet, forthcoming from BatCat Press. Of this work, Jason writes, “Parakeet doesn’t move logically and sequentially from page to page as would a normal poetry collection. Instead, it provides instructions and/or options at the end of each page as to where the reader will go next. It’s a poetry book version of Choose Your Own Adventure books, kid’s books from the 80’s that were written in second person and gave the reader a chance to determine the direction the story took. What I’m sharing here are few pages from the middle of the book to provide a look at the style and poetics moves in the collection.”
So . . . curl up with your favorite cup of joe and enjoy Jason Olsen!
excerpt from Parakeet
They weren’t always
merely symbolic, my hands—
in the Thursdayness of my billfold,
a parakeet (according to sources, a bird of
was searching for freedom.
You don’t want to believe it’s true,
but I picked up the bird
and walked toward the donut mirror
in my bathroom,
the mirror in which I have never seen
the center of my own face.
The parakeet found a crevice
within my reflected eyes
and flew completely through,
finding what was waiting outside,
not just of me,
but my walls.
The mirror didn’t move.
The rug was silent.
There was only one of me
interested, suddenly, in the direction
the world was willing to take.
If you want to read 34 lines describing the speaker’s longing after watching the parakeet leave, turn to page 46.
If you think the poem should shift into a meditative monologue in which the speaker debates the direction of his or her life, turn to page 18.
I want to remember the value of flavor
in terms of your mouth
and its ability to taste—but my memory
is a sponge trying to absorb a waterfall.
I’ve done the math—every four and half seconds,
I forget something else.
That dog that lived next door to my Aunt’s place
before she embezzled the fifty grand and moved
to Quebec? Can’t picture it.
The singer who belted out “99 Luftballoons?”
Poof—gone, like I never even knew it.
You might have thought I was staring at my own ceiling,
but right now I’m actually in a lit class from my memory,
forgetting things before I learn them.
This class is from ten years ago. I’m entitled to forget.
Some old poet and his tense relationship to form?
If I hadn’t copied Aaron’s notes,
it would have been lost to me forever.
Instead, it’s only lost to me now.
Tomorrow, whatever didn’t quite
inspire my green ink gel pen will vanish.
Only one thing will remain.
Maybe the speaker should return back to the longing for the parakeet established earlier in the poem. If you agree, turn to page 17.
If you’d rather read about the speaker’s relationship to the green ink gel pen, turn to page 50.
Humanity sings as soft
as an imported bomb shelter.
I perch on the logs and telephone poles of America,
just large enough.
I sneak inside the air ducts
of bus stations and hotel lobbies.
I swerve out and in
the pale green streets.
I’m singing above
someone else’s ecstasy,
torn between lovely mornings
here and abroad.
What I know of humanity
is a propeller voice.
The downtown landscape
is circled red.
I’ll never need comfort again.
The parakeet and the speaker are becoming one entity. Turn to page 52.
The parakeet was syntax on the stage,
illumination on the bus.
The moment is motionless, however,
because Arizona becomes smaller,
an airplane state
in an asphalt world.
I am so in need.
Take me, drag me
out of Hell and tell me something
about motion or migraines. Eyes
are blinking in the clouds.
It’s a little creepy.
I am so completely
Do dah. Do dah.
Parakeets are raiding
Hold on only
if you’re interested in endings.
The poem is finished now.
Jason Olsen is originally from Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and has lived in Price, Utah for nine years. His first collection of poems, Parakeet, is forthcoming from BatCat Press in June 2017. His poems and stories have been published widely in journals, including in Rattle, The Mid-American Review, and North American Review. He was twice named a first place winner in two separate categories in the Utah Original Writing Competition. In 2013, he won the Book Length Collection of Short Stories category, and in 2016 he won the Book-length Collection of Poetry category. He is an Assistant Professor of English at Utah State University Eastern. You can watch Jason’s Bite Sized Poetry video from 2015 here.