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Cheryl Hopson reviews Seeking the Other Side by Jane Olmsted

Despite the devastating loss at its center, the murder of the poets son, the last born, Casey, Jane
Olmsteds first full-length poetry collection, Seeking the Other Side is an assertion of life of the
speakers and the familys own. It is a promise that she/they will continue forward, as there is
life to be catered to and lived for. And, so, For him, for us, the poet undoes her face,
unknot(s) it frame by frame, and [s]omething new takes shape (13, 89),
grows long as a river,
dragging across a land that falters
and then joins the heavy sweep of loss . . .
[. . .]
It doesnt want to eat the rest,
It just does
(Second Year)
Seeking the Other Side is divided into three sections, and opens with Ways of Touching, in
which the poet writes of,
Rust in the crevices of this pen
spurs on the bony page:
this voice ragged
with pneumatic air
Two decades of grafting voice
onto obligation
(A Body of Poetry)
In Tree Forms, the second section, previously published as a chapbook in 2011, the poet writes
of the [] reversible sleeve of negative space and reminds that each of us is a palimpsest the
hint and suggestion of another and another, ad infinitum: So transparent, you say, / this writing
on the skin (Aspen Hieroglyphs).
Expect to find poems about nature as well as poems about the nature of reality; poems peopled
by mothers and sons, dead and live, and of trees pierced and broken open so that the roots are
exposed and dying ostensibly. Olmsted tells us throughout the collection that there is no
substitute for what and who is lost, and always there is the need and vulnerability of the other
the trapped baby bird or the boy with the smile spreading slowly across his face. Always, there is
the void. But there is as well, and throughout Seeking the Other Side, the music of Brahms, the
chattering of every species of bird, and an array of flowers, both wild and contained. And
always, there is the word.
In the collections third and final section, The Casey Poems, readers enter a realm of hell not
unlike that of Dante Alighieris The Inferno. There we experience the madness and arsenal of a
murderer, the specifics of the damage done to the internal organs of a twenty-year-old son and
father by a .40 caliber bullet, and the reverberation of a poet-mothers question, at once an
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indictment and a curiosity: What were you thinking? In Blessed by the Dalai Lama, the
speaker of the poem marvels, revealing a desire for the impossible the reversal of death
Such a great spiritual leadersurely
his blessed string could have entered you,
could have retraced the path of anger
could have threaded its way
back, back, back
and closed the unnecessary hole
could have pulled the metallic smell of absence out.
Often somber, funereal in tone, the book is as well jubilant, surprising, a bright burst of light.
The poet takes readers all the way back to the beginning, to the other side that is memory, then
brings us forward to the present, with a bouquet in hand to comfort our shattered hearts.

Cheryl R. Hopson received her PhD in English from the University of Kentucky in 2008. She is
an assistant professor of English at Georgia Regents University in Augusta, Georgia. Her
chapbook Black Notes was published by Finishing Line Press in 2013.

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