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John Olson. Souls of Wind.

John Olson. Souls of Wind. Quale Press, 2008. 262 pp. Paper: $16.00.

Olson's spent the last decade making a name for himself through several collections of carnivalesque, probingly philosophical, yet no-less-immediate and, indeed, masterful prose poems. But Souls of Wind is a different sort of beast of hybridity--Olson's foray into the poet's novel. And, mind you, this is a novel, although it remains tethered to the prose poem via its main character, Arthur Rimbaud, the original enfant terrible of prose poetry. Instead of his mythic stint as a gunrunner in the Gulf of Aden, Olson's Rimbaud travels to America in 1880, where he takes a job waiting tables at Delmonico's before boarding a train to St. Louis and encountering his distinctly American double, Billy the Kid. Blatant riffs on the historical record aside, Olson excels at incorporating a lively and compelling set of props and backdrops for his character's interactions, which he's quick to explicate in exuberant detail; thus, one learns the rules of Mexican "Monte" thoroughly, as well as the dangers of the hydraulic elevator, the secrets of prestidigitation, and a veritable cornucopia of the nuanced particulars of life in the late nineteenth century. Rimbaud eventually finds work at a brick factory, visits the Museum of Unnatural History, and becomes infatuated with a paleontologist and his daughter, who, as an avid reader of Nietzsche, takes an instant liking to the ex-poet. Passing through Fort Summer on their travels to New Mexico to dig for fossils, the three encounter the aforementioned Billy, who's begun to play Dionysian counterpart to Rimbaud's newfound Apollonian temperament. The novel culminates in a Bonanza-style shootout, complete with bumpkin bandits. It is only after Olson's satisfyingly unhinged moments of poetic illumination that one senses the obvious constraints narrative has put on a poet known for his wild and sprawling language.
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Author:Gordon, Noah Eli
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Brief article
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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