Northfield, Massachusetts: Lily Pool Press, 2007. Art by Karen Fitzsimmons. Letterpress, sewn binding, 109 pages, 5.5×8.5″. ISBN 978-0-934714-35-8.
With thanks to the author.
Think beautiful. Think demanding, exquisite craftsmanship. Think words lifting from pages into our minds and hearts. Think “book”—in the finest examples you know of, the happiest marriage of text, type, space, and materials possible. (Think Ed Rayher at Swamp Press, and thank him for yet another stunning exhibition of his art.)
Marian Olson does not spew out haiku by the dozens to flood the desks of editors across the world, though many of the haiku and senryu in this substantial collection have been published in print and online journals and anthologies. And she graciously acknowledges several readers who helped her with “careful reading and suggestions on the working manuscript.” Thus, this book, like most well-made books, results from the careful, thoughtful work of its author coupled with a sense of community, a community of poet-friends and publishers and book-crafts people upon whom one calls for assistance with the things that matter.
Again, as is my usual practice, three poems from random openings of Desert Hours. This from page 29:
his eyes when he gives her black tulips
It is no accident that we call the active disk that controls light’s entrance into our consciousness by the name of a flower. A meditation on closely examined tulip superimposed on the iris of the eye, and all that these suggest beyond themselves, a gift. Then, from page 69:
the world having become
what it is
I plant a few bulbs
The poor we have always with us. Last millennium’s beggar in the marketplace has become today’s 24/7 cable news. Yes, we weep with Jesus. But if we do not plant? Ah, but we are not the only planters; here’s one from page 92:
the mountainside blues
in the early light
Understand, “blues” is a verb, here, if you hear it. See it.
And so, is that then the range? Topics from love, to world angst and meditation in the face of it all, to celebration of a glorious vision? Hardly. Here are two more to seal the deal, from pages 6 and 20:
the perfect apple
aaaaaaaon a branch
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaI can’t reach
all day circling
the one tree he knows
The first, a self-revelatory senryu, the second a wry comment on a particular bird, on all of us, to be taken as haiku or senryu; depending on the mood in which we read it, it reads us.
In her brief introduction to Desert Hours, Olson says, among other things:
The meaning of pure beauty is looking into the moonless sky on a winter night seven thousand feet above sea level. Far from the air and noise pollution of low elevations, no other sky is like it. Moon and stars unlocked by night can bring a pragmatist to her knees.
One might be tempted to say “You had to be there!” I, too, have lived in Santa Fe and enjoyed the high desert atmosphere—my wife calls it “the place where air is made”—and might agree with that old expostulation. But, if you have memories of the place, its land, waters, sky, air, and people, you can bring them back with Olson’s book. And, if you’ve never been there, well, this collection is better than a day at the spa. All the richness of the physical landscape and the human and other lives that intertwine with it is here.
Not least, one enters Desert Hours through the portal of Karen Fitzsimmons’s striking cover portrait of a landscape, a seemingly natural melding of nearby hill, rivers in a valley plain, distant mountains, and clouds, yellow wildflowers in the foreground, and, oh yes, the remnant of a small house, or perhaps a morada, where some penitentes of the past may have contemplated the agonies of this life and the peace beyond it.
Thankfully, Marian Olson finds peace within it. But not without that sensitivity to our precarious situation which marks all true poets.
Desert Hours is available online through Santa Fe’s premiere book store, Collected Works (click on the link to see the cover, at the least!). Or it may be purchased from the author, at $22 postpaid:
2400 Botulph Road
Santa Fe, NM 87505-5754
Viva Desert Hours!
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