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This review is taken from PN Review 121, Volume 24 Number 5, May - June 1998.

THE MYSTERIES OF THE END WILLIAM OLSEN, Vision of a Storm Cloud (TriQuarterly) $12.95

We are approaching a uniquely secular Millennium: the only foretold apocalypse is of a disastrous computer crash when systems unprogrammed to cope with the rollover to the new century will wreck everything from digital watches to worldwide financial markets. For a poet like William Olsen this must seem like a mundane, not to say bloodless prospect since Olsen is caught up, like most of us, with the apocalypses of daily life. Olsen knows the computers will get fixed, the markets won't crash, life will go on. That's the problem. Olsen will still have to call a friend about his mother's death: '4 a.m., the streets still / as vacant as a parking lot built on the moon, / I hurry to rip you off the butcher's hook of sleep.' That nightmare image of the butcher's hook is a tip-off that Olsen is not an easy poet, comforting our ease.

Rather, Olsen is a poet of apocalypse in the peculiarly modern condition of not having any redeeming messianic consolation; nothing is coming: 'The coward angel with a bloodied face / stumbles across new silences to his car // for everyone leaves exactly when he wants to.' Olsen has a horrifying poem, 'After Chartres' which bluntly plays off a slaughterhouse against the cathedral ('hearing the shriek torn from the throat / assert its brief and bodiless cathedral...') in order to get your attention about how death can't be as spiritual or as consoling as it used to be: 'Religious ...


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