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Books Wed Sep 25 2013
Curbside Splendor is taking the lit scene by storm with a massive number of releases hitting (or soon to be hitting) bookshelves this fall. On the roster is Daniela Olszewska's poetry collection Citizen J, Artifice Books' first release since becoming an imprint of Curbside. Olsezewska comes to Chicago by way of her birthplace, Poland. She's made a name for herself as associate poetry editor at Another Chicago Magazine and board member of Switchback Books. Citizen J is her third poetry collection (with a fourth coming in 2014).
The collection is broken into six interconnected parts exploring the protagonist: the ambiguous Citizen J. Olszewska's J is an everywoman, but epicene. Citizen J is a wife, a revolutionary, a criminal, a husband, a soldier, an addict, a pirate. She's looking for love or acceptance pretty hard. She has twelve husbands and wives (playa!). J is seemingly confused about the path she follows and allows the reader to be a passenger on her endless adventure.
It's unclear where J lives; it could be America, communist USSR, or a modern day amalgamation. Olszewska merely alludes to place and time.
"this was after the north war but before the starlings fled the stratosphere. what j needs here is a fifth cardinal direction + a season to fall some time betwixt."
Without any definite denoting, the text harkens images that mix landscapes reminiscent of dystopian Australia in Mad Max, the Orwellian city of Oceania, and Smashing Pumpkins' video sets circa Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Where the war is we can only guess, but we know that one rages inside our heroine.
The words flow from line to line, jagged and rhythmic. Olszewska plays with language and textual structure on the page. In certain verses she creates her own language (very Doublespeak or Nadsat). She plays with the text using punctuated symbols or repetition of the single letter J. Each poem appeals to the theater of mind.
Her words create a mixture of the real and fantastic, disorientating the reader enough to forget about the real world and become one with J's apocalyptic dream state. The work is skillfully surreal.
Catch Olszewska in the streets as Citizen J on Wednesday October 2 at Reading Under the Influence, Sheffield's, 3258 N. Sheffield, 7pm.