Monday, April 2, 2012

"You can see everything from where you are standing"-- Some thoughts on Brian Oliu

This is what Oliu and I do: we hold up the ends of people groups! We so strong!

Terrific is one of those words that gets shoved into the pockets with the pennies because it is like great and awesome, with their exact meanings all wuzz? and relative, but I’m here to say no no no bozo this word terrific can be used for real. For me, terrific, like stoked or bummer, has specific criteria you wouldn’t wanna mess with, man. It’s a feeling. It takes a big booyeah. Here are three things: stoked-worthy, attentive, and unignorable. Brian Oliu’s lyric essays in Come See For Yourself are terrific, absolutely terrific. Lyric essays, and Oliu if you don’t know is an the funnest instruction manual, combine the personality of connectable CNF, the lyric love of poetry, and the descriptive elements of fiction. This is where stoked comes in for me, that uncontrollable joy, feeling of wanting to talk and talk with, about, to, inside of, beside of, never instead of. Attentiveness, awareness, a lens that matters is becoming more and more vital to me, and Oliu in every piece of his that I’ve ever read is a worthy lens as he moves around the state that these places matter. The memories, the planks of a bridge, they well up. And like his other writing (The UA Rec Center one from So You Know It’s Me comes to mind), the essays I’ve read from Level End, I can’t shake these, person reading this. I return to them for that feeling of knowing someone else has it, someone else gets as caught up in moments, memories, people, places, as much as I do. How I can’t pass Cody’s old house in Muncie (those nights a year ago, sitting on his porch, drinking forties, surviving the months after Sara left) or that one swing in my hometown (where Zach slammed me down to impress a girl, leaving me in the mulch, the girl I’d later kiss after my high school girlfriend broke up with me, the kiss that Zach would bring up as he dumped our friendship, the same swing I’d see two girls kiss for the first time, and I thought Eh.). As I now bounce around between towns and beds and couches, this collection reminds me why we have places, communities, locations at all. Invisible lines on the ground where shit happens. Little boxes in the brain to store all this goodness.


My favorite pieces from Oliu's collection:

Burlington Country, New Jersey: oh how lovely how it expands out, the body of this story growing larger, stronger, more and more into this struggle. And those sentences, they stretch and unfold, remarkable.

Somerset County, New Jersey: "There's the woman who tried to cut her wrists into ribbons with the fragments of a soul disc, and so now there's no songs except the ones we try to sing to make the days go faster"; this essay one beauty hunk of a sentence brings beauty out of the sad, out of the unfortunate. I'm mesmerized by how it twinkles in the strangest places.

Warren County, New Jersey: I keep looking at this one, less than a page, the last one of the collection, and re-reading, perplexed at its weight, how far it travels on that tiny hardcore page. It goes from opening "According to this logic, everywhere we are is a gap in the water..." to ending "I should have never tried to put you behind me, and yet I have--the errors of my youth are here and you carry them graciously, hopefully, while I spin wheels in the mud hoping that the mystery never finds me." This is what Oliu does better than most people writing today: he both thinks and feels on the page at such a remarkably high level, a trait that is both inspiring and touching.


It’s an honor to have my poems housed next to Oliu’s essays. He’s an absolute champion of the genre, the small press scene, and a lovable dude as well. I met him last winter when he visited Ball State with some Alabama students, and saw him again when I visited Bama with some of the Ball State crew. Whether in person or online, he is a stellar supporter and true-to-self human. I’m so stoked to see him again, to read with him, to see him DJ in Tuscaloosa.

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