Karen Lee Oliver’s Flights from Fairlyland is a poetic medley addressing myriad topics, from philosophical questions surrounding identity and truth to contemplations of nature to considerations of fictional and historical figures as diverse as Gertrude Stein and Cinderella.
The book is comprised of free verse and rhyming poems, most written in English and a few in French. It contains moments of clear and memorable diction, such as: “In the evening of my life,/ I remember my mother/Speaking in broken Italian/ About her visit to Italy” and “There was a bell in the night./ I remember now/ How it struck the hours/ With an edge of fear.”
However, several factors hamper the book’s success. Many poems favor abstraction over concrete or contextualizing details. For instance: “I too have passed beyond the grave./ Beginning a journey into the unknown/ Of afterlife existence.”
The collection also suffers from a lack of themed sections or, alternatively, a recognizable narrative arc where tension and meaning accrue as the poems progress. Instead, readers experience a sort of poetic whiplash, moving from a short lyric like “August Rain” to a huge-in-scope historical commentary like “The Rise and Fall of the South” followed by a tribute to the author’s Uncle Wally called “For the Old Man in the Godfather Suit.”
The back cover notes that the book was written to “entertain readers of all ages and backgrounds.” In fact, this is a limitation. Some poems like “The Sunkist Waltz” are sweet, sing-song ditties appropriate for young readers (“in Florida/ the oranges grow/ row upon row”) but aren’t likely to interest adults. By contrast, the more sophisticated “God’s Wife,” drawing on the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah (“Her remorse,/ Changed from the grave—/An angry whore”) isn’t well-suited to children or young-adult readers.
Oliver’s collection offers some rewards, but to be successful it requires revision with an eye to concrete detail, a more accessible structure, and a targeted readership.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.