In Tranquility, Solitude, and Other Poems, Karen Lee Oliver explores many dimensions of tranquility, offering an engaging collection of lyric and narrative poems that embrace a reflective exploration of the human condition. Major themes include solitude, dreams, memories, and mortality.
A gothic atmosphere and mysterious tone unifies these poems, which employ a voice that seeks answers but knows it may not find them. “Vestibules of Time,” for example, examines space and time: “I’m walking now/ Past the aperture of my dream./ Just inside the portal,/ Is my vestibule of time/ Where all that’s kept is secret,/ A vacuum of moments.// No longer a member of the clock.” These images effectively create a family of symbols for the ungraspable aspects of life in passing.
Many poems tell vivid little stories, such as “Ballerina Butcher,” a short poem about a murdered ballerina, which draws readers in with its alarming title. Oliver gives readers select and surprising details that spark curiosity and build suspense: “Picking jars of olives,/ From tops of trees,/ She enters gracefully/ With her pas-de-chat.”
In terms of form, Oliver uses a variety of approaches. Poems are crafted with different sizes of stanzas to create varied rhythms throughout; lines are indented and move across the page; capital letters are used for emphasis and irony.
While lively, Oliver’s poems aren’t always original in their use of language: Clichés abound, especially those for pain (“a curse…as deep…as the dark, dark sea”). In many places, the language is slack and too prose-like, lacking the compression of musicality poetry offers at its best (“Sometimes I sit by my window / Put my thoughts all down—.”)
Despite such flaws, this is an energetic book with crisp lines and a coherent lexicon of images. Readers seeking contemplation of both tranquility and the darker, more moody, aspects of solitude will find rewards here.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.