Can poetry survive and thrive in the age of Instagram and Tic Tok? Does this ancient art form have a place at the table in the cluttered 21st century of vines and tweets, of DM's and spamming? Is it cursed to be seen as the art form of 1950's Beatniks or 18th century Romantics with their "thees" and "thous"? Modern poet and fully engaged digital citizen Tanner Olson thinks so, and in naming his new collection of poems As You Go, he makes the case for the artform being a vital tool in stopping to reflect in this crazy, non-stop media barrage world we find ourselves in.
As You Go features both free-verse observations and poems with roughly traditional rhyme schemes that serve as little zen moments of reflection in the course of an otherwise ordinary day. These glimpses of the divine mixed in with the common are a theme of As You Go, and Olson serves up a "liturgy of the ordinary" and uses the command of Jesus well, to "as you go" share the gospel in whatever vehicle you are blessed to possess. In his opening thoughts, the writer gives a few wise suggestions on how to approach his poems and thoughts:
These words can silence the noise with peace
These words can bring light into the darkness
Take your time as you make your way through this book
There is no need to rush to the next page
See, no need to rush
Give it time
Let the words meet you where you are
Pray them. Sit with them. Share them.
Olson's advice should be well-heeded, because while it may be tempting to rush through a book of short, poetic thoughts like this, it would be well worth your time to consider the words of this young (but getting older, and he humorously points out in his introduction) poet and the moments of reflection that he offers "as you go". Written in short, staccato bursts, Tanner's poetry is modern in that his collections of words would easily fit into a short Facebook post (one of the ones that offer you a color background if what you write is short enough), but often pack meaning into a few spaces that might have been otherwise filled with restless words.
Palms face up
If one were to analyze this sort of verse, say for a college creative writing course, you might find the couplets simple and the sentiment likable enough. But in the context of faith, these simple instructions go beyond mere "mantra" and hit at the heart of what a relationship with the divine (and each other) should look like. What would my daily life look like if I were more "accepting", "inviting", "listening" or "loving". In Olson's invitation to slow down and consider "as I go", the spaces between lines here represent a beat, a skip between moments to remember what I'm here for and what is important. In spending time with my children (who are home a lot in these days of pandemic), do I rush through the obligatory bed time ritual, or will I take the time to experience the spaces "in between" moments, those holy snapshots of fatherhood that I will surely miss when my girls are grown?
Maybe I need
To sit and be
To sit and be
The written word is a gift, and to those who practice the art of both congregating and correlating, the short poem can be a mysterious thing; an almost mystical recipe to help you consider how extraordinary life can be if we could only slow down and "consider". (The ancient Japanese were mystified with the haiku, a short kind of poem of such power and reverence that they decorated their homes and armor with them and passed them on to generations to come.)
Olson also weaves in the devotional into his work, taking the deeply theological and breaking it down to its mystical, holy elements.
And even the
I am beginning to believe
You want to hear
In Olson's style of free verse poetry, the shape of the words on the page, the very placement of the lines suggests a rhythm of the poem, a "way" to read more than what is there. The spaces in-between are just as important as what is there. In placing the "but God" and "amen" where they are on the page, the suggestion of growth, of stretching beyond yourself to something new is not just read, but subtly experienced. Learning to see how God loves you and wants to hear from you is a profound experience, and that such a momentous moment can be summed up so artfully is a testament to Olson's growing poetic talents. As You Go is a terrific read, if you go slow enough. You may not fancy yourself as "someone who would read poetry willingly", but for those who would give his thoughts a moment, the poems, musings and prayers of Tanner Olson are a rich tapestry of faith and artform, and a wonderful, needed thing in a modern world that moves much too fast. Read, savor, enjoy and grow "as you go".
Author's Note: Olson maintains a robust poetry and prose website at writtentospeak.com and features his work on various social media platforms, most notably Instagram.- Review date: 11/4/20, written by Alex Caldwell of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Publisher: Written to Speak, LLC
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