By Ian Kreml
Daniela Olszewska’s “Citizen J” is not so much poetry as it is a complex set of word riddles, available only to those with the ability to find humor within the subtleties of abstraction.
Each poem gives us insight into the cartoonistic Citizen J, who is often presented through intense imagery such as: “j’s main membrane / trembles like a cello string,” and “she wants ambulances to chase her for a change.”
While the world J presents to us is inordinately vivid, some readers will only be able to scratch their heads and wonder at their own inabilities to comprehend a single fragment of an idea presented to them.
However, some readers will be left rolling about on the floor in laughter, especially where the poetry seems at its best, in the section titled “the twelve husbands of citizen j,” in which we are given humorous sections of narrative poetry, such as: “j went down to the well and brought herself back a matrimony. He had rode in on a well-fed Whitehorse with head. Under a twenty-gallon hat, he looked all hung-up hubris. / traditionally tuxedoed, though, liveskinned enough to make j lose it for once and for all. / he gave her a tape recorder and an heirloom decoder ring.”
Despite the wonderful images presented to us, much of the text is so thickly mazed together in unorthodox language and ideas that it is often hard to grasp the images and full complexity of even the shortest poems.
While the language is perhaps too far off a by-way for most common readers, the complexities do certainly go a long way in shaping up Citizen J, herself, as perhaps owning the strangest worldview ever in existence.
Sections like: “the least j could do / is give up her hosts, / but she persist— / occipital + code- / chomping, j feels / all parallelogrammed. / she takes the gateway / drug to the daisy-ripped / fields made by mad- / mouth disease. / her teeth feel like the bad end / of a coffin” serve only to further complicate Citizen J, who absolutely alludes being understood.
As Olszewska herself has written, “in danger of being understood too well, j and her husband gathered up their orthodoxies and made for the sugar hills.” And such is the case; for all the presented information about who J is, and through all the hilarious images, this collection seems only to confound the reader.
All in all, if you enjoy Sudoku, crosswords, or any other form of brain-teaser, these poems are for you. There are many sections that rip apart normalcy and regularly assumed convention to very humorous and pleasing effect, but in order to get to these sections one must first sift through the schizophrenic personality presented on the page.
There is much enjoyment to be found, and much to learn from the sharp wit found within this book, but in many cases, the wit is so sharp that it will first cut through your ability to understand the wit at all.