cover image Lost Alphabet

Lost Alphabet

Lisa Olstein, . . Copper Canyon, $15 (92pp) ISBN 978-1-55659-301-7

This second collection from Olstein is an impressive sequence of prose poems spoken in the voice of a lepidopterist engaged in isolated research on butterflies and moths near a village whose residents reluctantly embrace her presence. Flirting with fiction without quite unfurling a clear narrative, Olstein's speaker finds correlatives for her lonely if exploratory inner life in the insects—living and dead—she is studying: “I have long recognized kindness in the way they fly.” She thinks about and longs for a companion named Ilya, whose advice she mulls over often (“It is customary to pray for sound health and good understanding. Ilya says to be more specific is unwise—it's a mistake to believe we know what we require”); eventually, he joins her in her work. Most appealing is Olstein's sensitive, quietly pained and earnest tone, which, more than the unusual subject, is the real star of this book. It's as if everything Olstein says gains dire importance: “I want nothing to end, not a single observation, despite longing for what remains unknown.” (July)