Scoop Review of Books

Review: Sr Citizen by Charles Olsen

Sr Citizen by Charles Olsen

Reviewed by Helen Heath

You can, I think, immediately pick up when reading Olsen’s poetry that he is a musician and visual artist. The rhythm of flamenco taps through his poems, which are frequently snapshots, fragmented images and instances captured.

The intense otherness we often feel when travelling is constantly present. Moments seem so vivid and the traveller feels hyper-aware. I imagine Olsen sitting outside a Spanish cafe, listening to flamenco, jotting these down. At the same time Olsen seems to be finding his place.

As Olsen says the title ‘reflects both my sense of disconnection, living in a foreign country, culture and language, and a feeling of belonging in that one learns to appreciate differences and put down roots in this new territory.’ (p10)

Charles has kindly allowed me to reproduce this poem, which I think captures him at his best.

Rincón del Mar

We arrived on motorbike taxis.
No helmets and dodging ruts and puddles
in the unsealed road.  A sense of freedom and
mortality as trees and corners rushed at us.

And there was lightning far off
above the coconut plantation
like an old tv being switched off
in an unlit room.

Does lightning ever strike the sea?
And can a swimmer feel the shock?
As the storm played out on the horizon
we were alone, up to our necks
in sensual waves.

We had a daughter who said nothing.
Her black fingers wove coloured threads.

She spotted it from far off,
tore across the sand, caught
it up and back to the boys before
dismembering its one giant claw.

Her blind grandmother sang to us,
her voice of sun,
but the child didn’t speak,
she sat apart, eating
from a bowl in a dusty doorway with pigs,
cats, parrots, dogs, lazing about.
Such a small girl
with averted eyes.

At night, after the rain:
an open house across muddy mirror street,
all warm lights emphasizing the stillness
as nobody moves inside.

I keep these memories, accompanied
by a cumbia M., taught me
while I sweated rivulets of fever:

one two three
dum taka dum taka dum taka dum BA
dum taka dum taka dum taka dum BA…
Some of the poems fall a bit flat and often I felt they didn’t take you any further than the surface but it is an interesting and musical surface.

The production of Sr Citizen is lovely, a small matt laminated paperback with flaps. The interior is studded with original art, photographs and, appropriately, reproduced passport stamps printed on high gloss art paper.

Olsen is a man of many talents. His painting “La Sundari” earned him a 2nd place in an online Saatchi Showdown and his short film “The dance of the brushes”, which features Pablo Rubén Maldonado’s music, was awarded second prize in the Flamenco Short Film Festival, Madrid 2010. He also performed, with Flamenco Piano, his poem of the same name at the New Zealand Pavilion in Venice during in the Venice Biennial 2011. “The dance of the brushes” has also been selected for the dance film festival “Loikke” in Helsinki, Finland, this March.

You can read an article about Charles here:

and more on his (Spanish language) blog here:

or on his website: