My first full-length collection, Uncertain Acrobats, was published in November of 2021 by CavanKerry Press, a not-for-profit literary press serving art and community. This book was written for and about my father, Thomas Seymour Hart. It’s a love letter of sorts, and it’s also an illness and grief narrative in poems. My dad died in 2012, and much of the book deals with the end of his life and my deep missing of him after his death; it also dwells in memories of his life and how it intersected with mine. My book was chosen in 2019 after I submitted the manuscript to CKP during their open reading period. The beautiful cover is designed by Ryan Scheife of Mayfly Designs. Uncertain Acrobats is for sale at the CKP bookshop. You can also purchase signed author copies from me through Venmo (@Rebecca-Olander-2) for $18.00, including shipping.
Reviews & Praise
“Amidst the chaos of emotions that is loss, there is a desire throughout this collection to be grounded in the concrete. Hart Olander is a truly New England poet and her images attest to this. Her poems reference Gloucester’s Good Harbor beach, cranberry bogs, yellow farmhouses, Fenway franks, and Heartbreak Hill. She recalls her father ‘wading in gaiters / through the snow’ behind his house. Her poems are full of stone walls, cellar holes, yellow warblers, jelly tooth mushrooms, hawks and crabapples. These missives from the world around her, so present and alive, form a vivid contrast to what she is missing, this person both very real and mythical.” – Carla Panciera, author of No Day, No Dusk, No Love and Bewildered, for Sugar House Review. Read the full review here.
“In addition to its strength as a book of poetry, Uncertain Acrobats could be read as a discourse on how to be a good parent. The poems in this collection pulse with love and life, from the painstaking accuracy of ‘Origins’ to the undisguised grief of ‘The Acolyte at My Door.’ Rebecca Hart Olander has written a poetic tribute to a much-loved father, whose influence lives on long after his departure from this world.” – Erica Goss, author of Night Court and Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets, for Sticks & Stones. Read the full review here.
The following is an excerpt of the introduction given by Matt Donovan before a reading I presented at Smith College on February 1, 2022: “In the opening image of Rebecca Olander’s beautiful debut full-length collection Uncertain Acrobats, moonlight floods a domestic space. But listen to how the poet renders what might otherwise seem like an ordinary moment: ‘light breaks into the living room,’ the poet writes, ‘soaking the floor with moon.’ That phrase ‘breaks into’ connotes both a suddenness and a kind of transgression, one that’s perhaps not quite even welcome, while the sentence’s conclusion contains two unexpected resonant gestures: that verb ‘soaking’ brings to mind something that cannot be contained or controlled, while dropping the word ‘light’ from ‘moon’ appears to suggest that the earth’s distant rocky satellite has, impossibly, appeared from afar into the home. Given the couplets that follow – in which, through a trick of evening light, the speaker’s brother resembles their deceased father now impossibly alive– what better metaphor could there be for the unexpected surges of grief and magical thinking the death of a loved one can create. Such are the many haunting lines and movements of Uncertain Acrobats, a collection that returns again and again to the gravity and regular orbits of loss and separation.” – Matt Donovan, Director of the Smith College Boutelle-Day Poetry Center and author of Vellum and A Cloud of Unusual Size and Shape
“As I read Uncertain Acrobats, I kept returning to the images on the cover. Who were these figures? What is their dance? From whence do they fall? Are they weeping? Are they ecstatic? Like these women, the poems in this collection reflect grief, in all its transformations. Rebecca Hart Olander has written a physical account of death and its horrifying, humbling wonder. She has written a book tightly structured and firmly planted in the world, allowing us to move and fall and weep. She has brilliantly met the painful task of witnessing death and trying to capture it ‘with letters of diminishing graphite and ink, book bindings that disintegrate as I navigate, searching for your hand in the margin.'” – Jennifer Martelli, author of My Tarentella and The Queen of Queens, for Mom Egg Review. Read full review here.
“Olander fills this collection of poems with breath-catching images. Her metaphors interweave so completely with narrative details of place that every poem feels laden with multiple levels of meaning—emotional, historical, expository, personal, and universal. They deal in grief. They deal in beauty. They deal in reckoning. The physical book is a stunningly beautiful object. The cover a sideways photo of barefooted dancers crossing an invented space, gray and white, and sunny-window-lit. They are covering their faces with the backs of their hands, a kind of blind movement akin to the poet’s progression after the death of her father. He lies at the thematic center of this book, alongside the natural world he and his daughter knew. Highly recommended.” – Pamela Hobart Carter, author of Her Imaginary Museum and Held Together with Tape and Glue
Check out this coverage of Uncertain Acrobats in the “Book Bag” column of the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Steve Pfarrer noted, “The poems offer a rich portrait of Olander’s father as a younger man while also describing the end of his life, her deep sense of loss from his death, and how her father’s life intersected with hers.”
“Uncertain Acrobats compounds the pleasures of poetry and memoir. These crystalline poems chronicle Rebecca Hart Olander’s relationship with her talented and charismatic father, his death in 2012 at 68, and its aftermath. By virtue of Olander’s brilliant imagery and figurative language, and her mastery of poetic forms, Thomas Seymour Hart is given a tribute that is also a work of art.” – Natasha Sajé, author of Terroir: Love, Out of Place
“What else can we do to contain a grief that threatens to overwhelm, but give it, as Shakespeare says, ‘a local habitation and a name’? This is what Rebecca Hart Olander does in these beautiful poems. She takes us through the life and loss of her father, ‘the wide-awake man,’ and shows how, after the stun of death, love turns into longing, and longing into a rich attentiveness to a world suffused with both absence and presence, as when the poet hears a hermit thrush that ‘isn’t there, then is.’ In making her own process of grief so vivid and alive, Olander becomes a guide for others, denying nothing of the pain, but also embracing the world left to her, bequeathed by her father, a world full of stars beyond our reach, but still ‘spangling everything in a wash of light.’ These are moving, luminous poems.” – Betsy Sholl, author of House of Sparrows: New and Selected Poems
“In Uncertain Acrobats, Rebecca Hart Olander uses the trampoline of memory to somersault between here and the past, the living and the dead. These poems will catch your breath and make your heart do flips.” – Tomás Q. Morín, author of Machete
Before reading in the “Straw Dog Writers Night Out/In” series in May of 2022, I was interviewed by Mark Luebbers for their “Author Interview Series” feature on their blog. When asked whether I saw a connection between my work and that of Lawrence Ferlinghetti in his poem “Constantly Risking Absurdity”, in which he compares the poet to a high wire or trapeze performer, I recalled, “Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind was a book I got turned on to in high school, so he was an early inspiration for me. The poems in my book Uncertain Acrobats describe the high wire of life itself, particularly in confronting life’s inevitable companion experience: death. They enact the attempt to find balance while living through death and grief. Ferlinghetti writes that poets perform their acrobatics “all without mistaking / any thing / for what it may not be,” which in a way does speak to my approach to poetry. I write very much in the realm of what is; I try to address true things in my poems that otherwise may not want to be discussed or are hard to talk about. He also writes, “Beauty stands and waits / with gravity / to start her death-defying leap” – this stance of Beauty, capital B, beside gravity is very much my aim in writing poetry. And poems, even when concerned with death, do defy death as art can, by memorializing the gone and by lasting beyond a temporal moment.”
I was featured in Mass Poetry’s “Getting to Know” interview series with Massachusetts-based poets. They ask about a poet’s new collection, poetic influences, writing routines, and how poetry first came into a poet’s life. To the last, I answered, “Writing poetry has been the way I encounter and try to understand the mysteries, complications, sorrows, and joys of being human.”
One of my former students, Enaira “Marynna” DaSilva, interviewed me for NewsWise, a publication out of Westfield State University, where I teach. I had a book launch there featuring several of my former students “opening” for me, including Marynna. In response to Marynna asking me why this book should be on people’s reading lists, I answered, “Though my book is centered around my relationship with my father and the process of his dying and my grief, I think it will speak to all who have loved and lost and are doing the human work of navigating through that as gracefully, and gratefully, as we can.”
Dressing the Wounds
My first chapbook, Dressing the Wounds, was published in October of 2019 by dancing girl press, an indie press and design studio in Chicago. The press publishes an annual chapbook series featuring the work of women poets, and my manuscript was one of those chosen by Editor Kristy Bowen during the dgp annual open reading period in the summer of 2018. The gorgeous front and back cover art pictured below were made by painter & poet Laura Page. Dressing the Wounds is for sale at the dgp website. You can also purchase signed author copies from me through Venmo (@Rebecca-Olander-2) for $10.00, including shipping.
Genevieve Kaplan reviewed my chap for periodicities : a journal of poetry and poetics. She noted, “As the title poem declares, ‘There is no miracle, or all is miracle’ (11). Ultimately, the poems in Olander’s chapbook present to readers the work and wonder of poetry: it can transform the uncomfortable, the unbeautiful, the casual, and the distressing into something not only gratifying, but into something miraculous.”
Check out this book review of Dressing the Wounds, written by Jennifer Martelli, featured at Mom Egg Review. Martelli writes, “I loved this collection, which is an homage to the split apart and the re-joining, an homage to sound, to poetry. This is a collection to be read out loud, and then, read out loud to a beloved.”
Here’s a conversation I had with Andrea Blythe for her “Poet Spotlight” column, touching on my chapbook, teaching, editing, writing community, what I’m reading, and who I recommend others should read. An excerpt: “I write to reconcile myself to myself, and to those I love, and to the world around me, and reconciliation is an active form of living and loving … Writing is a way to confront, to address wounds and reckon with them and try to puzzle out how to feel about them, how to move forward in spite of them … My intention was to try to express myself in a way that extended beyond what would matter to me, and I hope that readers find their similar wounds addressed too.”
Here’s a conversation I had with Libby Maxey about my chapbook Dressing the Wounds, my writing practice, and my work as an editor, featured in Literary Mama. In response to Maxey asking “How is childhood a way in for you, as writer and as wife/mother?” I answered, “I do tend to mythologize childhood, as a terrain to visit in search of understanding. I think this comes from my obsession with time. I want to arrest time, to harness it in the body of poems, and when I look to childhood for keys to how adults act in the now, I go searching with a measure of both envy and empathy.”