Six Months, by Josh Olsen: A Review

by Ian on March 17, 2012

by Ian Shearer

It is fitting that I begin this review with a note of the confessional. Josh sent me this book last year, and though I read it almost immediately, and promised him I would I write a review as soon as I could, I never got around to it. Curiously that was, in fact, about six months ago. If I may extract one positive from my obvious laziness, though, it is that it afforded me a much-needed second reading which, like a second viewing of a good film, is often necessary to conclude what exactly it was one liked so much in the first place.

I often find that the overtly personal nature of the material we feature on Horror Sleaze Trash can initially be its own barrier to understanding. That the point of the story or poem in question is lost to anyone who cannot identify with the subject matter. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but as with any good art, it is the subtext that counts. I have found that reading an entire poetry collection, as opposed to an individual poem, gives me the advantage in identifying the themes, thereby increasing my enjoyment of the material. This is not true of poetry anthologies. A book of poetry, like a novel, is as much a product of its construction as of its content. A case of totalling more than the sum of its parts. In this way I suppose the poetry book is closer to a music album than a film. Not a continuous narrative but a series of vignettes through which run a number of recurring themes. I must admit that when reading Six Months, I did not light on any of these themes during the first few stories.

It wasn’t until ‘My Fear, My Guilt’ that I truly felt a sense of recognition. A story about hosting a sleepover for his daughter’s friends, it is a brilliant clash between primal male sexuality and self-conscious middle class family values.

I feared them and their bodies, humming with
potential, moments from bursting, seconds away from
something I would desire.

Well god damn. There it was. That simple statement of such pure honesty that it broke down the barriers I mentioned before. Josh is older than me, has a wife and kids, and naturally most of the material in this collection is about just those things. How on earth could I hope to identify with this man I have never met and whose entire life is so different to my own? How on earth, without some common understanding between us? But there it was. The commonality. The balls hanging between our legs, and all of the contradictions that come with them. Now I had it, and suddenly all of the stories, even those that had preceded it – the ones that had at first seemed beyond me – took on new meaning. He is just man. He neither apologises for it, nor brandishes it in mock-machismo. Because that would be too easy. It is much harder to be conflicted. To accept it, explore it and, perhaps, understand it.

After my shift, I continued to wear my soiled clothes
and didn’t shower until the next day, long after I ate
breakfast and lunch with dirty fingers

“This ain’t a left handed trade,” he said the morning of my
hiring. With the very first wash, my skin and jeans were
spotless.

Not that an examination of maleness is the only thing on offer here, nor is it essential to the enjoyment of the stories. It is writing from an undoubtedly male perspective and it would be false for Josh to pretend otherwise, or for me to do so on his behalf. Luckily falseness is not something Josh seems to be interested in, and as with much of the underground poetry we see at Horror Sleaze Trash there is an underlying sense that the medium is the perfect outlet for the sort of bold honesty that everyday life demands be kept hidden. Maybe that’s where the underground part comes from. The honesty is integral, and when applied to the themes of family and sex, it helps to paint a picture that will be recognisable to anyone, even if what they see makes them feel uncomfortable, or just plain grosses them out.

I believe that one of the true talents in life is finding the humour in it all. All of the poets I admire have this talent and their work, no matter the subject, is often shot through with a dark comedy. A sly wink to the camera that says, ‘Hell, this shit ain’t serious and I know it.’ If my interpretation of Six Months is at all correct, and one of the overriding themes is being caught somewhere between your balls and your brain, then surely there is no image that conjures the same juxtaposition of cringing sympathy and cruel hilarity quite like a grown man getting punched in the balls.

“Don’t you think you’re old old enough to wipe yourself?” I
asked, with the only thing between my fingertips and his
anus a doubled-up sheet of two-ply, and though he
remained silent, he responded by punching me in the
testicles.

With apologies to Josh for taking so fucking long about this thing.

Get your copy of Six Months here.
Josh’s Horror Sleaze Trash spot.

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