Lost Alphabet

In this series of prose poems, a scientist cataloging specimens somewhere in the cold north reflects on the act of waiting, the beauty of light, and what's essential in life as revealed by his wild surroundings and the "horse people" with whom he shares them. Prose poems can seem disconnected and inert, but Olstein's beautiful and ambitious collection unfolds just as it should, telling us a story without sounding like a storybook.

 – Library Journal Best of 2009 selection


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. . . Most appealing is Olstein's sensitive, quietly pained and earnest tone, which, more than the unusual subject, is the real star of this book.

– Publisher’s Weekly starred review


Lisa Olstein's second collection of poems, Lost Alphabet, is a fascinating and inventive exploration of observation. This collection of quiet, intense prose poems is presented as the notes of a scientist who has gone to an unnamed foreign village to study moths. These notes lead us into the speaker's engrossing fascination with these creatures of flight and light. The careful, alluring observations take on the weight of philosophy and religion in the voice of the speaker, who also reflects on being an outsider. While trying to piece together how things work in the world through the smallest of details, the speaker exposes the path to obsession. The vivid yet mysterious voice of the book draws the trajectory of going ever deeper into intense thought, until the world becomes the smallest flutter of a wing.

– American Poet


Olstein’s book particularly entices the reader interested in a poetry that dances and walks at the same time, for she grounds the book solidly in a vivid fictional framework while plunging and darting with the alacrity of the moths that constitute the book’s central subject and metaphor. . . In addition to creating a vivid, sense-based setting, Olstein absorbs us into her narrative by creating a continuous and captivating narrator that delivers her experiences to us in epistolary tones. The work oscillates from poems that have the feel of the recordings of a naturalists’ journal where the narrator writes observations of her specimens and a diary where she reveals intimate thoughts. . . Through such a rendering of character Olstein asks her readers to fall into the imagined reality that constitutes the continuous dream of fiction.

– The Constant Critic


Many poems in the book are in the vein of Woolf’s “Death of a Moth”—an obsessed intrigue with the life and death of another creature as a way to inform the speaker about the process of her own life. For instance, in “[if you are here you have already come too far]”, Olstein’s language is reminiscent of a moth wing fluttering against the skin of one’s wrist.

– Coldfront Magazine


The Reading is Poetry Review (radio show review & reading)

– Blog Talk Radio