Lisa Olstein's Lost Alphabet is a serious meditation. All 90 pages of poetry have the same short paragraph form with a bracketed title that informs and sometimes subverts the poems. The setting seems post-apocalyptic in a quiet sort of way. There are no Mad Max renegades, but there is an unnamed narrator who moves to the edge of some pre-industrial village of horse traders where people dance to music made with a “dull spoon on the side of a pig.” The narrator is obsessed with the study of moths. The goal of this study is at first unclear, but as the narrator focuses more on the project, more questions arise.
There is a dogged persistence of both the narrator and of Olstein to achieve the inscrutable. These poems are confused and lyrical entries in a mad person's notebook. They describe dreams, people and events, but almost nothing about the person writing them, which is revealing in itself. There are moments when our scientist realizes the futility of the project or almost succumbs to a crippling and mysterious pain. People and events color this book of poems, but the joy and beauty are in the writing. When the project reaches a sort of success, the narrator and the reader “marvel at the immensity of their landscape.”