This 21st century hymnal of black evolutionary poetry, this almanac, this theatrical melange of miraculous meta-memory. Tyehimba Jess is inventive, prophetic, wondrous. He writes unflinchingly into the historical clefs of blackface, black sound, human sensibility. After the last poem is read we have no idea how long we’ve been on our knees.
— Nikky Finney, Head Off & Split
Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry

Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry

With ambitious manipulations of poetic forms, Tyehimba Jess presents the sweat and story behind America’s blues, worksongs and church hymns. Part fact, part fiction, Jess's much anticipated second book weaves sonnet, song, and narrative to examine the lives of mostly unrecorded African American performers directly before and after the Civil War up to World War I. Olio is an effort to understand how they met, resisted, complicated, co-opted, and sometimes defeated attempts to minstrelize them. 

Boston Globe

“Olio” is one of the most inventive, intensive poetic undertakings of the past decade...

Publisher's Weekly

Encyclopedic, ingenious, and abundant...

Academy of American Poets

It’s something people who care for the music, or for African American cultural history, will read and reread, whether or not they notice its ambitious expansions of what has been possible for the contemporary poem.

The Rumpus

The book is unmistakably a book of brilliant poetry, but it also has the feel of an encyclopedia. Not in the sense of weight, or language, but the mere presence of its existence is encyclopedic. In walking away from reading Olio, history has been reclaimed and redefined. 

 Found Poetry Review

Olio... does and is so many different things that it distracts you from your preconceived notions about what poetry can be, what it can do, and, ultimately, what you think you know. More than a book (and many reviewers have commented at length about what a fantastic object the book is), Olio is an extended performance, a musical score, and an epic libretto...

Library Journal

African American history (indeed, American history) is inseparable from African American music, as evidenced by this remarkable new collection from National Poetry Series winner Jess (for leadbelly, also an LJ Best Book). In a lightning-strike act of blending historical research and imagination, Jess's poems range from the post-Civil War era to World War I to vivify mostly undocumented and underappreciated musicians, from the pianist Blind Tom to the Fisk Jubilee Singers to Scott Joplin. Jess effectively captures both collective and individual history: "Tell me, if we done burst loose from bondage,/ do our songs still carry hurt like a mule?" cry out the Jubilee Singers, who later say, "We boil the air with hallelujah's balm/ 'cause each of us got a story to yell." Inevitably, he visits the minstrel show (lists of so-called coon songs smack readers in the face), while elsewhere creating two- or three-column poems that can be read across, up and down, or at tangents. Though an appendix explains how the 10" X 16" foldout pages can be detached and rolled to effect different readings experiences, amazingly, these poems read like smoothest silk in two dimensions as well. VERDICT Highly recommended; this formally risky collection proves to be a character-rich, historically informed page-turner.

NPR Books

In [Olio] Jess presents a musical history of the long fight against slavery, marshaling a vast cast of historical figures including the slaves, some freed, whose music was the basis for the blues and jazz in the 19th century. They ask, "Once burst loose from human bondage,/ do our songs still tow our pain like a mule?" 

Brooklyn Magazine

Combining fact and fiction, blues and hymns, Jess uses poetry and narrative to present the stories of unrecorded black American performers from the Civil War to World War I. —