Creative Summer

September and the temperatures have fallen to a nice 24ºC and rain finds its way through sun-cooked wooden window frames to drip onto the white recently cleaned sofa.

I have been reading and re-reading all the poems sent in for the National Poetry Day Given Words competition and together with Mikaela Nyman and Clare Arnot we have decided the winning poems. Read NZ Te Pou Muramura have kindly published these along with an article I wrote on how the competition began, which you can read here. There were many wonderful poems and we've made a selection of our favourite 40 that you can read on Given Words.

My poetry film Vertigo (below) has been selected for the Ó Bhéal International Poetry Film Competition which takes place in Cork, Ireland, on Sunday 13th October. See the shortlist here.

"The films were chosen from 198 submissions from 118 filmmakers in 33 countries, all completed within two years of the submission opening date.

Our 2019 judges, poet Stanley Notte and poet-filmmaker Colm Scully, will select one winner to receive the IndieCork award for best poetry-film."

Pictured right is six year old Nathan who sat for a short photo shoot last week. It's great to work with someone so natural and expressive and I have shared a selection of my favourites on charleolsen.es.

I recently set myself the challenge of reading books alternately in Spanish and English. After the intense 700 pages of Ian Gibson's biography of the Spanish poet Antonio Machado, Ligero de equipaje, I have whizzed through the delightful stories and poems of Glenn Colquhoun in Jumping Ship & Other Essays and the Spanish translation (from the original Catalan) of Eva Baltasar's Permafrost which is full of poetry and had me reading passages aloud to Lilián from the first chapters. So now I'm back to English and have begun New Zealand poet David Eggleton's edgeland and other poems.  David Eggleton has recently become Aotearoa New Zealand’s Poet Laureate for 2019-2021.

And finally, with the suffocating heat in August and all the poems to read, I forgot for a moment the video clip we filmed in Soria with Lilian and the musicians Manuel Madrid and Nestor Paz. The song is based on Lilián Pallares's poem Viento Soplao (Whispering Wind). There are subtitles available in English (click on CC), or just enjoy the music and sound of Spanish!


Four days in Soria for Expoesía 12

Expoesía is the annual poetry festival of Soria in the province of Castilla y León, Spain – the city I stayed in for a month last year as part of the III Antonio Machado Poetry Residency of Segovia and Soria. It took place this year in August and it was a relief for Lilián and me to escape the summer heat Madrid for a few days. Soria at over 1000m above sea level is much cooler in the evenings.

Setting up for our performance in the theatre Palacio de la Audiencia.

We had a busy schedule presenting our family show Palabra Azul 'poesía del agua'  (Blue Word 'poetry of water'), directed by Daniel Aguirre, in the theatre Palacio de la Audiencia; taking part in a presentation of the recipients of the Antonio Machado Poetry Residency; presenting Lilián's latest collection of poems Bestial (Olifante. Ediciones de poesía); participating in the recital of poetry and music A Son de Versos; as well as being available to sign books.

Reading a poem during the presentation of the Antonio Machado Residency recipients.

Lilián presenting her collection Bestial in the Alameda Park.

There were also many other performances, presentations, and children's activities during the festival and as much of it takes place in the main park – and it being the summer holidays – there is a wonderful relaxed atmosphere with people stopping by to see what's going on.

I did get away one morning to walk down to the River Duero, along one of the paths I'd found last year, with views like this one back to the Shrine of Our Lady of Myron and the Santa Ana peak behind:

Lilián and I also squeezed in the filming of a video clip in the nearby town of Alconaba with musicians Manuel Madrid and Nestor Paz of Poesía Necesaria. It is for a track from their latest album ConVersando con Ellas, in which they have made arrangements of poems by ten women poets including two of Lilián's poems. We filmed Lilián's poem Viento soplao ('The blowing wind') and she asked me to play the Colombian flute or gaita in it, so…

Playing the Colombian gaita to a field of sunflowers.

So I'm currently editing the final touches of the video clip and this Friday 23 August being National Poetry Day in New Zealand, I am also receiving loads of entries for the Given Words poetry competition which I'm looking forward to reading.


Antonio Machado International Poetry Residency

The poetry festival Expoesía 12 in Soria was an opportunity for me to meet the other recipients of the Antonio Machado Poetry Residency Fellowship pictured together here in front of the new Espacio Alameda, Soria.

Clockwise from bottom left: Sara Rosenberg (Argentina), Abdul Hadi Sadoun (Iraq), Marta Eloy Cichocka (Poland), Charles Olsen (New Zealand), Martín Rodriguez-Gaona (Peru) and Subhro Bandopadhyay (India). The other recipient, Mohsen Emadi (Iran), was not in Soria.


Inland on NZ Poetry Shelf

Lilián and I were awarded a grant to attend a four-day gathering of creatives of Castilla and León organised by the Villalar Foundation in San Rafael, Segovia, at the beginning of June 2019.

In the mornings before breakfast I went for walks in this pine forest where I saw deer, vultures and great views.

I took the opportunity to record a reading of my poem 'Inland' for NZ Poetry Shelf which you can listen to here: Poetry Shelf audio spot: Charles Olsen reads ‘Inland’ – ‘Tierra adentro’


Essay in the Cordite Poetry Review, Australia

'I didn’t know how to respond to the Christchurch shooting. It was so out of the blue. By chance a few days after the attack happened to be the launch in Wellington of a collection of poems by migrant and refugee poets in New Zealand called More of Us from Landing Press.'

My essay On Being Sanguine: Two Years of Panic and a Response to Terror in Christchurch is published in the May 2019 edition of the Cordite Poetry Review in Australia. I talk about my experience of having panic attacks and how I got through them, reflect on the Christchurch attack, and mention two of my poems that are included in the collection More of Us (Landing Press, 2019) and share my poem 'Pilgrim' from Antípodas (HUERGA y FIERRO Editores, 2016).

(Read time: 30 minutes)


Morning's fishing featured in Atticus Review

Mi videopoema 'Morning's Fishing' (Mañana de pesca) está destacado en la revista Atticus Review.

My poetry film 'Morning's Fishing' is featured in the online journal Atticus Review, where you can watch the video and read my comments about it. The poem is included in my collection 'Antipodas' published by Huerga & Fierro in Spain.


Velázquez and his Influence on Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Painters

Velázquez and his Influence on Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Painters

[READ TIME: 1 hour 30 mins]


It is twenty-five years since I wrote this thesis for my BA (Hons) Fine Art at Middlesex University, London, where I studied from 1991 to 1994. In my second year I took off before the end of year assessments to do a two-week Flamenco guitar course with Paco Peña in Cordoba but it was another 10 years before I came to live in Madrid, in September 2003, and was able to see the paintings of Velázquez and Goya in the Prado. The following month a special exhibition of Manet in the Prado opened which was an amazing opportunity to see Manet's work alongside that of Velázquez.

Olsen, 'La Lucha', 2011, Oil on 6 Wooden Window Shutters,
300 x 250 cm, Private Collection, Spain.

Although much of my earlier work is abstract, looking at Velázquez's paintings has been an important influence. Returning to the Velázquez's in the National Gallery, London, as I began working on portraiture I found a lot of answers to my questions.

Re-reading my thesis I see I was very fortunate to attend a lecture series in 1993 on Velázquez at The National Gallery, London, to listen to the latest views at the time of experts on the artist. I am also grateful to Art Historian Peter Webb, whose encouragement and advice guided my investigations and the structure of the thesis. I have only made small corrections to the original thesis (which was typed on an early electronic typewriter) and I have taken advantage of being online to include links to the paintings mentioned (some of which can now be viewed in great detail on the gallery websites) and footnotes.

I have decided to share it now as a way for me to reflect on my own artistic journey to date, and in the hope that it might inspire others on their own creative paths.

Charles Olsen. Madrid, March 2019.


‘In Velázquez it’s a very, very extraordinary thing that he has been able to keep it so near to what we call illustration and the same time so deeply unlock the greatest and deepest things that man can feel.’
Francis Bacon, 1962

Francis Bacon in his statement on Velázquez suggests the immediate attraction of Velázquez’s art to the painter: his ability to reveal with a remarkably natural use of paint not just a likeness but a deeper understanding of the emotions, the humanity, the life of his sitters. Through looking at Velázquez’s paintings in both an art historical context and their influence on modern painters I shall explore why his achievements continue to attract attention. What do they offer the artist today? Edouard Manet was thoroughly impressed by Velázquez’s paintings during a journey to Spain in 1865 when he visited the Prado in Madrid and influences can be seen in his way of painting. This century Pablo Picasso has also looked to Velázquez’s work, in particular ‘Las Meninas’, for inspiration. He brings a different way of looking to the work which initially seems far removed from the original painting. And Francis Bacon, quoted above, became obsessed with Velázquez’s ‘Portrait of Pope Innocent X’, producing a series of studies and paintings after this portrait.


“Mangos! Papayas! Melons!”

Charles Olsen takes us with words and photos into the heart of the Caribbean city of Barranquilla at the mouth of the River Magdalena during the vibrant and chaotic carnival celebrations, which bring the whole city alive. 

Article first published in
Wild Tomato Magazine, Nelson, New Zealand, October 2013

1 Queen of the Battle of the Flowers 2 Everyone takes part in carnival 3 Even the elderly have fun at carnival

“Mangos! Papayas! Melons!”

I wake around 6.30am to the chatter of birds, the cackle of the neighbour’s parrot and a street salesman calling, “Papayas! Limes! Mangos!” followed shortly by another calling “Avocados! Avocados!” People in Barranquilla may not have much money but as they say, there is no lack of food. On the street corner, for a few pesos you can buy a bag of fresh sliced mango with lime juice, salt and pepper, or coconut juice from a large green coconut cut open with a machete so you can drink it with a straw. Then you ask the seller to split it open and scoop out the white flesh.

The city has been buzzing since January with the pre-carnival activities and this year is the bicentennial as well as the 10th anniversary of its declaration by UNESCO as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. I’m fortunate to have a press pass as the only other ways to see the Battle of the Flowers parade (Batalla de Flores) are to pay for a seat in a stand, or to take part in the parade itself. Walking to the press stand we are bombarded by music blasting out from stands on both sides of the streets that are filling with people.

Apart from the dawn chorus things generally aren’t very punctual here and the parade, due to kick off at 11am, doesn’t set off until around 2pm and reaches us an hour later. Poor folk sitting in the stands opposite us who have no respite from the sun; during the afternoon orange-jacketed medics stretcher away a number of people who’ve collapsed in the heat. At last the main parade reaches us, lead by the city’s uniformed cleaners dancing in unison with their brooms to traditional Colombian folk music. I’m already caught up in the atmosphere and the crazy nature of it all under the scorching sun.

The parade is a mixture of highly elaborate floats carrying the beautiful queens and kings of carnival and large groups of dancers in traditional costumes, many based on African or Spanish traditions as well as indigenous costumes of Colombia and the funny Marimonda costume. This originates in Barranquilla and comprises big flappy ears, a long nose and large defined eyes and lips. Most are accompanied by bands playing traditional Colombian and Afro-Colombian folk music such as cumbias and mapalé. There are also characters from films, giant heads, fire-breathing aliens, multicoloured costumes (I imagine the World of Wearable Arts taking to the streets of Wellington). There is even a contingent of orange-suited Dutch men so perhaps a Kiwi group would be very welcome here.

The people of Barranquilla have an unstoppable energy. Here, everything goes; people laugh at themselves and with each other. Figures dressed as corrupt politicians salute the crowds who wave back and take photos. An old man dressed as a baby with stained overflowing nappies raises chuckles, the carnival drunk behaves outrageously… Carnival ends with the funeral of Joselito Carnaval (Joseph Carnival). This is the final craziness of carnival where groups re-enact the death of Joselito Carnaval who, having drunk and partied so hard throughout carnival leaving all the women pregnant, collapses dead in the middle of the street. Suddenly a great wailing, shouting and crying rises up from those accompanying him. “Oh Joselito! Why did you have to die? We were all having such fun and now you’ve gone!”

Article first published in
Wild Tomato Magazine, Nelson, New Zealand, October 2013


Life as a Kiwi in Spain

'Life as a Kiwi in Spain' is an article based around my experiences during my III Antonio Machado Poetry Residency in Segovia and Soria, which has just been published in the 'Our Stories' section of Kea New Zealand. Read the article here: Life as a Kiwi in Spain.

Photo I took last summer of the beautiful Duero River, Soria.


Lectura de Poesía

Lectura de Poesía
Domingo 24 de febrero de 2019 a las 12h

Charles Olsen
Nikodim – Divna Níkolic
Lilián Pallares
Carole Gabriele
Ahmad Yamani
Armando Silles McLaney

Organiza:  Nikodim – Divna Níkolic

Lugar: el foro, Calle Ribera de Curtidores, 37, Madrid
Entrada libre hasta completar aforo