Review: Inkblots by Jeff Oliver

cover of InkblotsInkblots by Jeff Oliver
300 South Media Group (February 2024)
240 pages; $16.99 paperback
Reviewed by Joshua Gage

Jeff Oliver is a writer of intense emotions, having started composing his dark poetry at just 11 years old. His poetry has an ethereal quality. When others may have been destroyed by such devastating darkness, he manages to weave lyrical justice into an otherwise unfair world. His newest collection of poetry is Inkblots.

With over ten collections of poetry published at this point, Jeff Oliver is a known entity and a known poet. Readers already familiar with his style will not be disappointed, and readers new to his style will not be let down, as Inkblots is very much an Oliver collection through and through. The poetry is often his distinct take on lyric formalism, which begins from the opening poem and propels the reader forward through madness:

There’s blood on my hands that’s become so familiar.
I’ve washed them many times but the stains just won’t wash clean.
I’m losing my mind as everyone talks behind me.
I can’t live up to the expectations that I’m expected to be. 

I’m screaming in silence and nobody hears me.
I will never be like them or learn the lyrics to their songs.
I’m fading away from what they call reality.
I will never fit into a crowd that hated me all along.

This is exactly what readers have come to expect from Jeff Oliver over his past collections, and Inkblots continues to deliver his particular brand of dark poetry. 

However, not all the poetry in this collection is formal. Oliver is no stranger to free verse as well, and there are countless examples throughout of this style of poetry as well. For example, “Spell” begins

I have always admired a bit of light in the darkness.
The kind you see as the fog rolls in.
I have always envisioned what awaits behind all of it.
Is this Heaven?
Is this Hell?
Or just a billion empty shells…

Even here, we see hints of Oliver’s formalism with the hints at end rhyme and internal rhyme, proving that his unique voice is not lost throughout this collection at all. 

Oliver has a knack for finding publishers willing to take risks on poetry and art collections, and it tends to pay off well. The art in this book is by Andrew Fremder, and apropos to the title, echoes Rorschach Inkblot tests through the use of echoed or mirrored images. This art serves to illustrate the psychological horror of Oliver’s poetry, and the internal dread it conjures in readers. Jeff Oliver’s voice is so distinct and his books so unique in terms of production and illustration that one can’t help but be overwhelmed. Horror readers and fans of Jeff Oliver’s work, new and old, will not be disappointed with this collection.

Leave a Reply