Hiding in Plain Sight by Olivia Stiffler


The Civil War in poetry has not ended. The ‘50s sent us South to the Fugitives, the ‘60s North to the Beats and Deep Imagists. Now the South has sent its secret weapon across the line in the form of Olivia Stiffler. Beware! She can disguise herself as Emily Dickinson but is more like Adrienne Rich. Even in her Dickinson dress she is never whispering “I am Nobody who are you?” but shouting about “Wild nights, Wild nights,” knowing full well “the sperm/That feeds the sacred light.” In her own words she is “a school girl Medusa” with her “door unlocked,/lights on,/arms open.” —Fran Quinn


  • Kind: Perfectbound
  • Pages: 90
  • Language: English
  • Date Published: March, 2017
  • ISBN: 978-1-939929-73-0


Olivia StifflerOlivia Stiffler’s poems are heart-lacerating and accessible, vivid in their sad beauty, their feistiness, their cleverness. Every poem is a story, and in every story is a surprise. The verse of the New Yorker and other literary magazines seems boring to me by comparison, like silly wordplay. Stiffler breaks your heart without an iota of self-pity. She is a spitfire of a poet, and in this new book I can see even more why the late Pat Conroy liked her work so much. Bernie Schein

In Hiding in Plain Sight, Olivia Stiffler does not hide, giving us poems of remarkable clarity and honesty, chronicling sad family truths, losses, and disappointments with stark insight and deep compassion, noting how, after great loss, one can “walk into that empty room/dragging grief like a cannon.” There is joy here also, as in the recounting of a child’s “fling of hair/long and fine as willow branches.” Immersed in Stiffler’s compelling narratives or the haiku-like quality of the shorter pieces, a reader is sure to discover her belief in hope and love, in words “pure as the whisper/of water to stone.” —Jo McDougall



She’s more glamorous than mine.
My real mother
never goes to Baylor,
never dances with the King of Jordan,
never lives in Egypt.

She never even finishes high school.
At 17 she marries, has five children.
Before and after her days
on the assembly line, she
washes, irons, cooks, cleans, and sews.

The mother I choose is flashy,
like a convertible with its top down.
Waves of red hair ride her back.
Between sips of vodka she tells tales
that accumulate in the junk drawer
of my dreams like Green Stamps.

But when I am a mother myself,
it’s my real mother I want.
And I find her waiting for me,
as she always has,
door unlocked,
lights on,
arms open.


Olivia Stiffler lives in the Low Country of South Carolina, a landscape wholly unlike the hills of Missouri where she came of age and spent most of her work life as a free-lance stenotype reporter, a job she does not regret leaving. Among her southern neighbors are a plethora of snakes, water fowl, alligators, and an occasional panther.

She has one child, a daughter with multiple advanced degrees; one granddaughter, a preteen with an acute case of creativity who dislikes math as much as her grandma; and a second husband, a retired FBI agent who studies the market, plays bridge, and otherwise indulges her need for solitude. The couple are especially fond of ballroom dancing but have been known to veer into the Carolina shag from time to time.

Paraphrasing poet Philip Larkin, Stiffler tells herself, and others, it is not necessary to be an Olympic writer to qualify for the game, but she is unsure if that line is an excuse for a less-than-stellar performance or encouragement to keep on writing poetry.

Olivia has recently taken up classical guitar, thus probing the depths of humility, a state well known to poets. Her first book of poetry, Otherwise, we are safe, was published by Dos Madres in 2013 and was selected by Writer’s Almanac for its Best of 2014 list.

Additional information

Weight 8 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × .25 in