Charles Olson

February 18, 2007


Pivotal figure in the development of American poetry after WWII
Combines intense personal dynamism with experimentation in form, primitivism in sensibility, and responsiveness to the invoronment
Dominant figure in a group centered at Black Mountain College, an experimental school in North Carolina
Worked in the same vein as Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams
Well-read, but not bookish
Believed his age took its fundamental character from being posthumanist, posthistoric, and postmodern
Abolishes the poet as observer or commentator, in favor of the poem as the necessary expression of a confluence with the poet in and out of space and time, archaically rooted but totally present
Was very tall

Cool picture of Olson and Ginsberg here


Off-shore, by islands hidden in the blood / jewels & miracles, I, Maximus / a metal hot from boiling water, tell you / what is a lance, who obeys the figures of / the present dance

the thing you’re after / may lie around the bend / of the nest (second, time slain, the bird! the bird!
And there! (strong) shrust, the mast! fight
(of the bird / o kylix, o / Antony of Padua / sweep low, o bless
the roofs, the old ones, the gentle steep ones / on whose ridge-poles the gulls sit, from which they depart,
And the flake-racks / of my city!

love is form, and cannot be without / important substance (the weight / say, 58 carats each one of us, perforce / our goldsmith’s scale
feather to feather added / (and what is mineral, what / is curling hair, the string / you carry in your nervous beak, these
make bulk, these, in the end, are / the sum
(o my lady of good voyage / in whose arm, whose left arm rests
no boy but a carefully carved wood, a painted face, a schooner! / a delicate mast, as bow-spirit for

the underpart is, though stemmed, uncertain / is, as sex is, as moneys are, facts! / facts, to be dealt with, as the sea is, the demand / that they be played by, that they only can be, that they must / be played by, said he, coldly, the / ear!
By ear, he sd. / But that which matters, that which insists, that which will last,  / that! o my people, where shall you find it, how, where, where shall you listen / when all is become billboards, when, all, even silence, is spray-gunned?
when even our bird, my roofs, / cannot be heard
when even you, when sound itself is neoned in?
when, on the hill, over the water / where she who used to sing / when the water glowed, black, gold, the tide / outward, at evening
when bells came like boats / over the oil-slick, milkweed / hulls
And a man slumped, / attentionless, / against pink shingles
o sea city)

one loves only form, / and form only comes / into existence when / the thing is born
born of yourself, born / of hay and cotton struts, / of street-pickings, wharves, weeds / you carry in, my bird
of a bone of a fish / of a straw, or will / of a color, of a bell / of yourself, torn

love is not easy / but how shall you know, / New England, now / that pejorocracy is here, how / that street-cars, o Oregon, twitter / in the afternoon, offend / a black-gold lion?
how shall you strike, / o swordsman, the blue-red black / when, last night, your aim / was mu-sick, mu-sick, mu-sick / And not the cribbage game?
(o Gloucester-man, / weave / your birds and fingers/ new, your roof-tops, clean shit upon racks / sunned on / American / braid / with others like you, such / extricable surface / as faun and oral, / satyr lesbos vase
o kill kill kill kill kill / those / who advertise you / out)

in! in! the bow-spirit, bird, the beak / in, the bend is, in, goes in, the form / that which you make, what holds, which is / the law of object, strut after strut, what you are, what you must be, what / the force can throw up, can, right now hereinafter erect, / the mast, the mast, the tender / mast!
The nest, I say, to you, I Maximus, say / under the hand, as I see it, over the waters / from this place where I am, where I hear, / can still hear
from where I carry you a feather / as though, sharp, I picked up, / in the afternoon delivered you / a jewel,
it flashing more than a wing, / than any old romantic thin, than memory, than place, / than anything other than that which you carry
Than that which is, / call it a news, around the head of, call it / the next second
than that which you / can do!

-I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You (in whole)

Gloucester, Massachusetts is a fishing town – Olson, or Maximus peoples the town with historic and invented figures and with people he knew when he lived there as a boy
Uses uncolsed parentheses to signify birth and a receptive consciousness
Quotes Shakespeare’s King Lear: “Then, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!”



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