WNET Levertov & Olson – Olson

Charles Olson (1910-1970)

Continuing from yesterday  [at approximately sixteen minutes in], Charles Olson begins reading (from “Letter #41 [broken off]”) – “With a leap (she said it was an arabesque/ I made, off the porch the night of the/ St Valentine’s Day storm….”….”The war of Africa against Eurasia/has just begun again. Gondwana.”

“This is Charles Olson, born, December 27th, 1910. To say that his size, energy, and imagination are prodigious is almost an understatement. In 1950 Charles Olson wrote an essay which grew out of an exchange of letters with the poet, Robert Creeley. The essay was titled “Projective Verse” and it set forth many of the technical and philosophical principles of what has been called “The New American Poetry”

CO: “You know, (Gerard),  I found there isn’t any ars poetica in existence” –  not true!”

Olson’s “Projective Verse” essay set forth the concept of open verse, or composition by field, as opposed to closed verse or composition by inherited literary forms with set line-patterns and rhyme-schemes. Olson even spoke of the typewriter as the modern poet’s stave and bar, such as a musician uses, and by means of which the poet can indicate exactly the breath, the pauses, the suspensions, even of syllables, in the words and the lines. Form, in the new poetry is “never more than an extension of content” the poem grows from the inside out, that is to say, organically., like anything in nature.

CO: “We arrange the measurements. Now we have to get to Nature. That’s what we are today with science and poetry today.It’s brilliant because it’s already now becoming.. returning to what, again, my great master, and a companion of my poem, (Mr) Whitehead, said.., called  his cosmology, “The Philosophy of Organism.”

In recent years, Charles Olson has returned to his home town of Gloucester, Massachusetts.  It is here that he is writing his Maximus Poems, a major poetic undertaking, comparable in scope, according to some critics, to the Cantos of Ezra Pound. The first volume of The Maximus Poems was published in 1960 by Jargon-Corinth Books

.“Letter 27 Maximus to Dogtown” is a poem that Olson withheld from that first volume. As always, the setting is Gloucester. (and, incidentally, the word “Polis” in the final line of the poem is the Greek word for “city“). – [Olson begins reading “Letter 27 Maximus to Dogtown (Withheld)”,  approximately twenty minutes in] – (“I come back to the geography of it…”.  ……”compel Gloucester to yield, to change/Polis is this”)

[At approximately twenty-two-and-three-quarter minutes in, Olson is seen outdoors, at night, walking]   “….that the basic understanding is that you don’t understand. That’s a very great brilliant truth.  I can read you my.. “The Librarian” – It’s all (about) Frank Moore, describing him as my brother, the brother that got born misshapen and all that.  It’s a hard poem to read because  [back, indoors tries to open a bottle.. I hope I can..  swigs] – It’s called “The Librarian”.

[At approximately twenty-three-and-a-quarter minutes in, Olson begins reading “The Librarian”]. – (“The landscape (the landscape!) again: Gloucester…”…”What’s buried/ behind Lufkin’s/Diner? Who is Frank Moore?)

[Olson walks out into Gloucester winter.]  – CO; “You live with your people as well as your ghosts..”

“The Librarian” is included in the book The Distances – Poems by Charles Olson, published by Grove Press”

[Olson, at the end of the film, is seen  standing by the water, lighting a cigarette, musing] CO: Vulcan  Vulcan-like – Neptune’s father, no, Apollo’s father. Vulcan. We need that like a hole in our heads. We need neither Vulcan nor Apollo. We need only heaven and earth.

This short glimpse of Charles Olson is excerpted from a much longer filmed-visit with the poet, which has been transcribed, firstly by the scholar and editor, George Butterick, and, subsequently, by Olson scholar, Ralph Maud.  The full transcript of that is now available, and may be read – here, here, and here

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