Monday, December 27, 2010

Charles Olson at 100

It behooves me to note the 100th anniversary of Charles Olson’s birth today. He has meant much to me as a writer.

I cannot easily say what my debt to Olson consists of. I think thru him I came to understand how our knowledge inhabits our language.

He insisted in his poetry on embracing aspects of the world that poetry had not largely been allowed to embrace. Science, history, philosophy, politics, and philology were intrinsic in his work. I will not declare his primacy in doing this, only that I gained the insight thru his work.

Whereas I was resistant when confronted by the work of other modern and post-modern writers (I dislike those terms, and only use them to mark the generalities of which I speak), Olson’s held an invitation for me. For differing reasons, Stein and Pound were hard nuts for me to crack. Olson baffled me, but I somehow felt comfortable within that confusion. Possibly his localness helped, not that Gloucester is is really my local.

A further plus, Olson left a paper trail that, for me, provided a curriculum. I sought out the writers that he studied. I also found it compelling to follow the work of those who were within his sphere of influence. I am sure that the influence on me shows in my turning from the idea of poems as inviolate pretty things. Instead, I see poems as evidence of active engagement in the human enterprise.

I’ve always been iffy about the term poet. It conjures dilettantism. Olson was a poet of active interest in the world. Writing, to be a fair tool, must partake of such interest.  All writing, I mean: the letters and notes, the advertisements, the reports, the everything we place into written language. I believe I learned that lesson, or was encouraged in that idea, by Charles Olson.

I confound Olson somewhat with my father. They were born 3 months apart (I look with amaze at the centenary to come in March). They were both scions of Massachusetts (Cambridge for my father, not Worcester). I managed to break the fascinated hold of Olson, and look critically. Not to eschew, but to make use of what I learned. Just as I was able to get closer to my father (the engineer!), in his later years. That simultaneous act of drawing to and pulling away by which we learn and grow.

So this note, written sans eloquence, is offered in testament of what I have gained.

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