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CharlesOlson“He mixed the vastness of cosmos and creation with the rootedness of self and place and then put it into inescapable, unforgettable proto-Indo-European music. He made life real, beyond sentimentality or prettiness. His voice is like the background noise of the Big Bang itself, just as white and rough, just as etiological and creationary. That’s what makes him Numero Uno.” – Richard Grossinger, publisher of North Atlantic Books and author.

Black Mountain School post-modern poet Charles Olson, probably best known for his epic poem The Kingfishers, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in December 1910 and succumbed to liver cancer in January 1970.

Olson defined Projective Verse in his manifesto of the same name. Projective or open verse aims to transfer energy from the world to the reader without artificial interference, syntax shaped by sound instead of sense, sense conveyed by direct movement from one perception to another not rational argument and the reader’s rendition directed by freely varied spacing between words and lines on the page. In this poetic presentation, the spaces speak as loudly as the words, the lines, the poem as a whole.

Olson’s poetic thought demonstrates his insatiable need to know why things happen, why people react and respond in the ways that they do, what makes a society. He strove to answer these questions and many more in his epic, The Maximus Poems.

Most of Olson’s poetry is of such length that I would never subject you to in a blog. In fact, very little of his work is available in electronic format. two of the poems that I would like to share are being offered here as links to the Poetry Magazine archives along with a sampling of the first stanza of each poem.

Cole’s Island from The Maximus Poems (spans three pages) grabs the reader with the first line and pulls them deeper to the point that the length of the poem is almost inconsequential.

Cole’s Island

I met Death–he was a sportsman–on Cole’s
Island. He was a property-owner. Or maybe
Cole’s Island, was his. I don’t know. The
point was I was there, walking, and–as it
often is, in the woods–a stranger, suddenly
showing up, makes the very thing you were do-
ing no longer the same. That is suddenly
what you thought, when you were alone, and
doing what you were doing, changes because someone else
shows up. He didn’t bother me, or say anything. Which is
not surprising, a person might not, in the circumstances;
or at most a not or something. Or they would. But they

The Grandfather-Father Poem (spans 8 pages of narrow presentation)

rolled in the grass
like an overrun horse
or a poor dog
to cool himself
from his employment
in the South Works
of U S Steel
as an Irish shoveler

As an extra sampling of Olson’s work, the following short poem is of a personal theme, a memory of skating on Elm Pond when he was seven years old.

Ode on Nativitiy

All cries rise, & the three of us
observe how fast Orion
marks midnight
at the climax
of the sky
while the boat of the moon settles
as red as the southwest
as the orb of her was, for this boy, once
the first time he saw her whole halloween face northeast
across the skating pond as he came down to the ice, December
his seventh year

I’m Beth Winter and I thank you for joining me for Pretzels & Bullfights. I hope you enjoyed meeting or re-visiting Charles Olson and experiencing his work.

Before I close, I must offer my condolences to all affected by the horrific slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School. May the parents, siblings, spouses, families, friends and responders find strength to endure the torment left by this senseless act and I hope that every child feels the strength of a hug and hears the words “I love you” each day of their lives.

Source Credits: The Poetry Foundation, Poetry Magazine and The Worcestor Writer’s Project