Voice Literary Supplement Distinguished Book, 1993
Charles Olson (1910-1970) was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. His first career was in politics, but he soon turned to writing and by the late Forties his work had received major attention. He was writing teacher and then rector at Black Mountain College, where Robert Creeley came to teach as well. Iconoclastic and controversial, Olson, along with Creeley, launched a postmodern, free-verse revolution, and his work opened new pathways in thought and language to a generation of dissident writers. Other volumes of Charles Olson's poetry are published by the University of California Press: The Maximus Poems (1983) and The Collected Poems of Charles Olson (1987). Robert Creeley has long been an advocate of Charles Olson's work. Nine volumes of their correspondence have been published by Black Sparrow Press. The University of California Press publishes The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1945-1975 (1982), his Collected Prose (1988), Collected Essays (1989), and Selected Poems (1991).
This judicious selection of Olson's poems will, one hopes, make him known to a wider audience. Poet Creeley's introduction aligns Olson's Maximus Poems with Pound's Cantos and Williams's Paterson , works which also, by their diverse forms and materials, prove too daunting for some. Creeley stresses Olson's political impulse, but the scale of Olson's poems seems more historical, if not cosmic. Raised in Worcester and Gloucester, Mass., here Olson looks back not only to the era of childhood and his parents' lives, but to the explorations of Captain John Smith, and the silent prehistory of the continent itself. The aim of this autobiographical-historical venture is not personal, Olson insists: ``The only interesting thing / is if one can be / an image / of man.'' However, he recognizes that the effort to achieve a synthesis of the American consciousness and experience is forever displaced by a nation ``which never / lets anyone / come to / shore,'' especially in an age when humans are ``merely /something to be wrought, to be shaped, to be carved, for use, for / others.'' What is left is the severe beauty of memory and Olson's elegiac praise of life, ``the precessions / of me, the generation of those facts / which are my words, it is coming / from all that I no longer am, yet am, / the slow westward motion of / more than I am.'' (Mar . )
"Creeley's sure hand has caught . . . much of Olson's characteristic work. . . . The appearance of a sleek, intelligently honed selection of Olson's unwieldy oeuvre is reason to cheer. Steeped in a dream of its history and soil, Olson, along with William Carlos Williams, is the most American of this century's poets. At last we have the quintessential American format--the portable--from which we can savor his rare agile brilliance."--"Voice Literary Supplement