Max Lesser uncovers the unintended legacy of Charles Olson. First, some simplicities that a man learns, if he works in OPEN or what can also be called COMPOSITION BY FIELD, as opposed to inherited line, stanza, over-all . FROM CHARLES OLSON’S “PROJECTIVE VERSE”. (1) A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it (he will have some several causations), by way.
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For the next step, you’ll be taken to a website to complete the donation and enter your billing information. You’ll then be redirected back to LARB. To take advantage of all LARB has to offer, please create an account or log in before joining There is less than a week left to support our matching grant fund drive! Your tax-deductible donation made to LARB by If so, you may be embarrassed to admit it. In our culture, too many regard poetry, and especially the poetry of the last century, as having all the real-world utility of underwater basket-weaving.
That reputation, though unfortunate, may be well deserved. Another glance at his political screeds may solidify it.
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What does one mean by 20th-century American poetry? Where projjective one start? Can we really expect to sort through so many different voices from so many different backgrounds? In fact, there are many points of entry.
And one of the most promising takes us back to an unlikely place and time: North Carolina, in olsonn depths of the Great Depression, where a number of faculty members recently dismissed from Rollins College for refusing to sign a loyalty pledge founded the legendary Black Mountain College. Here, the ideas and inventions of American icons such as John Dewey and Buckminster Fuller would merge with the teachings of exiled European intellectuals and artists, including Albert Einstein, Walter Gropius, and Josef Albers.
A partial list of Black Mountain teachers and students will suffice to indicate its central versse in 20th-century American culture: But what ever happened to the legacy of Charles Olson?
Why does his surname lack the resonance of Cage and Ginsberg? It stems from his central project: In order to help the poet, Olson offers a principle to guide her. This principlethen, leads to a specific poetic process: Olson asserts that in order to ensure this forward propulsion, a poet must not remain fixed upon a single perception for long, avoiding excessive description, but rather constantly shift through various modes of perception.
Any human action, from physical construction to constructing verse, involves breath.
The rhythm of a poem should accommodate the exigencies of each breath that the poet breathes in speaking. Olson intends projective verse to enact a form projdctive ego death through self-objectification. He encourages this overcoming of the poet-as-subjectwhat Keats derides in Wordsworth as Egotistical Sublime. But can projective poems actually eliminate the poet-as-subject?
Can Olson himself abide by his own poetic principles, overcoming his Egotistical Sublime? His broad use of white space attests to his attention to breath, which informs the length of his lines with multiple indentations. And his repeated association of words that overlap both semantically and sonically speaks to his ability to attune his ear to the mythopoeic nature of syllables.
If any poem epitomizes the nuts and bolts of projective verse, this is it.
Olson projectove adheres to the mechanics of projective verse, but can he overcome his self? This is the Catch of projective verse, which can be illustrated by analogy with the Japanese art of flower arrangement Ikebana. In Ikebanathe work itself the bouquet consists almost entirely of objects found in nature. Yet the acts of curating and positioning particular flowers — and even the very act of presenting flowers in the first place — testifies to the existence of a subject who made these decisions, a singular individual cbarles took these actions.
The more evocative the bouquet, the charled the subject imbues her found objects with her character. The failure of projective verse to eliminate the subjective sense of the poet-as-speaker is thus, paradoxically, a consequence of its success.
When a poetic self strives for the maximal, when it strives for an expansion of its perceptual horizons, when it frees itself from the shackles of inherited form — how could it not attest to its own particular capacities and energies, to the power of its own senses, its own voice? This appears to be an acknowledged fact among contemporary practitioners of projective verse.
Jorie Graham, a poet who was influenced by Olson, incorporates his method in a way that ultimately draws attention to the speaker. The sibilance of the words associated in the first line reflects a semantic semblance: Yet the reader is forced to marvel at the voice that has built these meaningful links.
Here again, projective verse proves limited in its capacity to eliminate the subject — precisely because its power draws attention to the fact that objects of perception are perceived by a singular head and a singular heart, precisely because these perceptions are communicated in a manner that pulsates with the music of a singular breath.
The success of his ideas remains manifest to anyone who cares about the history of postwar American poetry. However, the success of his poetic principle may not have lead to the world that he wanted to live in, one in which the poet escapes the confines of his ego through the rigors of contemplating objects and ideas. Versr exposition of a perceived object, when made well, draws attention projecctive the power of the perceiving subject.
He plays saxophone and has composed music for the LA Phil. Grasped by What We Cannot Grasp: The Elemental Poems of Dan Gerber. From Bauhaus to Black Mountain: A Search in Obedience: On the Collected Works of Robert Duncan.
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