Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Selected Poems

Olson, Charles. Selected Poems. Ed. Robert Creeley. Berkeley, CA: University of California
Press, 1997.

The Creeley edited collection separates Olson's work into two distinct but equal sections: the poet's shorter, collected poems and selections from The Maximus Poems. The former of these sections contains many anthologized works, such as “The Kingfishers” and “Variations Done For Gerald Van De Wiele”; these poems, as well as the others, exhibit many of Olson's idiosyncratic aesthetic practices, such as exaggerated use of the comma so as to create a highly complex, and often times undiagramable, syntactical structures; leaving parenthetical statements open; developing a visual field on the page through excessive indentation of stanzas and lines; as well as employing hard enjambments, wherein the line break occurs after one or two words of a discrete syntactical unit. The content of these poems is often meta-poetic, exploring subject matter Olson wrote about in his critical work, such as: “the whole brook system got transversed to what it was below/ near where I lived, Hill's Farm getting its fields/ from the change of the direction of its flow” (48-9). Key words, like “system,” “field,” and “flow,” signal to the reader, especially one who has read his manifestos, that the poet is indeed speaking of poetry. Additionally, Olson investigates the nature of being and an object's place within the universe. For example, in an “An Ode to Nativity,” he writes: “the cries of men to be born/ in ways afresh, aside from all old narratives” (45) and, in “For Sappho, Back,” one finds: “of your own making you are/ the hidden constance of which all the rest/ is awkward variation” (24). The Maximus Poems, found in the latter half of the collection, are a small segment of the poet's epic poem, which he wrote over the course of his lifetime. Specifically, the poems explore the city of Glouschester, its history, and Olson's relationship with it. Many of the earliest Maximus poems function as lineated historical narratives, while the later pieces develop a psuedo-autobiography that situates Olson and his family among that first colonial inhabitants and the fishing communities that sustained the area for nearly three hundred years. In many ways, Maximus, as a whole, serves as a corrective to the incipient poem's declaration that “I stood estranged from that which was most familiar” (101), in which “the whole of it/ coming,/ to this pin-point/ to turn/ in this day's sun,/ in this veracity” (108-9) so that the poems, in their “pin-point” specificity, allow for them to “lie/ in the thing itself” (104).

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