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Death and Pejorative Vision in Charles Olson, Part 5

Death and Pejorative Vision in Charles Olson, Part 5

September 12, 2017

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Charles Olson, Ezra Pound, and the Black Mountain College scene

These two poems, “A Newly Discovered ‘Homeric’ Hymn” and “As the Dead Prey Upon Us,” however, do much more than possibly demonstrate Charles Olson’s view of death. The first poem exemplifies Olson’s interest in classical and ancient literature and his influence by Ezra Pound. “As the Dead Prey Upon Us,” which takes the views of “A Newly Discovered ‘Homeric’ Hymn” and develops them further, also shows us Olson’s belief in vision. Although the poem uses a persona, the visionary element coincides with the views of Olson. In a lecture at the University of California at Berkeley in 1965 he said, “I was very lucky once to have what poets call visions. And they’re not dreams . . . . They are literally either given things or voices which come to you from cause.” These poems lack the typical romantic element of visionary optimism. Instead they deal with one of Olson’s central themes—pejoracy. Faced with the dilemma of humanity in the middle of the twentieth century, Olson, in the two poems, has treated his subject first by referring the classical methods of the ancients and then by juxtaposing technological symbolism and mysticism, which synthesizes into a modern apocalyptic vision.

So there you have it. My reading of some of Charles Olson’s poems from The Distances. Pay attention, though, if radical poetry matters to you.

Be sure to follow The Scene: Radical Poetics from the ZigZag Edges by signing up in the box provided.

Paul Varner

 

 

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Death and Pejorative Vision in Charles Olson, Part 3

Death and Pejorative Vision in Charles Olson, Part 3

September 5, 2017

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Charles Olson’s poetry is, for the most part, collected into two volumes, The Maximus Poems and The Distances, both published in the1960s.

Two Points:

  1. A major theme of both collections is pejoracy, an Olson word meaning the inevitable changing for the worse.
  2. Here are two poems from The Distances, “A Newly Discovered ‘Homeric’ Hymn” and “The Dead Prey Upon Us,” that I’ll use to demonstrate Olson’s
  3. pejoracy
  4. and vision,
  5. especially as they relate to death.

In “A Newly Discovered ‘Homeric’ Hymn,” Olson treats the subject of death in a detached manner. He doesn’t write like Homer did, obviously, and the poem contains hexameters and no typical Homeric devices like Homeric epithets, but the poem is a conscious effort to imitate the Homeric style. The uniqueness of the work is found in Olson’s juxtaposition of the exalted epic tone with contemporary conversational language: “Hail and beware the dead who will talk life until you are blue/ in the face.” The poem, as a result of this, back to Canto I by Ezra Pound whose The Cantos. The context of the poem also seems to be the same setting as Pound’s canto—Book XI of the Odyssey.

The speaker of the “Hymn,” who might or might not be Odysseus, tells the listener to “Hail” the dead. The dead deserve respect if for no other reason than that they are different from mortals. At the same time we must “beware” the dead. Thus Olson develops the theme of the poem. One must beware because contact with the dead is death itself. The dead will torment the living. They will “talk life until you are blue/ in the face.” One must beware of them because they come from a different place. That place is known only by the dead:

Hail and beware them for they come close from where you have not been,

They come close from where you cannot come, they come into life

By a different gate. They come from a place which is not easily known,

It is known only to those who have died.

The dead are always drunk from “the pot.” In the Odyssey the dead drink blood of Odysseus’s sacrifice out of their own internal craving. It is only through this “drunkenness” that the dead and the mortal may approach each other, as was the case of Odysseus. The dead, however, can be the only ones to drink. This is not to be a common celebration but only a one-way affair:

Hail them, and fall off. Fall off! The drink is not yours,

It is not yours! You do not come

From the same place, you do not suffer as the dead do,

They do not suffer, they need, because they have drunk of the pot,

They need. Do not drink of the pot, do not touch it. Do not touch

Them.

Be sure to follow The Scene: Radical Poetics from the ZigZag Edges by signing up in the box provided.

Paul Varner

Death and Pejorative Vision in Charles Olson, Part 2

Death and Pejorative Vision in Charles Olson, Part 2

August 31, 2017

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It was not his manifesto only that made Charles Olson important, however. He earned his prominence both by his poetry and by his manifesto.

SO, I am going to say a few words in this blog series about some Olson poems—give a bit of introduction to his poetry, give you a taste of what he was like—before I start another series on the ZigZag Poetics of the new, the radically revolutionary poetry (“Wake up America! from snoozing all over fuddy duddy Robert Frost poetry—so I think they said back then) of the early Beat poets. We’re going to see what those cats said (I’m getting carried away here) about HOW they wrote poetry, about WHAT poetry is, and, for us today, what ZigZag poetry STILL IS today! But first—Charles Olson the poet.

Here goes. I’ll give plenty of quotes—don’t skip the long quotes—just to let you see—. But you can get these poems online somewhere or at your local library.

Be sure to follow The Scene: Radical Poetics from the ZigZag Edges by signing up in the box provided.

Paul Varner

Death and Pejorative Vision in Charles Olson, Part 2

Death and Pejorative Vision in Charles Olson, Part 2

August 31, 2017

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It was not his manifesto only that made Charles Olson important, however. He earned his prominence both by his poetry and by his manifesto.

SO, I am going to say a few words in this blog series about some Olson poems—give a bit of introduction to his poetry, give you a taste of what he was like—before I start another series on the ZigZag Poetics of the new, the radically revolutionary poetry (“Wake up America! from snoozing all over fuddy duddy Robert Frost poetry—so I think they said back then) of the early Beat poets. We’re going to see what those cats said (I’m getting carried away here) about HOW they wrote poetry, about WHAT poetry is, and, for us today, what ZigZag poetry STILL IS today! But first—Charles Olson the poet.

Here goes. I’ll give plenty of quotes—don’t skip the long quotes—just to let you see—. But you can get these poems online somewhere or at your local library.

 

Be sure to follow The Scene: Radical Poetics from the ZigZag Edges by signing up in the box provided.

Paul Varner

Death and Pejorative Vision in Charles Olson, Part 1

Death and Pejorative Vision in Charles Olson, Part 1

August 29, 2017

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If you are a poet or reader of ZigZag poetry you really need to know about Charles Olson. If you don’t know much about Charles Olson then welcome to The Scene where you are going to find out why, yes why Charles Olson matters, why his work matters to you.

This, then, is the first part of a 5 part series on Charles Olson. I will be posting this series on Monday, Wednesday, Fridays.

Charles Olson has been a powerful voice among ZigZag poets since the beginning, and by beginning I mean those days after World War II when everything changed everywhere with the radical poets, writers, and artists of the Beat Movement which started it all and has kept it going with all the spinoffs from the 1950s right up to now.

Because, look, Olson was acknowledged as the intellectual inspiration of The Movement of movements: the Black Mountain poets, the New York poets, the San Francisco poets—in other words, The Beats. With poets like Denise Levertov and Robert Creeley. Robert Duncan once said, “For all of the poets who matter to me in my generation Charles Olson has been the Big Fire Source. One of the ones we had to study.” And Robert Creeley affirmed, “Charles Olson is central to any description of literary ‘climate’ dated 1960.”

Olson’s great work, the one always studied in greatest detail, is his essay “Projective Verse,” first published in an obscure little poetry magazine in 1950. But this complex, detailed essay became the heart of the Olson theory. British poet and critic Davie said Olson’s projective verse essay was “the most ambitious and intelligent attempt by a poet of today to take his bearings and to plot his future course.”

Be sure to follow The Scene: Radical Poetics from the ZigZag Edges by signing up in the box provided.

Paul Varner