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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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Welcome to the Second Season of The Scene: Radical Poetics at the Zig Zag Edges.

About The Scene: Why Do I Want to Blog About Radical Poetics?

Hello.

The Scene: Radical Poetics at the ZigZag Edges began modestly last February with a series called Early Considerations which was my introduction to this blog that I think is like no other on the Web. As I begin the new 2017-2018 season I am re-posting the Early Considerations for new followers and for everyone else to remember what The Scene is all about. These Early Considerations are also in my Pages section above. I will run this series of Early Considerations on Mondays-Wednesdays-Fridays for awhile. On Tuesday-Thursdays I am beginning a new series titled New American Poetics based upon the classic anthology edited by Donald Allen that changed radical poetry, or as I am calling it, ZigZag poetry in America for once and all.

Ok. So, my name is Paul Varner. You can find my formal biography on the Biography page, but suffice it to say here that from my earliest days of adulthood I have lived a life of literature. I discovered real literature, as opposed to all the popular paperback Westerns, mysteries, and spy novels I read as a teenager, when I was stationed in the US Air Force near San Francisco in the crazy hippie days. Actually I discovered literature when I discovered the famous City Lights Bookstore and learned all about the Beat Movement, then the talk in my world of literature. I specifically discovered poetry that mattered to me when I read through many times Donald Allen’s famous New American Poetry anthology. Here was a kind of poetry I had never encountered in high school English courses. Years later I was to write a major scholarly book on the Beats, the Historical Dictionary of the Beat Movement, as well as several scholarly books on popular Westerns and serious literature of the American West. See My Amazon Authors Page here: http://www.amazon.com/Paul-Varner/e/B001JP42FE/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1408566082&sr=1-2-ent

I took the usual route of majoring in English as an undergraduate. In my first English class I met the girl I would fall in love with, Jeanine Baker, and with whom I would go through graduate school at the University of Tennessee, with both of us receiving our PhDs in English the same day. I left the crazy Beats and the Westerns behind for the pursuit of canonical literature, the best that has been thought and written in Western culture. Jeanine and I followed each other throughout our careers from one university to the other where we served as professors of English. Jeanine also entered administration and ultimately became Academic Vice President and later Provost at two fine private universities. Together we led lives dominated by our passion for literature.

I have written books on literature and taught many college courses in literature. And I certainly know that there are plenty of websites and plenty of blogs about literature, about reading books, and about favorite authors. Many of the blogs devote themselves to passionate reading of current novels, bestsellers and otherwise. Many discuss indie novels and Kindle-type favorites. Most are simply shortcuts for reading to college students. But I have seen very few online sites, or published books, that really devote themselves to innovative, experimental, avant garde, or whatever you would like to call radical poetry and literature. Few sites devote themselves to movements, schools, or poetic scenes. Thus The Scene: Radical Poetics at the Zig Zag Edges.

Once again, over the next few days I will be posting a series called About The Scene. There I will tell all about my plans for this exciting, radical new blog. Stay tuned.

Paul Varner

Notes Toward a Gone World: Reading Radicalism in Ancient World Literature

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March 1, 2017

How do we read? Is it enough in The Scene to talk about radical poetics from the perspective of what writers intended to say as they wrote and published. They wrote for whatever purpose they intended, but does that mean we should feel bound to read as they wrote? Big Question. But think of Great Literature itself–ok, canonical literature–from a radical perspective. (You define “radical”). And, of course, I’m concerned, really, with literature of the Western world.

What if we all read the Great Literature of the past the way the radical critic and scholar Jan Kott read Shakespeare? As Peter Brook said, Jan Kott “is undoubtedly the only writer on Elizabethan matters who assumes without question that every one of his readers will at some point or other have been woken by the police in the middle of the night.”

So here we have Homer screaming through the centuries to us about Achilles vs. Agamemnon vs. Hector and the horrors of ARETE–the essence of Homeric manhood.Really? That’s the story? Should Achilles have stayed in his tent? Look at those long Homeric similes. How do you read those things? Like everybody else? Or not?

Or Sophocles dramatizing Destiny/Fate, Creon and the machinery of the political state ready to crush Antigone, ready to crush us. If you really want to get down to something that hits home, read Aeschylus and Euripides the way some supercharged zig zag director today would stage their plays.

Or the dialogues of Plato and especially those in and about the trial of Socrates. They crawl under our shirts, under our pants and up, up, up terrifying us as 21st century readers because  we see The Terror as the STATE executing its citizens for crimes of the mind.Be careful what you THINK!

How can we read Aurelius and Augustine today?—How to live in a police state? Be not perturbed.

Even Dante and the descent into the Inferno. Can you imagine real Horror, true Horror that makes Stephen King stories into baby board books?

Chaucer? ah, the human comedy. But why do we laugh? Or any old comedy, really. The Comedy of Errors? That’s life, folks. Have you ever seen a Feydeau farce?

Or Machiavelli—look around you, folks. Go downtown.

Castiglioni?—true Renaissance life; studied nonchalance? Ha ha! take me to the funny farm!

Where am I going with this way of reading? I don’t want to think about it. (Ok, let’s think about it. Follow The Scene.)

How Do You Differentiate Radical Poetry from Mainstream or Establishment Poetry?

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Jack Kerouac ready for a Reading

How Do You Differentiate Radical Poetry from Mainstream or Establishment Poetry? Who knows? I know the difference when I see it, ok? But I do see a clear distinction between radical, innovative, avant garde, experimental (or whatever label you want to use) poetry and what I usually call genteel poetry. I mean, most of the radical poets of the past are in the big canon taught in schools. I’ve taught courses on the Beat Movements a number of times.

Clearly I have great respect for genteel poetry and, again, have written about genteel poets plenty of times. And I encourage to you follow my Literary Life blog where I separate out the genteel from the radical somewhat. And I reserve the right to read some genteel poets radically.

Generally, the distinction is most often made on the basis of the poetic tradition itself. In American literature we usually distinguish the formal tradition of Edgar Allan Poe and his successors with that of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman and their successors. Obviously lines are blurred all the time and even the common dichotomy of the two traditions is often disputed.

But I am going to maintain a bold claim for poetry right now in our own time. Modern and contemporary fiction has virtually caved in to becoming capitalist cheerleaders. Even our best contemporary novelists just as our best filmmakers see their work as market driven. The true literary art forms today are almost exclusively poets and poetry and some non-market driven plays and playwrights.

More early considerations to follow.

So follow The Scene and let’s get going.

Paul Varner

Early Considerations for The Scene

Are You Developing a How to Write Poetry blog?

No no no! I just read the stuff. I don’t write it. So I can’t tell you how to write it. Well, maybe one bit of advice. Don’t rhyme.

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How Do You Differentiate Radical Poetry from Mainstream or Establishment Poetry?

Who knows? I know the difference when I see it, ok? But I do see a clear distinction between radical, innovative, avant garde, experimental (or whatever label you want to use) poetry and what I usually call genteel poetry. I mean, most of the radical poets of the past are in the big canon taught in schools. I’ve taught courses on the Beat Movements a number of times.

Clearly I have great respect for genteel poetry and, again, have written about genteel poets plenty of times. And I encourage you to follow my Literary Life blog where I separate out the genteel from the radical somewhat. And I reserve the right to read some genteel poets radically.

Generally, the distinction is  made on the basis of the poetic tradition itself. In American literature we usually distinguish the formal tradition of Edgar Allan Poe and his successors with that of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman and their successors. Obviously lines are blurred all the time and even the common dichotomy of the two traditions is often disputed.

But I am going to maintain a bold claim for poetry right now in our own time. Modern and contemporary fiction has virtually caved in to becoming capitalist cheerleaders. Even our best contemporary novelists just as our best filmmakers see their work as market driven. The true literary art forms today are almost exclusively poets and poetry and some non-market driven plays and playwrights.

What is “The Scene?”

I want to work with many scenes. Early scenes like the Surrealists and Dadaist. The Beats, of course, are the dominant scene in U.S. history and are still around. But there were also the East Side Scene, the Immanentist poets, the Language poets, and then you’ve got all the scenes out there right now. But let’s talk about serious poets, not just people who write poetry. Let’s talk about poetry as LIFE and as ART! Let’s Go!

So follow The Scene and let’s get going.

Paul Varner

Early Considerations for The Scene

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What Kinds of Short Posts will You Have Besides Your Longer Major Posts and Commentary?

Re-Posts: I plan on posting lots and lots of material you need to know about from other places, especially current material. I may have to cut and paste and re-format because WordPress won’t allow bloggers to re-post directly from outside the WordPress network. But of course I will always be mindful of copyright restrictions.

And as much as I keep saying poetry and poetics, we all know that the world of radical art is much more. So I imagine some serious independent filmmakers and really radical fiction writers are fair game. Back with the Beats, I can’t imagine talking about the poets and not acknowledging fellow travellers like Burroughs and Kerouac.

I plan on posting acknowledgements on special dates such as birthdays, death dates, historical events, etc. If you read my other blogs you’ll see similar posts.

And profiles of radical poets.

Or short posts with readings radicalizing the official literary canon from familiar college courses. Hey, haven’t you ever thought about how really radical those Greek playwrights were? Or Homer? Or those Russians like Dostoyevsky. We’ve got radical poets? How about radical readers? You!

More early considerations to follow.

So follow The Scene and let’s get going.

Paul Varner

Early Considerations for The Scene

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You Know Me

Ok, you’ve written and published a lot about radical poets before, but who are you, Really?

Well, I’ve got pages posted at the top of The Scene with my semi-formal biography and with personal notes about why I ever got interested about The Beats.

But other than that, you know me. I’m just a writer like all of you know. I’m the guy you always see at coffee houses over in the corner writing furiously in my black Moleskine, dressed like a writer with funny glasses and wearing clunky boots. You’ve seen me everywhere. Don’t expect me ever to look up unless you come over and say hi. Then I’ll tell you what I’m writing about. Of course I may be writing about you. But anyway—you know me.

I’m going to use a similar voice to Ezra Pound in his ABC’s of Reading and Robert Peters in his Great Poetry Bake-off series. I will be personal, confident, not angry or anything, but not academic and not full of jargon theory. I’m not going to feel any need to back everything up everything I say and believe with hard evidence or whatever. Editors, critics, and peer reviewers like that sort of thing. But, you know, the Enlightenment was supposed to have gone out of style when the Romantics came on the scene. I also ramble a lot.

More early considerations to follow.

So follow The Scene and let’s get going.

Paul Varner