Thursday, December 15, 2005



the new issue of H_NGM_N is up at & it features a long essay on Charles Olson & the concept of ontic immediacy focused through Heidegger. Check it out & please consider alerting your readers.

All best--

Nate Pritts, EIC.
H_NGM_N, Intergalactic.

Friday, December 09, 2005


The Olson event last Saturday was very successful, considering how many people, including myself, were chomping at the bit to add comments, ask questions, etc.

It seems to me the points of views around comments in subtle ways were divided into two or three kinds: those by scholars or academicians interested in research projects generated by Olson. A smaller number of us had thoughts about him as poets, how as a poet Olson had affected us. Susan Howe started that line of discussion by pointing to Call Me Ishmael's importance to her. Since Call Me Ishmael had a crucial impact on me as a poet, critic and translator also, I joined in the argument, saying that Ishmael led me also to Melville's Journals of Istanbul (Constantinople) and also presented a new way of writing about another writer who was important to one's work.

Susan and I continued our conversation outside during the break, arguing how the "ungrammatical" awakwardness of Olson's prose represented a juncture in American writing where prose jumped into poetry -in our views (if I am not misrepresenting Susan's views) Olson's prose -as writing- was at least as important as his poetry.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


Indeed, to look at Olson's writing practice in relation to his practice as a walker, as well as to look at the support of his writings (on, say, scraps of paper, but also blank checks, paper menus, etc.), which is to look at the environment of Olson's writings, certainly constitutes inquiry into methodology, and may constitute inquiry into what Chuck Stein calls Olson's praxis (although I'm not sure of how he's using that term).

For a gull's view of Dogtown Commons:

Type in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and click the Satellite button. Then zoom (click the plus end of the navigator) and go. You can pan the view by clicking and dragging the image. Zooms up pretty close, to where you can even see foot trails.

But is not Maximus Poems constructed *against* what Olson call's the "gull's eye" view? And more in line with the low-flying "cormorant's eye" view? Or at least sets up an argument between these two. The difference between the colonizers of space and the poet whom SPACE has colonized. Which gets richer when we remember that Hawthorne referred to himself (thanks once again to Susan Howe for telling us) as a "library cormorant."

Finally, the project of Olson's fragments came to my mind just a day or two ago, as well. A great model for this, in every sense (hermeneutically, methodologically, technically), has to be Marta Werner's work with Emily Dickinson, both in her book Dickinson's Open Folios and in her web archive, Radical Scatter.

I'd say a web archive of Olson fragment facsimiles would be more useful (and less expensive to produce) than a book--perhaps without the restrictions on access that the Institutions seem lamentably to have exerted over Werner's magnificent project.

I got the idea--and this is something that unites Chuck's geographical interests with his interests in the "logographic entities"--watching the rest of the Olson outtakes video and getting mesmerized by the "map" of Dogtown pinned to the wall behind Olson, made entirely of scraps of paper with notes scribbled on them, a logogeographic entity, if there ever was one. (Olson discusses this map during the interview and the film-maker even zooms in and pans so we can read some of the fragments.) I wonder how long this stayed on Olson's wall, and if some record of it was retained, beyond the film.

I would happily be a part of the project of getting Olson's fragments scanned into facsimile form.

The Secret of the Black Chrysanthemum, by the way, is a great book!


So. I think to go through the Maximus Poems, Collected Poems, Colleted Prose, plus Special View. With an eye to methodology.

What principles of praxis are articulable? How sharp are the instances? Example: Polis is Eyes--what does "limits are what any of us are inside of" mean up against "pushing the limits?" And the chocolate bar and the fisherman not looking in the sunblaze?

I' ll begin, I think with a list I made in my Olson/Jung book, The Secret of the Black Chrysanthemum some twenty-five years ago, of the ways in which Olson's compositional practice was "concretistic"--but one could replace this term with the word "actual" if one wished, shifting from the Jungian to the Whiteheadian vocabulary. But the point anyway would be not to emphasize the Aesthetic, in the sense of opinions about how to make poems, but rather praxis in general, how to make a culture of the concrete, of the actual, in the face of what we might want to insist IS the praxis now in place--the practice of the statistical, the universal, the application of predetermined standards, the mechanistic technology of knowing beforehand in detail the result--short-circuiting the process of desire…

Suggestion for someone with a lowflying plane or better helicopter :

Do we have a photograph of Dogtown from the air, on which one could pinpoint, say the site of Merry's demise and Gravelly Hill, to mention the two that Olson mentioned in the old film )not H. Ferrini's) we saw on Dec. 3? But really all the points in the poem? And then one from higher up, locating Dogtown precisely on Cape Ann?

Other projects. I will be driving to Storrs with Ammiel probably in January to do a final check on the new text of The Special View of History. And I want to grab or begin at least to find among the nicely catalogued folders, the literally hundreds of intensely scribbled over sheets of paper in Olson's hand, and somehow produce a facsimile book of say 100 of them. Before the papers were put in folders, summer of 1971 and 1972, Butterick and I went through boxes and boxes of the papers before they were catalogued, looking for letters from noteworthy folks. But I lingered for many hours over these intensely scribbled objects and I swear it was a deep initiation into Olson's neurology, say, and that today, after the archive has been mined for more orderly and acceptable typographic objects, it is time for us all to have a look at these crazy looking and magically charged logographic entities.


The lively, town-hall style conversation that Michael eloquently recounts from memory began with a question from a Melville scholar, a more specific version of the general inquiry posed by the event: Where is Olson now in the Academy? Because I did not say this on Saturday, I would like to suggest, echoing Jonathan Skinner’s remarks, that Olson is alive in the Academy, at least for me. My name is David Alworth and I am an undergraduate at New York University, writing my senior honors thesis on Olson or, more particularly, the massive Olson-Creeley correspondence.

I came to Olson by way of Creeley, who provided me with an instigation, a roadmap, a “way in,” as Olson would say, to the massive undertakings of this writer, this scholar (historian), this Archeologist of Morning. If space is a first fact, then the structures of circumscription, the frames in which we operate, are of central importance to Olson; “limits,” says Maximus, “are what any of us / are inside of.”

My Charles Olson is a revolutionary, but not the kind who obliterates boundaries. He is instead one who considers the limits in which any of us exist—as if/because they pre-exist us—to reconfigure the spaces they create, an internal revolutionary, churning the gears of reform and re-conceiving the cartography of human experience as framed, but not limited; the Olson map may have boundaries and limits, but it also has richly embroidered textures, topographical force-fields. If the poem is limited by the physical features of the sheet of paper, then let us work with that, so the page becomes a score, a force field, a flux, an isomorphic instantiation of the universe as routed through the poet’s body. The Creeley Correspondence becomes/is a space; though limited by the vagaries of the posts and circumscribed by the duties of daily life, it remains a place of free-play, of wildly excited and raw articulations, of need and urgency, of companionship, of anger and joy and sadness, of vision and revision, of “FIRST FACTS,” as if, and perhaps because, limits are counterintuitively freeing. The message of Olson is that if limits—and by extension, space—is what we are inside of, then our task is to conceive of space differently: as a force field, a field of action, to make that space “of use,” whatever and wherever it is.

On December 3, 2005 at the Poetry Project—a space that has been, for me, just such a force field of intellectual and creative exchange that offers an alternative to the institutionalization and bureaucratization of NYU—I attended OlsonNow and could not help but feel like this was an instantiation of what Olson had in mind, growing from Williams, with his particular conception of the local, of using one’s space in a radical, energizing way. Michael points to one of the most touching moments of the day when he writes of the waitress’s recitation of Dickinson; although it was dark and the notes I was taking during the film are illegibly sprawled across my notebook pages, I recall an error in the Dickinson poem. She said, “I’m nobody! Who are you? / Are you—Nobody—Too? / Then there’s a pair of us! / Don’t tell! they’d banish us—you know!” Banish us. Not Dickinson’s line, but perhaps more compelling for our discussion of Charles Olson, who never fit in the normative moulds offered him, whose intellectual, creative and physiological space was perhaps too richly embroidered for traditional institutionalization. And whose project—the very kernel of it—was reflected Saturday in a radical, freeing, energized and jam-packed space.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


If Methodology is the work of Morning
and it is Still Morning,
and Olson's archaeological spade work
opens the earth to find in archaic traces
the source of apposite methods--

can we tease out of Olson's texts
a rich enough package of such methods
to enable the declaration
THAT IT IS (in spite of everything) STILL MORNING?

The Beginning of the Rest of Time

Can a methodology be discriminated from Olson's remarks + extrapolations, say, that would resituate ourselves at the beginning of the rest of time rather than--in the
senescence of what is already vanished or vanishing or in the maturity of the Vast Machine--taking these
question as the research for resistance?

Can we point to where the Work of Morning has been sufficiently articulated, in Olson or his expositors, or the community of texts that gather about him--his references, but also those, say of Jack Clarke--or any one--without it becoming too prolix a bibliography-?

But not only texts


Can we articulate principles that Hold Ground?

Disciplines called such in his name?

And that this resistance would not be limited to the happy instances of nomadic impermanence, say, but primarily to the sustenance of Possibility--and therefore images AS actions, not image VERSUS actions

Monday, December 05, 2005


OlsonNow at the Poetry Project was one of the most gratifying and exciting events I’ve helped put together in quite some time. Kudos to my compadres, Ammiel Alcalay and Fred Dewey. We would love to post any highlights or memories people have of the event, as well as suggestions for future events. (The place was abuzz yesterday with talk of potential happenings in Philly, Gloucester, Asheville, NC, and Buffalo). Please email them to us at olsonnow (at sign here) gmail address (dot com).

Here are the facts as I recall them:

We got going at about 1:30 and finished at 6 p.m.. Throughout the day about 150 people came. According to headcounter Douglas Rothschild – who announced this to the entire room about midway through the conversation – 33.33 percent were women, 66.666 percent men.

After I introduced Olson and the OlsonNow project, Ammiel called for those working on projects, papers, etc. on Olson to announce them to the crowd. Jonathan Skinner, Fred Dewey, Kristin Prevallet, Lee Ann Brown, Michael Hoerman, Peter Anastas and Schuyler Hoffman of the Charles Olson Society in Gloucester, Henry Ferrini and others (please forgive any omissions as I didn’t take any notes and am writing this all down from memory after the fact) all spoke up about projects they were working on. This was interspersed with messages and greetings that Ammiel read from people who could not attend, including Albert Glover, Diane di Prima, Joanne Kyger, Robert Kelly, Basil and Martha King, and John Sinclair.

We watched a clip from the Charles Olson “Outtakes” video from March 12, 1966 of Olson sitting in his Gloucester kitchen giving a growling shamanistic reading of “Maximus from Dogtown 1.” Ed Sanders followed with a musical rendition of the same poem played on a two-string dulcimer.

At that point we opened up the forum to the question: Where is Olson Now?

Apparently, that was all we needed to do, because the conversation lasted until about 3:45 and could have gone on for hours. We heard spontaneous comments from Jonathan Skinner, Susan Howe, Pierre Joris, Don Byrd, Laura Elrick, Charles Stein, a Melville Scholar whose name I can’t recall, and others. Jack Hirschman read an “Arcane” about Olson as well as a reminiscence of the man. Anne Waldman gave a fiery reading of “Feminafesto,” addressing the feminine in Olson, as well as of a cento written of lines from Olson. Conversation ranged widely: Olson in the classroom, Olson and the feminine, Olson and Melville, Olson and walking, Olson and Place, et al.

Following a quick break, we were treated to the premier of Polis is This: Charles Olson and the Persistence of Place, a nearly completed film by Henry Ferrini. Henry received a standing ovation afterward and answered a few questions. David Amram closed the show with a stunning jazz recorder improvisation of “Amazing Grace.”


Many highlights -- Ed Sanders’ beautiful voice, Anne Waldman’s dynamic thought-presence, Susan Howe’s precise and heartfelt articulations, Jack Hirschman’s moving recollections – but for me the most poignant moment of the day came during a scene in Henry’s film.

A waitress at a Gloucester diner recalls that Olson often had to sign for his lunch and then pay later when he had some money. He always apologized for not tipping, she says, always paid up when he had the money, and always over-tipped in the process. She describes Olson as a man that never put on any airs or made her feel inferior. Then she goes on to say their interactions reminded her of the poem by Emily Dickinson that begins, “I’m Nobody! Who Are you?” After a brief pause, in which she seems to be trying to recall the next line, she slowly, haltingly, but with growing confidence, recites the entire poem from memory:

I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you—Nobody—Too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise—you know!

How dreary—to be—Somebody!
How public—like a Frog—
To tell one's name—the livelong June—
To an admiring Bog.

It just gave me chills. It is so rare in American life to witness poetry (actual poetry, not poetic analogues, but the actual words of an actual poem) affecting an everyday life in an atmosphere that has not been produced for the occasion. In other words, outside the academy, outside the classroom, outside the literary organizations, outside the poetry scene – just a person receiving the poem, its energy intact, and passing it on to the next person listening.


(on Olson, for 3 December 2005)

When you walked through the door into his house, he wanted to know who and what you were. Who means where you came from.

Our first fight was when I refused to discuss my family background – huge, urban, undistinguished – preferring only to offer the me I supposed myself to have made up by myself. I was a spiritual Darwinian at him, I grew from what I supposed.

He wanted to know who: the family, the grace of such society as made you.

He wanted, more, to know what you are. And what, for him, it seems to me now, meant: what do you know. And what can you say of what you know. And where did you get it.

Telling an idea or a fact (God help me) to Olson was like selling some heirloom to an honest jeweler – you had to prove where it came from, where you got it.

Provenience is all, said that King Lear.

And it is just this calling us back to personal history, our own investigations, historein, into our own lives’ circumstance, that speaks so urgently now. To pull us from the theory of theory into the theory of seeing with our own eyes, as our beloved Herodotus both saw and heard men do, see and remember, see and recount – as we must do in the day of personal narrative triumphant, the endless television feigned presences of desire and despair which are talked, that tell-tale word, talked at us before the cameras. Because this is just the wrong way human testimony should work, I’m sensing Olson would have judged, it, the self-disclosure of nothing but the self, which he already detested in the confessional poets of his day, and now would have to endure every day on tv, stripped even of the merciful veil of verse.

That was the Olson Paradox: he was interested only in such knowledge of the world as a man could or did learn through his own efforts of search, research, sustained awareness – yet he was not interested in that man himself. The lyric ego he contemned vividly, the ego with which and for which most poets of modern times have worked. That left him contemptuous of most poetry – and to hear him pronounce some poem ‘literature’ was a chilling thing. So man’s self was to make its way through the world as an objective, a lens. Judgment, not description seemed the rule. This is Jeremiah stuff, not Keats, this is changing the world one shout at a time. He was fond of calling his young poets (Ed Sanders, Ed Dorn, LeRoi Jones, and he was kind enough to put me in that company) his ‘politicians’ -- who were to go out and bring about the Last Judgment of society through the clean adversities of languages. And to this day I do believe the asperities.

Olson was such a forecaster to our times, and a guide in it. He proposed a project for writing that was beyond the amenity of the pleased reader. Like any good experimentalist, he hated the reader – keeping his true love for ‘you, whoever you are’ secret, as Whitman did, naming it only the Republic. For the good of the commonwealth, the reader was to be exposed to the registration of a cognitive experiment – and by that alone would be guided through an ever-widening dance of the mute, alert, perceiving, self-perceiving self (proprioception) with the graspable world (the koinonia, history) – in a way Charles had laid it all out long ago at Black Mountain, in the lucid arrogance of the great undanceable dance play Apollonius of Tyana. To whose own arcane researches Olson made his way in the last throes of Maximus.

I wish I could be at St Marx today to say this.