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Entries in Charles Olson (8)

Thursday
Jun132013

In Which We Had Never Read Hegel

from left: creeley, pound, olson

This Is Yeats Speaking

by CHARLES OLSON

This is William Butler Yeats. I want to speak to my friends in America about a thing which troubles me even now, though I have recovered leisure, and know more than I did about structure, mathematical and otherwise.

It is my friend Ezra Pound — who has made so many beautiful things. You Americans, you have him now on trial. I remember I warned him once about politics, not as you think, that we poets should stay out of it, I said simply, do not be elected to the Senate of your country. I was thinking of my own experience. I merely observed, you and I are much out of place as would be the first composers of Seashanties in an age of Steam.

I am not very interested in your hysteria, or his. We of Ireland have lived with treason long. It is not as dramatic as Ezra thinks, he has always been in these things as in so much American, exterior, moral. When he shouted, and now I hear you shout, I stoop down and write with my finger on the ground.

I do not know that any of us of my generation, and few of yours—I too a revolutionist—understood the contraries which are now engaged. William Blake observed that oppositions do not make true contraries.

It was our glory, Pound's and mine, I except Eliot—tradition is too organized with him, his uncertainty before chaos leads him to confuse authority with orthodoxy—to reassert the claims of authority in a world of whiggery. It is true what Pound said, we men of the mind do stand with the lovers of order. We value it, with what labor we purchase it in our work. We opposed ourselves to a leveling, rancorous, rational time.What a man of Eliot's words would call our sin was the opposite of his. Willing as we were to oppose and go forward, we did not seek true contrary.

Because of your irascible mind, Pound, and because my bones always took to comfort like a retainer's, you were ever in haste, and I sometimes, to think these men who marched and preached a new order—we of our excitable profession are attracted to sick men and buccaneers—had taken that other chaos of men's lives up in their hands, had worked to master it as we do ours, and could shape what men now need, rest, an end to this sea of question.

I understand this, at the distance I have acquired, I have Troilus' advantage, from the seventh sphere to look back on Diomed and Cressid both.

It was Pound's error to think, because he was able to examine with courage and criticize eloquently the world we have inherited—Rapallo was a place to escape the knots of passion, it was the village in the Chinese poem to which the official retired, inhabited by old men devoted to the classics—Pound thought this power, necessary to us men who had to make the language new, also gave him the sight to know the cure. It is the frenzy that follows when the mask of man is askew. The being must brag of its triumph over its own incoherence.

I examine his work in this new light and when he lay with beauty in her corner or fed cats in the street, they have their oppressors, he was a true lover of order. I would undo no single word of all he has published, quarrel as I have with him, take as I did at times his work of twenty years, the Cantos, to be a botch of tone and colour, all Hodos Chameliontos. 

He was false—out of phase—when he subordinated his critical intelligence to the objects of authority in others. If the Positive Man do that, all the cruelty and narrowness of his intellect are displayed in service of preposterous purpose after purpose till there is nothing left but the fixed idea and some hysterical hatred. It was natural he looked for an elite, and from brawlers and poets. It was his obsession to draw all things up into the pattern of art. He was ignorant of science and he will be surprised, as Goethe will not be, to find a physicist come on as Stage Manager of the tragedy.

It is a time, yours, when forces large as centuries battle and I suppose you must be more violent in your judgment than a man like me who had age tied to his tail like a can. But this I would say to you: you must take strength by embracing the criticism of your enemy. It is the beauty of demons they rush in to struggle with a cry of hate you must hear if you will answer them.

I have advanced far enough out of the prison of my generation to understand it is civil war in which you are locked.

What day you ask when date is dead
of May, when month is lost.
I can be precise though it is no answer:
this is the day of great year
the day of fear.
Man is moon.

You will know better than I how it is to be fought. I wrote to my wife one time from Rapallo when I had listened to Pound for an afternoon damn usury, expound credit and Major Douglas, talk the totalitarian way, it was as though I were in the presence of one of Wyndham Lewis' revolutionary simpletons.

with Robert Richman

I had never read Hegel, but my mind had been full of Blake from boyhood up, I saw the world as a conflict, and could distinguish between a contrary and a negation.

Yet it was not easy for me to listen when one of your young men who had come to Rapallo to see Pound came away and said to me: “He has mingled with ferret and chameleon, vulture and kite, every antiSemite after his kind. He has touched abomination and is unclean.” In my first hard springtime I had a friend I thought half a lunatic, half knave.

And I told him so, but friendship never ends;
And what if mind seem changed,
And it seemed changed with the mind,
When thought rise up unbid

On generous things that he did
And I grow half contented to be blind!

Now in your country I hear a department called Justice speak of scripts for wireless and Ezra, as I would expect, talk back sharp. (Words cause no man fear except in the making of them.) I pay little heed, though there is pity in me, for I know Pound, he is a gambler and can measure consequence.

The soul is stunned in me, O writers, readers, fighters, fearers, for another reason, that you have allowed this to happen without a trial of your own. It is the passivity of you young men before Pound's work as a whole, not scripts alone, you who have taken from him, Joyce, Eliot and myself the advances we made for you. There is a court you leave silent—history present, the issue the larger concerns of authority than a state, Heraclitus and Marx called, perhaps some consideration of descents and metamorphoses, form and the elimination of intellect.

We were the forerunners—Pound only the more extreme—but our time was out of phase and made us enders. Lawrence among us alone had the true mask, he lacked the critical intelligence, and was prospective. You are the antithetical men, and your time is forward, the conflict is more declared, it is for you to hold the mirror up to authority, behind our respect for which lay a disrespect for democracy as we were acquainted with it. A slogan will not suffice.

It is a simple thing I ask as I might question a beggar who stopped me for a coin. It is the use, the use you make of us.

Are you a court to accept and/or reject JEFFERSON AND/OR MUSSOLINI, indict GUIDE TO KULCHUR and write a better, brief me contrary ABCs, charge why 100 CANTOS betrays your country, that poem which concerns itself so much with the men who made your Revolution for you? I have said I often found there brightly painted kings, queens, knaves but have never discovered why all the suits could not be dealt out in some quite different order. What do you find, a traitor? Dean Swift says in a meditation on a woman who paints a dying face.

Matter as wise logicians say
Cannot without a form subsist;
And form, say I as well as they,
Must fail, if matter brings no grist.

What have you to help you hold in a single thought reality and justice?

1946

"Less Is More" - The Begging Sea (mp3)

"The Distance" - The Begging Sea (mp3)

Monday
May142012

In Which We Lather Our Sensibilities At Length

Reading at Berkeley

I'm knocked out. I mean, I had a glass of whiskey. I said I hope nobody thinks I'm drunk. Man, I was high this afternoon, and I'm just exactly the same way now.

On July 23rd 1965 the poet Charles Olson took the stage at the University of California-Berkeley Poetry Conference, ostensibly to read a few poems. There was always an apprehension among Charles' friends whenever he attempted public speaking during his last years. The full text of Olson's remarks that evening runs over 60 pages, and it must have been evident to everyone in attendance that Olson, while somewhat cogent for him, would have to be dragged off the stage. Olson's talk that night has alternately been called "a tour de force" (by editor George F. Butterick and "an absolute travesty" (by most others). What follows are some excerpts from the text, along with private remarks during intermission transcribed by Zoe Brown.

ROBERT DUNCAN: As I think all of you, or almost all of you, must know, the man I am introducing tonight is visibly a large man. And he has to find in poetry — a phrase came up in a seminar of his: suddenly he was saying he was trying to find a position inferior to language. Every American impulse from the beginning has been to use it right away, and cash in on it, no matter what it was.

What I want to suggest is, if you find difficulties in Olson, they're because that the only thing in poetry for him is going to be found in a struggle, and because his knowledge of language is such that its usability seems everywhere, I keep thinking he'll never find how to take ahold of that so it isn't usable. We're absolutely baffled. But when he does, we have, the rest of us poets, been absolutely baffled. But when he does, we have the rest of us poets, been confronted with some amazing dimension, in which we find the — will "bedrock of poetry" do? I mean, the really resistant thign, the poem.

He has had to occupy an area in history big enough for some spirit size. You know, it's like he's trying to find clothes big enough for him. The spirit which can roam over anything it can imagine, and then imagine one that is still restless because it can't find a space big enough for it to exist in: we, this evening, will attend a poetry of this order.

One thing I find, for those of you who may really find yourself having to go along with something that will leave you feeling like you could have fitted it in a much smaller space and time, the other things he delights in sometimes are really beautiful songs.

And then you discover that, whatever the huge size in space, in time, he occupies, he also occupies beautiful and discrete, almost ordinary areas.

So, may I now get from the back of the room there, Charles Olson, who will take over.

Applause.

CHARLES OLSON: Thank you. It feels like a convention hall. And I never was running for anything, fortunately.

Oh, would somebody loan me The Maximus Poems? I haven't a copy. Thakn you.

Gee, I did it again. I left something in the room. Yeah, that's right. How the hell do you prove what you always...? Hm, wow, that's crazy. That's a funny one. Where the hell did they go? Somebody took 'em. Would by any chance, Robert Creeley, you have — ? Oh here it is. I got it.

I'd like to first read a — thank you, Robert, for that word "song." In the face of the poets that have read here, I have had an experience.

DUNCAN: Charles, would you please put the microphone on?

OLSON: Oh. Did you say that? How do you do this if there ain't...? Just connect...? You see, this is life. I mean, I either am the Hanged Man, or... Where do you put that, like? Where does that go? There's no hole! Where do you put it? You'd better show me, Mr. Baker. Able Baker. You see, security.

Thank you. That's what we got our nation for. That's why, the rest of us are, fortunately, as Mr. Creeley proved last night, free. And then there's really no worry about the land of free, cause it's been replaced. Like Allen did! Instead of drinking to you and me, I'll drink to that, hm?

But I would like to read first what for me was kind of an experience of writing a song. It's called "The Ring Of" and I hope it's, if my memory is right...Mr. Creeley? That you did...?

ROBERT CREELEY: Yes.

OLSON: Yeah, O.K., that's why. I mean that was so much a matter of support that I felt... Here it is.

It was the west wind caught her up, as
she rose from the genital
wave, and bore her from the delicate
foam, home
to her isle

and those lovers
of the difficult, the hours
of the golden day welcomed her, clad her, were
as though they had made her, were wild
to bring this new thing born
of the ring of the sea pink
& naked, this girl, brought her
to the face of the gods, violets
in her hair

Beauty, and she
said no to zeus & them all, all were not or
was it she chose the ugliest
to bed with, or was it straight
and to expiate the nature of beauty, was it?

knowing hours, anyway,
she did not stay long, or the lame
was only one part, & the handsome
mars had her. And the child
had that name, the arrow of
as the flight of, the move of
his mother who adorneth

with myrtle the dolphin and words
they rise, they do who
are born of like
elements.

Hm, thank you. I just learnt it from you last night. OK, we're off. I mean the horse is at least on the track. See if we can win.

I also wrote a poem which I'm sure neither Creeley nor I would include in anything, but I want to read it. I'm going to read three poems first — that one, this one, and then "Letter 9" of the Maximus Poems, which has to do with this same book, this beautiful book, which I love...because that design on it was done — and then I don't know how many years later, enormous years later, I, after Creeley had criticized me and taught me everything one night, when I was burned up that he let a class go to go down to Peek's to have beer, and I thought the whole of Black Mountain was going to fail if we didn't get those windows in before the freeze that night — and long after, he said, "Don't flip your wig, man."

And that made me, that brought me up to time, eh? I mean, he knocked any wig I ever had off my head that night. And it was beautiful, because he knew exactly what he was saying. And he was right. And I was not up — I mean, I was obviously, like they say, not with it, not right. But curiously enough, it was so many years after even that, that I was left alone at Black Mountain, with my wife and son, and with the beach wagon, which Wesley Huss had acquired before we closed Black Mountain, in fact, within three days I had a beach wagon.

So I feel even comfortable in reading what I consider, and I guess everybody else does, a bad poem, which I wrote as a Christmas pageant or something, a poem for Christmas at Black Mountain. Ha ha ha! Because I suppose Allen Ginsberg still thinks I'm Santa Claus. I'd like him to say,"No!" or I'll run you for whatever you — what do I want to run for, Allen?

ALLEN GINSBERG: Read the poem and I'll decide.

OLSON: That's why I'm reading it. It's called "An Ode to Nativity," and I don't believe it's ever been read. Except for this morning, I thought I'd look at it and I liked it, you know how you do. I don't think anybody has ever...By the way, did you reject, did you even bother to consider it, Bob? How far can I come with this tether?

GINSBERG: Go ahead and read it, read it.

OLSON: Oh, I'm going to do it. Look this thing is so bad, I can't ruin it. The only thing I can, as Allen says, is it might turn out to be how it sounded to me today. I guess that's really how it feels for me tonight, or this morning.

All cries.

No.

All cries rise, & the three of us
observe how fast Orion

Naah, that's too poetic.

All cries rise, & the three of us
observe how fast Orion

Jeez I'm looking it all. Big voice... Shit! You see, you shouldn't talk; you should just read the thing.

All cries rise, & the three of us
observe how fast Orion
marks midnight
at the climax
of the sky
while the boat of the moon settles
as red in the southwest
as the orb of her was, for this boy, once,
the first time he saw her whole halloween face northeast
across the skating pond as he came down to the ice, December
his seventh year.
Winter, in this zone, is an on & off thing, where the air
is sometimes as shining as ice is
when the sky's lights... When the ducks
are the only skaters
And a crèche
is a commerciality
(The same year, a ball of fire
the same place - exactly through
the same trees
was fire
the Sawyer lumber company yard
was a moon of pain, at the end of itself,
and the death of horses I saw burning,
fallen through the floors
into the buried Blackstone River the city
had hidden under itself, had grown over...

+

Recorded during the intermission:

OLSON: Allen, I'm just proving that oral poetry exists, O.K.? Ain't I or not?

GINSBERG: It's very good, it's beautiful.

OLSON: Isn't this oral poetry? Isn't this improvisatory, spontaneous poetry?

GINSBERG: All except one thing, when you had the cigarette in your mouth.

OLSON: And what happened? Was that visual?

GINSBERG: Couldn't hear you at the back.

WELCH: We were worried it was backwards.

OLSON: Gee, I wish it were. I needs to be backwards. That extra piece that I needed: I don't need it, I'm drunk on you guys. And I meant it.

WELCH: Hey, don't you have to pee too?

OLSON: Nah, shit pee? I never pee. The reason why I'm not a queen is I don't have to pee to prove that I'm a man. Go pee, Allen. We got over that tonight.

PAUL X: Can I have a cigarette?

OLSON: Of course, it's yours, baby. Isn't that crazy, I should be smoking your cigarettes? Goddamn it, it irritates me, but it also -

PAUL X: A broad gave them to me, so it doesn't matter.

JOHN WIENERS (introducing a girl): Just here visiting.

GIRL: Hello, how are you? I'm enjoying it so much.

OLSON: Awfully nice to see you. Pleasure. I'm glad. Will you kiss me too? You would kiss me, anyhow, but I want you to kiss me in honor, as well, will ya? In love and honor.

WELCH: That was why we did it.

SUZANNE MOWAT: What are you doing?

OLSON: I'm doing just what I ought to be doing, don't you think so?

MOWAT: I don't.

OLSON: You don't? You think I should be reading poetry? God, I got the poems, but -

WELCH: Charles, do you know John Montgomery? Allow me to introduce John Montgomery.

OLSON: I know Stuart Montgomery, the guy who's publishing Ed and me in London.

WELCH: No, he's the guy who talks so funny in The Dharma Bums, that forgotten painter.

OLSON (drinking): That's the last of it, dammit. I had one last slug.

WELCH: Don't you want to give him a drink?

MOWAT: No, I don't think you should.

OLSON: "...and John Montgomery." Let's do this thing the way it's coming out tonight. "Charles Olson and John Montgomery." O.K.? Now give me that shot. You got a whiskey.

WELCH: I brought this for you, but no one told me that you drink.

OLSON: What the hell is that? Just that lousy wine. Well, I'll just go like Jack Kerouac, right straight on to Rot Red. Drinks. It's sweety time. You, you drunken bum, have a shot. And if you don't stop drinking...

WELCH: Yeah, I know, I'm a terrible lush.

+

OLSON: I think the poets are ahead of the scientists now. I know they are. The decadence of the imagery of science is as shocking as James Joyce. I mean, Ezra Pound long years ago returned the presentation copy of Finnegans Wake to himself, with the word "DECADENCE" written over the cover. I mean, that takes guts, the same guts that led him to say, "I thought I knew something." I'd be proud to have been the man in this century... And like, here I am, dragging my ass after Ezra.

Two years ago in Vancouver, what did I do? I tried to read the poems? Now I could, and instead I'm telling you, "Gee I wish they were more." I'm not just avoiding it. I'll be happy to read them. I love some of them. Just like those poems I wrote longer and earlier, I bet they'll turn out to be all right. That's not the point. They're nothing by comparison to what I propose, or what I would dream I might do. Because poets only are worthwhile if they do what they dream. And there's been a few. In fact, the only ones that count are those who want to be, hm, the same in their dream.

last days of the vancouver poetry conference, 1963

And I'm like — let me continue 5, and I'll come back to 9, which I love because it talks about how a book practically is the only goddamn thing that is a dream in a society like this. And do you know it embarrassed me two years ago in Vancouver. I mean, god, Allen an activist, Orlovsky, Dunky, Creeley, everybody that was there, I feel like an old schlumpf from Gloucester. And, in fact, I'd love to read even that crazy "Tantrist sat saw Lingam in City Hall" or something, I mean, a poem I did read, you know, I'd like to read it right now, like that, like that, like.

And just make it like it felt when it was written, that's all. I am a tantrist. But two years ago I was embarrassed, and not because I hadn't been to Buenos Aires. O.K.?

I mean the universe today is a very hard thing for an individual to possess. The whole human race has it. The efficiency of the universe is in our hands. But for any one of us, as what they used to call a private soul, when I protested was a piece of piss at any public wall, in that paragraph, in that opening paragraph of Projective Verse, but you know, it comes out that the private soul — and if I could cry like the cock at the birth of day - which is all I'm doing tonight — that's the only thing that's more than public and private. And like that great thing we've been talking about and we discussed in seminar. Isn't it nice, really? This is the private soul at the public wall. Charlie Olson. Closed verse. Not even bothering to play the music.

I got the music. I mean, it's like scores, Beethoven and all those things, John Keats' letters in Harvard's library. I read 'em. In fact, I wrote a fourteen line sonnet. You know, it's powerful. I was talking to Ed Dorn recently. Probably I shouldn't have eaten supper...

CREELEY: Please read the poems.

OLSON: All right, Bob, I heard you.

July 23rd, 1965

"Keep Your Secrets In Midnight City" - Kill Paris (mp3)

"Too Many Fish" - Karmin (mp3)

 

Wednesday
Mar232011

In Which All Colleges Should Be In Tents

Snapshot of Northwood Campus. Northwood was an addition built to accommodate the surge in the student population after Allen Ginsberg declared Goddard College “the center of the universe.”

Charles Olson In Vermont

by KYLE SCHLESINGER

The process of transcription is characterized by variation.

— WW Greg


I stumbled on these recordings of Charles Olson when I was a student in a seminar on the history of medieval education that was conducted in the basement of the Eliot D Pratt Library at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont. The course was taught by archivist and volunteer firefighter Forest Davis who, after graduating from Harvard College, joined the Air Force in 1943 and served in the Pacific until the end of WWII. After the War, he returned to his studies at Harvard Divinity School on the GI Bill, and shortly thereafter, became a Dean at Goddard College where he worked until 1967. He left to pursue careers at other universities, but when he retired, returned to rural Vermont where he taught part-time and contributed much to our understanding of the college through his extraordinary histories, Things Were Different in Royce's Day (1996) and earth.goddard.edu (2003), both published by his own Adamant Press.

There were four ninety-minute cassette tapes of Olson, each neatly labeled with a typewriter. Recordings of Robert Creeley and Richard Grossinger reading at the College were in the same drawer as the Olson tapes, but the sound quality of both were less than desirable. Davis gave me permission to take the cassettes to one of the listening stations on the first floor of the Library where I spent days transcribing the recordings, donning classic, plastic DJ headphones. Rewind. Pause. Play. Rewind. Pause. Play. Repeat.

In the spring (or “mud season”) of 1962, Olson descended upon the experimental college to read from The Maximus Poems and The Distances, and to lecture on Herman Melville. His captivating performance sparked lively debates with the audience on the nature of myth, history, etymology, narrative, knowledge, and sexuality. Charles Olson at Goddard College is an enthralling and indispensable annotated transcript that celebrates the intersection of Olson’s poetics and a hopeful moment in American education. Olson’s poetry reading was recorded in the Haybarn Theater on April 12, and his lecture on Melville was recorded in the same location two days later (according to the cassette labels).

Olson began the first event by stating his problem with poetry readings, "It gets to be kind of a bore, because it's become a performing art, you feel as though you have an audience, and as if you’re supposed to do a concert or something." He concludes, "I don’t think I believe in verse in this respect at all. As a matter of fact, I know I don't." Hearing this as a student then engaged with medieval education, it struck me that poetry has always been a "performing art," even if it wasn’t thought of as such at the time.

In The Muse Learns to Write, Greek scholar Eric Havelock examines the ways consciousness changes when oral cultures become literate, and suggests how new forms of communication affect the content and meaning of language. Olson shared many of Havelock’s interests and even published a review of his Preface to Plato in the first issue of Niagara Frontier Review in 1964. From Dada to the Bauhaus to the Beat poets reading poems with jazz musicians, by 1962 poetry as a performing art had become a staple in twentieth century American and European poetic practices.

President Royce Pitkin’s offices in the early 60s.

At a time when some historians were lamenting the loss of the common culture of reading, Marshall McLuhan published his tour de force, The Gutenberg Galaxy (also 1962) wherein he announced the end of the printing press' monarchy, examining the interaction between mass media and the transformation of global consciousness within a transhistorical context. A few years later, ethnopoetic pioneers Jerome Rothenberg and Dennis Tedlock would introduce the expansive history of poetry’s oral traditions to the avant-garde, while poets such as David Antin would blur the lines between poetry and performance art, much in the way that performance artists, many associated with Fluxus and Something Else Press, used language as a visual and oral muse and medium.

In the days before PennSound and Ubu Web, hearing poets read was a rare occasion for most people. There was some poetry on vinyl, but one couldn’t hear a fraction of the diverse number of poets whose readings are represented online today. During the ages of cassettes and compact disks, there was a dearth of professionally produced and distributed studio recordings, but a rise in amateur productions, creating a more eclectic and decentralized record of poetry’s sound. Cassette tapes were easy to dub, and quickly became part of poetry’s cultural currency (Olson mentions that a recording of Creeley reading at the College "ran from this room (was it?) into our kitchen in Gloucester, directly almost. I think it was in a matter of hours — it was like hotcakes."

Forest Davis teaching a philosophy class in the Manor.

At the time I encountered these tapes, I had been reading Olson for a year or two but still felt baffled, if not bombarded, by the bard’s esoteric references, unconventional poetic forms, the mass of Maximus, etc. Sitting in that listening room, hearing Olson read his poems for the first time, was an unforgettable experience. "Projective Verse" became an immediate, irrevocably apparent source of energy and information — everything changed, and was charged by the sound. Listening is an aid to memory.

Goddard’s founder, Tim Pitkin, conceived of the College as a place for "plain living and hard thinking." Goddard was celebrated for its progressive and experimental practices that, like Black Mountain College, were inspired largely by John Dewey’s philosophy of education. In the ’60s, the student population was approaching its peak, with just over one thousand students enrolled after Allen Ginsberg claimed it was the “center of the universe.” According to Goddard alumni Don and Susan Wilcox, the reading was organized by Paul Winer, a student at the time, remembered fondly as a "honky-tonk piano player" who later "became a kind of traveling cabaret act calling himself 'Sweet Pie'." Winer eventually stopped touring to raise a family, and became known as the "naked book guy" and proprietor of the Reader’s Oasis Books in Quartzsite, Arizona. In Charles Olson: The Allegory of a Poet’s Life, Tom Clark sets the stage for Olson’s New England tour:

On an April reading swing through upper New England he took Betty along, but her presence did little to curb his need to force the public moment with artificial spirits. At Dartmouth, English professor John Finch, who had set up Olson's reading, could not help noticing his former eccentric roommate was acting 'more rambunctious' than ever before. At Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, Olson's next stop, he was at his outgoing best for the first few days of a week-long reading/lecture visit, helping a young but receptive student audience though his latest mythohistorical Maximus run by airing his views on the poet’s role as mythmaker—reformulated, he said, following discussions a few days earlier with Dartmouth French poetry expert Ramon Guthrie. (Guthrie had pointed out to him that the medieval French verb trobar meant to find, allowing word-root fanatic Olson to link the troubadour poets with Herodotus, Homer, and himself in the tradition of the investigative storyteller, 'the man who finds out the words.') But by the end of the week, both the poet himself and his wife had been summoned before the college Judiciary Committee, reprimanded for taking part in a wild drinking party on campus, and sternly 'told to abide by community laws while there.'

Long-time Goddard College professor of literature and fellow Black Mountaineer Will Hamlin confirmed the report when I interviewed him about the College’s history: "We threw that louse out of here." He also referred to Creeley as a "love" poet. Will was a student when BMC’s founder John Andrew Rice was still rector, long before Robert Duncan, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Motherwell, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, or Olson arrived on the scene. Hamlin wrote, but never to my knowledge finished, an excellent memoir about his time at Black Mountain. Rice once professed: "All colleges should be in tents, when they fold, they fold." He felt that the problem with institutions was that they were designed to survive, to sustain themselves, regardless of their function or relevance. Like any entity, Rice felt that a college should not live beyond its necessary years, and like Black Mountain decades earlier, Goddard shut down the campus early in the twenty-first century, signifying the end of progressive higher education in America.

Early in the recording, someone in the audience asks, "You don’t mind using a tape recorder do you?" to which the poet responds, "No. As a matter of fact I'm going to just watch it like a fire — let's sit here and watch that tape." The poet goes on to present an exegesis on the second century dialectician Maximus of Tyre in order to offer the uninitiated audience a context for The Maximus Poems. Olson’s critique of the poetry reading is the perfect introduction for a tremendous performance where the poet reads from the third and fifth volume of The Maximus Poems with selections from The Distances. From time to time, the audience asks Olson to re-read poems; other times, Olson reads poems twice or starts over in an effort to accurately perform the written word: "You dig? You want that again? I don't know. Call me if you'd like any one of these again. I have this problem with scoring, it's more difficult than music. Like one writes music one doesn’t play it. That’s that problem with this kind of performing situation. I'm not, I'm not, I’m not — I’m Beethoven!"

View of the Campus from Route 2, as Olson would have seen it

The technical and conceptual problems of transcription have been variously addressed by Havelock, as well as textual critic Jerome McGann, poet Jerome Rothenberg, and multidisciplinary artist Carolee Schneemann, who was once told by Olson that "...when the cunt began to speak [when women were finally allowed to perform], it was the beginning of the end of Greek theater." Although the reading and the lecture are built around extant texts, they are performances of "thought thinking"; much of what is said is improvisatory, humorous and insightful.

Kyle Schlesinger is a contributor to This Recording. His most recent book is Poems and Pictures: A Renaissance in the Art of the Book 1946-1981 (Center for Book Arts, 2010). Two books of poems are scheduled to appear in 2011: What You Will from NewLightsPress and Picture Day from Electio Editions. Schlesinger teaches the core courses in the online MS in Publishing Program at UHV.

 Charles Olson at Goddard College is due out from Cuneiform Press in July. The above was adapted from the introduction to the volume. You can preorder the book by e-mailing Kyle here.

All photographs are courtesy of the Goddard College archive. You can find recordings of Olson reading at PennSound.

The Manor via. fisheye lens