Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What would Charles Olson say?


Watch Mr. Colbert 'interview' Elizabeth Alexander at Colbert's website. Assignment:
  • Make sure you have read all assigned material for Charles Olson and have a working understanding of his text. You should be able to draw from his poems and essays, your notes from the readings, class discussion, and Ferrini's film, as well as anything else you decided to investigate that aided your understanding of Olson's 'poetics'.
  • Read and / or watch and listen Elizabeth Alexander's inauguration poem "Praise Song for the Day."
  • Watch the video clip of Alexander on the 'Colbert Report.' Even though this is 'funny', it is up to you to sift through and find something you can write intellectually about.
  • Respond to the following prompt: Based on your knowledge of Charles Olson's poetics, how would he respond to any of the following: any of Colbert's questions to Alexander, any of Alexander's responses to Colbert's questions, or Alexander's poem itself.
You will be graded on the MHS Open Response Rubric. Make sure you have sophisticated thesis & textual evidence to back up your assertions. 4+ = 100, 4 = 95, 3 = 85, 2 = 70, 1 = 60.

Your post must cover something that has not been covered in the comment stream before you, though elaboration is encouraged.

I would think you'd need at least 750 words to do this effectively.

This is due by 8 a.m. on Monday, Feb 2nd 2009. It will count as a 40 point 'homework' assignment. Late posts will only receive half credit, unless extension is granted beforehand.

19 comments:

Mary N. said...

The interview between Colbert and Alexander was hilarious, but very interesting and thought-provoking at the same time in that it covered the different aspects of poetry reading and poetry writing. Colbert purposed questions in his interview that were generally about the purpose of poems and the forms of poems. If Olson was present at the interview, he would respond to those questions by alluding to what he deemed as the principles of an open-verse poetry: kinetics and content.

“Poems aren’t true, are they? They’re made up, right? They’re made up.” This was the very first question Colbert asked Alexander upon sitting down for the interview.
Alexander responded to this question by stating that “poems are not true in the sense of strictly factional, but true to the emotions, the language it uses. Something in the poem that resonates, that feels true to you.” Alexander’s response really parallels with Olson’s idea of the kinetics of the content. Olson states in his essay that “A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it…by way of the poem itself to all the way over to, the reader” (Projective Verse). Thus, Alexander and Colbert both recognize that the purpose of a poem has to be to connect with its readers through the emotions and language it conveys through its content that are originally felt by the poets. As a result, Olson would respond to Colbert’s question in an almost identical way as Alexander did: it is all about the energy that the poet wants the poem to give off to its readers and its listeners, rather than about whether the content of the poem is true or false. Yet, at the same time, the content allows for an equal energy to be transferred by the poet and to be received by the readers and the listeners. In this situation, Alexander transfers her energy into her poem and to the listeners during the inauguration of Barack Obama by conveying the feeling of pride in “Praise Song for the Day,” in which she says is an ode to the people. In her poem, she writes of the everyday actions of the common people and celebrates them for the joy they bring. For example, she writes, “Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day./ Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,/ the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables” (Praise Song for the Day). Here, Alexander is obviously bringing light to how the common people struggle and work everyday. Olson also emphasizes the deep exploration of common everyday objects that people usually overlook in their lives in order to transfer equal kinetics from one source to another.

From Ferrini’s film “Polis is This,” Olson is considered to be a poet who stresses the comprehension of a piece of the earth and not just a simple perception of it. Olson is said to “scrutinize and to discover in things most people ignore” (Polis is This). Thus, Olson decided to stay in Gloucester and chose to write of Gloucester in his poem, “I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You” in order to fully and to deeply examine what his hometown is all about. He stressed the importance of completely capturing the meaning of one object from all different angles, the content in his poems. Colbert in his interview asked Alexander what a “praise song” is and she responded, “A praise song is a form of poetry, an ode. A way to name something that we take joy from.” If Olson was to answer this question, he would respond that all of his poems took the form of “praise songs,” as he was always giving an ode to the common everyday objects he found joy in exploring and examining, which is emphasized when Olson stated that “form is never more than an extension of content” in his essay (Projective Verse). For example, in “I, Maximus of Gloucester, To You”, Olson brings light to the gulls, the water, the fixed bells, the fish bone, and all other existences in Gloucester that most people would generally live without ever noticing: “the water glowed, the light west,/ black, gold, the tide,/ outward at evening…of a bone of a fish/ of a straw, or will/ of a color, of a bell.” Thus, the content of Olson’s poems always celebrates the everyday existences that people deal with on a daily basis but do not take into deep observation in the form of a praise song, which helps him transfer the energy he originally found from these objects to his readers.

According to Olson, kinetics and content always go hand in hand and never stray too far from each other, which parallels with Alexander’s poem “Praise Song for the Day,” discussed at the interview with Colbert. Olson would agree with Alexander when she stated that a poem must be true to the emotions and the language it conveys, which is a direct transfer of energy between the poet and his readers, and would agree with poetry taking the form of a praise song as his works always celebrated the common everyday objects in his hometown of Gloucester.

Ashley A said...

Mr. Colbert’s interview with Elizabeth Alexander, although quite comical, was interesting because Alexander explained her views on different forms of poetry and her views on her poem, Praise Song for the Day, in a simplistic, but yet enlightening method. The interview also speaks upon the various ways in which a person can interpret a poem and the meanings behind everyone word and idea. If Charles Olson attended the interview or had the opportunity to respond to Alexander’s poem itself, he would draw ideas from the essential points of Project Verse by Charles Olson which are “the kinetics…, the principle…, and the process.” (Olson)

Many times during the interview, Colbert constantly inquired, what the difference is between a metaphor and a lie. He also asked, why don’t you just say what you mean? Alexander responded by saying a metaphor is a way of using language to show comparisons and how one thing relates to another. She also felt that metaphors are used to increase language. If Olson were to comment on Alexander’s response, he would agree with her in the sense that metaphors, along with other literary techniques are necessary in conveying a deeper meaning of the content. Olson would describe this as the use of process, one of the major ideas in Projective Verse, because various literary techniques, such as metaphors are used to “shape the energies that the form is accomplished.” (Olson) Olson believes, “one perception must immediately and directly lead to a further perception” (Olson) and by using metaphors, writers are able to compare objects and elaborate not only on their importance as individual objects, but on the significance they convey as a whole, which furthers the thought process and perception.

Colbert continued the interview by asking Alexander, what is an occasional poem? She responded by saying it is a poem written for a specific occasion and gave the example of her poem, Praise Song for the Day, as a poem written exclusively for the inauguration. Colbert gave an example of an occasional poem he knew of, but Alexander emphasized the importance of breaking traditional views of occasional poems, by incorporating words that will hold a greater significance to the readers after the event is over. Olson would again agree with Alexander because of his views on “…the principle…” (Olson). Olson entered a new era of writing when he broke “away from traditional lines and stanzas” (Olson). Olson and Alexander are similar in their desires to go beyond ordinary writing and introduce diverse aspects of writing.

If Olson were to respond to Alexander’s poem, he would find many ideas of her writing similar to his ideas. Alexander began her poem with, “each day we go about our business/ walking past each other, catching each other's/ eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.” (Alexander 1-3) Alexander immediately establishes the idea the people go about their day, consumed with their own thoughts and rarely pay attention to anything that does not concern them. The speaker of Olson’s poem, The Songs of Maximus, also notices this and takes a more subtle approach to his day, “this morning of the small snow/ I count the blessings, the leak in the faucet/ with makes the sink time.”(Olson) The speaker of The Songs of Maximus comments on how the sink becomes time as water leaks into it from the faucet and it appears as if the speaker realizes how quickly time can drain. Alexander and Olson both convey the importance in taking notice to the finer things life has to offer.

In the Projective Verse, Olson comments on straying away from traditional writing and he does so with the intricate ways he breaks up the lines in his poems and uses this to aid the readers in understanding where one needs to pause before continuing to read. This essentially allows the readers to better understand the full content of the poem. Olson says many contemporary writers have trouble with untraditional writing because they “…go lazy RIGHT HERE WHERE THE LINE IS BORN.” (Olson) The readers assume that Olson feels that just as a writer comments on situations that are prevalent issues in their society, he falls short. However, Olson would have responded to Alexander’s lines in Praise Song for the Day, “say it plain: that many have died for this day/ sing the names of the dead who brought us here” (Alexander 25-26) in a positive way. Alexander showed that she was not timid in addressing past difficult issues because she was confident in knowing that those issues were significantly impact the message she strongly desired to convey.


The overall ideas of Alexander’s poem connected with many of the points Olson introduced in Projective Verse and in Ferrini’s film because they both understand the importance of looking to the past for guidance in determining a brighter future. Olson would respond to Alexander’s poem as following his idea of kinetics, a poem that has energy “transferred from where the poet got it, by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader.” (Olson) Olson was consumed with the city of Gloucester and horrified by numerous changes, but in Ferrini’s film Olson noted that he only wanted to find a way to honor the past and still make the present as good as possible. Both Alexander and Olson take the passage of time, and history into account when writing poems and although they do not try to stop progression, they simply see the importance of noting their origin in order to prepare themselves for life altering changes.

CarlaC said...

Carla Castillo



Stephen Colbert is a man who can combine the news and seriousness of politics with comedy which not many can do. In his interview with Elizabeth Alexander its is evident that Colbert can take a subject as historically important as a poem read at the inauguration of the first black president and make it comedic with out losing its level of importance. Although his witty banter and jokes can be a distraction underneath that is an actually serious interviewer. His questions to Elizabeth were valid in the fact that it was what most people would want to know about her poem, with out beating around the bush. I feel like Charles Olson would appreciate being questioned by a man who did not take him self to seriously and knew how to get right down to the heart of the matter. If Olson had been the one interviewed with the same questions I feel like he would agree with Alexander on the topics of the actual form of poetry but disagree with how he would have approached it.

Colbert began his interview with poking fun at this writers career with the statement “poems are made up aren’t they?” This does seem like just as joke but if the listener is pay close attention they see what Colbert really means to say to Alexander that poems are just a pretty statement but reading one or writing one does not actually change reality or make something true. Alexanders rebuttal is that they can be made up but are often to relate to a person or situation. If Olson had been there he most likely would say that Alexander was right that poetry is usually aimed towards emotions, but he would say that it is what the poet felt and wanted others in the same situation to see how they felt on it.


Colbert’s next question was “what is the difference between a metaphor and a lie.” Colbert asked this because he thinks that people should just say what they mean instead of hiding it behind fancy words. Alexander in a way agreed because she choose not to use a lot of elevated language in her poem Praise Song for the Day because she wanted it to relate to all of the people in the United States. Although she did that with her poem that does not mean she feels that way about metaphors because she feels that metaphors are a way of connecting two things that relate to each other. Olson would have probably agreed with that because metaphors are a way of bringing two things together by what they do or even what they are.

Colbert asked Alexander “what an occasional poem was?” Alexander responded that it is a poem related to an occasion regardless of whether it’s a wedding, anniversary, or in this case inauguration. Olson obviously would have felt the same way as Alexander because that is just a known fact in the world of poetry. Olson was quite a humble man he never felt vitally important or was ever full of himself. Olson felt this way because he knew that what he wrote did not change who he was. His poems were who he was so just because he wrote these beautiful pieces of work did not change that he had always been this man who was capable of these words. Olson would agree with most of Alexanders responses on what the actual structure of poetry was he would not have done things in the same manner.

Olson was an experienced poet who was completely dedicated to his work just like Elizabeth Alexander does but saw things differently like all poets can differ from each other. Although like every job like a plumber for example gives every plumber a similar way of life does not mean that they have the same experiences at work as each other. The same goes for poetry Olson was a man who loved to write poetry that was related to his life and the way he saw the world he constantly wrote about his home of Gloucester. It was his way of keeping his life and his memories from the past alive. Alexanders poem is related to an occasion that does involve her but not as personally as Olson’s poems were to him.

If Charles Olson had replaced Elizabeth Alexander in the Colbert interview he would have brought a similar yet different perception and interpretation of the questions asked of him by Stephen Colbert. Olson had a way of being able to see things as the way of an average everyday man. Not as some one of great importance and close mindedness. I feel if Olson had been the one to be interviewed people would relate to him much more than Alexander.

Kristen W. said...

Though very different within technique, Elizabeth Alexander and Charles Olson bear a same perspective into the world of writing. Both focus on one idea or event and then expand deep into that topic. Alexander was interviewed by Stephen Colbert. Colbert’s approach to literature was intellectual, yet disguised by extreme humor. He knew how to get to the heart of the matter, yet asked it in a completely humorous manner. The reality of the situation was that Colbert did indeed have questions to be answered and knew exactly how he wanted to ask them. If Olson was the one being interviewed his answers would have been very similar to those of Alexander but they would have been broken down around the idea of form a bit more.

Colbert opens up the interview with the immediate question of “poems aren’t true are they?” (Colbert). Alexander discusses the notion that they aren’t usually factually true, but do have the emotional realness to them. If this question was asked to Olson, he would have agreed with that basis. Alexander talks about how the emotion would connect how the author feels and how it makes the reader feel. This is very alike with the answers that Olson would give. The extension of the content gives the emotion form to the poetry and that is exactly how Olson would describe the idea of reality within poems.

Without wasting any time, Colbert jumps into his next question, “what’s the difference between a metaphor and a lie?” (Colbert). Although it is asked in a humorous manner, it is a very interesting topic to discuss. The definition of a metaphor is a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance. Alexander answers this question by stating the definition and providing that it is only a statement of comparison rather than a fact. Although that answer is correct, if this were an interview with Olson, he would have expanded on the idea of what a lie actually is. A lie is an opinionated term which could be used in different perspectives. Overall, Alexander and Olson have extremely similar approaches to their writing and how it should affect others.

The next question that was asked was, “what is an occasional poem?” (Colbert). He adds humor to it by stating directly after that, “a sometimes poem?” (Colbert). Although the humor is added, it is a great point to bring up. Colbert brings this up to provide more insight on what kind of writer Alexander truly is. She answers by saying, “an occasional poem is a poem written for an occasion.” (Alexander). That answer is simple, yet provides the right amount of information for the audience to understand her meaning. She continues to further describe that the context is written for a specific event, yet should be written so that when the event is over the poem may still be used useful after the event or time period is over. If Olson was answering this question he would have agreed with what Alexander said. He writes a lot about Gloucester, but those poems may be interpreted and understood by people who have never even seen Gloucester. Olson was never once gloating about his work and Alexander discusses poetry in the same subtle way that Olson would.

Although both poets have similar answers, they’re writing topics are very different from one another. They both focus on one idea and expand within it, but their ideas are up for interpretation. Olson writes of memories that are very personal and close to him while Alexander writes of events that are going on in the world such as the new presidency. They both connect to readers in different ways yet allow the reader to connect on a more emotional and deeper way. If Olson was in this interview rather that Alexander the answers would have been pretty much the same. Olson was a more ordinary and simple man with the same mindset as Colbert and probably would have been better suited for this interview. He would have had a better connection with Colbert and could have even interpreted the questions asked a bit different than the answers of Alexander. Elizabeth Alexander and Charles Olson are very related when it comes to their views on literature, but their meaning behind it is the one thing that may be what separates their views on the questions asked by interviewer Stephen Colbert.

sodaba said...
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sodaba said...

Although Colbert’s interview with Elizabeth Alexander was very comical, it gave a lot of insight on what a true poet thinks of his/her work, and how he/she feels about poetry and what it really means. Although Alexander was sometimes cut off by Colbert’s crazy remarks, she managed to put across her point of view, and precisely answer Colbert’s questions. I believe Olson would have done the same. He most likely would have answered the questions Colbert had in the same manner but involved more of his writing style in it, such as the projective verse or the open form that he used in most of his poetry.

In her poem, Praise Song for the Day, Elizabeth Alexander addresses the everyday tasks we carry out. The stanzas “Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each other's eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.” and “A woman and her son wait for the bus. A farmer considers the changing sky. A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.” refer to the ordinary things: people passing by each other, a woman at a bus stop, a farmer and a teacher busy at their jobs. She speaks of people’s everyday lives that go unnoticed, but on this particular day Alexander takes the time to mention a typical day one leads, and describes it in such a way that it seems remarkable and distinctive. “A farmer considers the changing sky. A teacher says Take out your pencils. Begin.” These lines represent the importance one has in his/her own life and the lives of others. The actions they are partaking in now can lead to greater things in the future. Charles Olson would have had a positive response to Elizabeth Alexander’s poem and her view of daily responsibilities of workers. He too would have stated that the ordinary things in life are what make us function. In the movie, Polis is this, it is indicated that ordinary things were a threshold to his [Olson’s] world, such as windows, doors, or the seashore. Olson believed in the small bliss’s of life. He cherished the little things in life, and was often very excited about his work, which can also be said about Elizabeth Alexander, based on her poem and her interview.

Colbert asks: “Poems aren’t true are they?” Alexander responds to his question by stating that “a poem should be emotionally true. True to the language that is has.” Where the reader can relate to the language the poet is using. Everyone has their own interpretation of a poem, depending on how they perceive the style of the poet. Charles Olson would agree to Alexander’s response, which can be backed up by Olson’s method of writing. Projective verse is where energy is transferred from where the poet gets it to the reader. Meaning the poem only has the meaning that the reader gives it. The message that the reader receives from the poet, and understands will be what makes the poem true. In a sense, both poets are stating that it is important what the reader resonates from the poem, whether it be relating to the poem or just grasping the concept.

Through this language Alexander answers Colbert’s question. “What is the difference between a metaphor and a lie?” She responds to him by affirming that “a metaphor is using language where you make a comparison to let people understand something as it relates to something else.” Metaphors are used to create greater meaning. Olson states that “one perception must immediately and directly lead to a further perception”. My understanding of this statement is that a view of a certain object or idea should definitely be taken in a different sense, which is further developed. He might have stated that a lie is different from a metaphor in that it is a form of deception intended to deceive others but a metaphors just backs the original idea by giving it a greater meaning.

Kayla P said...

In Colbert’s interview with Alexander, Colbert was able to add comedy to an interview that may have otherwise been dull. He injected humor in all the right places, which was appropriate for Alexander’s poem, and would have also suited Olson. Both poets focused on the simple things in life in their writing, and what pleasure could be simpler than a good laugh? If Olson were there, he probably would have taken the interview as Alexander did: with a mixture of laughs and educated responses about his poems.

One of the questions Colbert asked stuck out in particular. After inquiring about the difference between a metaphor and a lie, he said “Why don’t you say what you mean instead of dressing things up in all this flowery language?” Olson isn’t necessarily guilty of using flowery language, but he seems to completely ignore proper sentence structure and anything that isn’t a comma. So why doesn’t he just say what he means instead of trailing around the subject with the run on phrases that never seem to make sense? I believe that Olson would tell Colbert that this is exactly what he means. Those run on sentences that don’t make much sense are what is going on inside of him, and what he feels. Olson wrote “I have had to learn the simplest things last,” (Maximus, To Himself). He shows how the simple things are often the last ones that we encounter. Simplicity is something foreign in his mind. By subjecting to the reader to his jumbled thoughts, he is giving them a taste of what he has learned thus far.

Alexander said in the beginning of the interview that “A poem should be in some way emotionally true, true to the language that it has.” Olson would most likely be quick to agree with her here. His poems reflect on the jumbled emotions one may have when simplicity has not been learned.Taking the jumbled emotions he writes with into account, the reader can see a connection between Alexander’s quote and his line in “Maximus, To Himself”. Olson writes “And the single/ is not easily/ known.” This goes back to the foreignness of simplicity for him. His emotions and his life are not simple so his poems are emotionally true for him. He makes his works complex because in order for the reader to connect to his poetry, and in a sense, him, they must be able to decipher what he is trying to say. Since the reader must find a way to make poetry true and relatable to themselves before they can really enjoy it, his complex poems ensure that only those who will be able to relate to him on one level or another will understand. Alexander then brings up another point that Olson would agree with. She says “So that’s why [a poem] might speak to you because there is something in the poem that resonates; that feels true to you.” Olson connects to the reader by opening himself up, and leaving himself to be raw in his writing. This connection comes from the aspects of the poem that echo within a person who reads in, and understands how Olson is feeling.

Again, Alexander makes a comment that Olson would agree with. She says “What you want to do is write words that mark the occasion, but will last afterwards and be useful afterwards in some kind of way.” Olson’s emotions in all his poems leave behind a mark that will last no matter how long the poems have been around for. The same emotions that plagued him when he wrote are ones that will plague us, and our children, and their children. Things like that never change, so Olson’s poems will always be capable of touching another person’s heart. Yet he doesn’t make his emotions dressed up, just like Alexander doesn’t put Obama on a pedestal like a god. Colbert teased Alexander about that particular choice, saying “Why not light up the crowd with one of your metaphor lies?” Olson would most likely respond to this by telling Colbert that his emotions do not need to be dressed up. He can write them down in such a way that a person may not understand in the first read through, yet is raw enough so that he does not need to dress them up with metaphors or “lies” and Colbert so jokingly referred to them as.

Though Colbert is a humorous interviewer, his ability to ask questions is that of an expert. Though his interview was for a poet who wrote to our entire country, the questions, and answers still applied to a man who wrote about his own personal feelings.

Matt Z! said...

Stephen Colbert certainly has a knack for putting a comedic twist on something that otherwise would not be very funny. During his interview with inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander, he asked her questions pertaining to poetic style and literary techniques. Through her responses to these questions, a clear contrast becomes apparent between the literary outlook and style of Alexander, and that of the famous Gloucester poet Charles Olson. They differ in both their application of literary techniques, and their personal opinions about what makes these literary techniques important when used in poetry.

Towards the very beginning of Stephen Colbert’s interview with Elizabeth Alexander, he questions her views on poetry as a whole, asking “Poems aren’t true, are they?” While in the context of the interview this is interpreted as a humorous question, he does in fact pose a valid question. Alexander answered Colbert’s question by stating that poems are true in the sense that people “connect” with poems because it “feels true” to them, this would only be accomplished by utilizing a type of closed verse that could be interpreted in a variety of ways. A poem that utilizes a simple structure will be easily connected to by a variety of different people, allowing a variety of different personal connections to the poem. True to her personal beliefs, Alexander’s poem “Praise Song for the Day” uses a strict form with many 3-line stanzas, of about equal length. This allows for it to not only be interpreted on many different personal levels, but it also makes it fairly easy to comprehend. Had Olson been the one to answer this question, I believe that he would have stressed that a poem is ENTIRELY true, that a poem IS a wholly factual and true expression. In his essay “Projective Verse,” Olson states that a poem “is energy transferred . . . By way of the poem itself . . . To the reader.” (Olson) This transfer of energy, in the form of imagery, emotion, and phonetic qualities, is accomplished most accurately by the form of the poem, which the poem “declares, for itself.”(Olson) Olson would respond to Colbert’s question in stating that poems are inherently completely and utterly true, if written in his own personal style of projective verse, because the content and form of the poem is deliberately and precisely constructed to transfer the energy imbued by the poem by the poet. The poem, therefore, is a pure and completely “true” representation of the energy combined with the intent of the poet. These factors, present in Olson’s poetry, are meant to generate a SINGLE interpretation of the poem - the poem’s true meaning - for the reader to comprehend. On a more superficial level, Olson’s poetry centered greatly around the urbanization of Gloucester, and the way that this emotionally impacted him. He analyzed human society, culture, history, and his own personal views on said topics through his poetry. In this sense, his subject matter was entirely true and factual.

Another important question that Colbert asked Alexander was the humorous, but thought-provoking, “What’s the difference between a metaphor and a lie?” He elaborates by asking, “Why not just say what you mean instead of dressing things up in . . . flowery language?” According to Alexander, metaphors are simply modes of “comparison” that add more meaning to the text, or add multiple layers to an otherwise mundane text. Olson, on the other hand, would most likely have disagreed with this statement. According to Olson, “flowery” language impacts the reader through the interaction of the phonetics, the syllables of the words, with the breath of the spoken word when the poem is read aloud. Using flowery metaphors, for Olson, adds a whole new dimension to his poetry. He says in “Projective Verse” that syllables “juxtapose [words] in beauty,” and that the power of a specific verse of poetry is dependent on wether or not the poet “manages to register both the acquisitions of his ear and the pressures of his breath.” Instead of using mundane vocabulary, the introduction of flowery language can create splendid patterns of syllables, and can give the poem a wonderful feeling when read aloud by the musicality of the spoken words. This is referenced by Alexander earlier on in the interview, where she explains that the importance of language that is “de-centered enough” from the normal application of language that it makes you “stop and think” about the meaning behind the words.

Based on the difference between Olson’s and Alexander’s writing styles, it is safe to assume that had Olson been in Alexander’s place during this interview, there would have been a distinct difference in the way that he answered Colbert’s questions. His ornate but precise writing style would have shown through, as opposed to Alexander’s more mundane and freely-flowing style of poetry.

Mario P. said...
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Mario P. said...

The news can be such a depressing thing, so it is nice to see something like discussion of poetry on the news to take the people watching’s minds off the troubles in the world. The clip was of an interview between satire icon Stephen Colbert and the Inaugural Poet Elizabeth Alexander. Alexander did a good job of answering Colbert’s ludicrous, but valid, questions in a style that Charles Olson would be proud of.

The first question Colbert asked Alexander was one that I thought was ridiculous at first, second, and third glance, but Colbert’s seemingly sincere concern with it had me questioning it myself; “Poems aren’t true, are they?” To paraphrase, Alexander’s response was that when it came to the literal that most poetry is not “true,” but the energy that the poet planned on transferring through that poem is true. The response was uncannily similar to what Olson stated in his essay Projective Verse, “A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it…by way of the poem itself.”

After expressing his concern of the truthiness of poems, Colbert went on the question the difference between metaphors and lies using the example that if he stated that he is “the sun, and [Alexander] [was] the moon” that it would be a metaphor, but also a lie. Alexander responded, “Well that was a metaphor and a lie, the two are not necessarily exclusive.” Alexander continued to give her definition of a metaphor which she defined as “a way to make a comparison using language to let people understand as it relates to something else.” another thing that Olson said in his essay Projective Verse was “One perception must immediately and directly lead to a further perception.” If that isn’t the definition of a metaphor, that something seen must connect to something else that is unseen, then I don’t understand Olson at all. If however that was his definition, then Olson again would agree fully with Alexander’s response. Colbert rebutted with a whiny “why can’t you just say what you mean; instead of dressing things up in all this flowery language?” and seemingly won the argument of the difference between lies and metaphors.

After Colbert and Alexander’s discussion of metaphors and lies Colbert decides to focus on Alexander’s poem Praise Song for the Day. This is where an even stronger parallel between Olson and Alexander is made. The poem that Alexander wrote for President Barack Obama’s inauguration was entitled Praise Song for the Day. The poem itself is split into many stanzas that are only three or four lines long. This is very reminiscent of Olson’s style of creating poetry. In some of Olson’s poems like These Days and Variations Olson himself uses these small quick stanzas. Both Alexander’s and Olson’s use of metaphors throughout their poems makes it so much easier to say declare that they have similar writing styles.

The interview was classic Colbert, and made Alexander look good by having her survive his interview without making her look like the ridiculous one. I believe that if Olson was in her seat the interview definitely would have gone differently, but the questions asked would have gotten the same answers as Alexander gave. Oh yeah, and the interview was funny too.

Jenny L said...

Colbert and Olson, one critical and realistic, while the other, pensive and philosophical, represent the opposing views that exists on the subject of poetry. While Colbert questions the purpose, the meaning, and the structure of poetry, Olson, answers it in his poems and his essay, Projective Verse 1950. In Colbert’s interview with Elizabeth Alexander, he asks questions that would likely have Olson appalled at the lack of understanding he has. Though Colbert’s questions have a comedic quality, it also has the effect of making one question poetry, asking poets “why don’t you just say what you mean instead of dressing stuff up in all this flowery language?” (Colbert).

Rather than just saying what he means, Olson explores the depths of poetry starting from “the smallest particle of all, the syllable.” He looks closely at details that people would ordinarily overlook. In Ferrini’s “Polis is This”, Olson is said to not only see what others ignore, but to scrutinize it to its very core as well. He uses the same mentality in addressing poetry. Poems are more than just words following words, but they together, with the syllables enunciated by each, form lines that create an energy only felt through experience and empathy. In his poem, I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You, he ignores all conventions of “normal” language and creates breaks of lines and stanzas, as well as sporadic placement of his words. Though Colbert would likely question the necessity of such complexity in trying to convey a message, Olson would counter that in examining the unexamined, and noticing the ignored, one would gain an awareness that allows the use of one’s eyes to comprehend surroundings and changes.

In his poetry, Olson exudes a sense of nostalgia as well as a condemnation of the changes that wipes away the origins of Gloucester as it becomes more industrialized. Colbert would undoubtedly question the necessity of “such flowery language”, but Olson includes the “birds”, the “roof-tops”, the “pink shingles”, the “milkweed hulls” and other “flowery language” to form a connection with people familiar with Gloucester. Similar to the views of Elizabeth Alexander in that literary techniques “use language to increase meaning”, Olson possesses a unique style of conveying his messages through utilization all aspects of the senses. He incorporates images of the wharfs of Gloucester, and the daily mundane activities of not only the people, but the surroundings, the sounds of “gulls”, “water”, and “tide” to create a sort of “silence before the storm” mood as Gloucester is on the onset of change with “billboards” and other signs of commercialization. Much like Alexander’s poem, Praise Song for the Day, which speaks of the onset of change, a departure away from the daily routine of ”each day… [going] about our business /walking past each other, catching each other's/eyes or not, about to speak or speaking”, Olson recognizes the small shifts that contribute to the greater changes to come. Not only would Olson understand the approach Alexander uses in conveying that America is “On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp…for walking forward in that light” but he would also respond that “one perception must immediately and directly lead to another perception.” Alexander’s perception of the change to come under the new presidency paves the way to the perception of hope.

Continuing to play devil’s advocate, Colbert questions the legitimacy of poetry, as he asks, “Poems aren’t true, are they? They’re made up, right?” To this question, like Alexander, Olson would not hesitate to respond that poems are true, true in the sense “the projective involves a stance toward reality outside a poem as well as a new stance toward reality of a poem itself.” Far from the simplistic views Colbert holds of poetry, Olson has a more complex view one in which not only addresses its construction but also the impact and effect it is suppose to create. Olson believes that “a poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it… by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader.” (Olson) This “energy” that he speaks of derives from the experience the poet tries to convey through his works, and should therefore be felt by the reader. It is the “commonality of experience” (Colbert) that both Alexander and Olson emphasizes in their works. This “commonality” shows Colbert that metaphors in fact are not lies, but are connections poets incorporate to trigger personal memories of events and experiences.

Throughout the interview, Colbert questions why is it that poems are not written more bluntly, less puzzle like, and a bit easier to comprehend. Olson would explain that “breath is man’s special qualification as animal. Sound is a dimension he has extended. Language is one of his proudest acts… And when a poet rests in these as they are in himself … then he, if he chooses to speak from these roots, works in that area where nature has given him size, projective size.”

Andy V. said...
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Andy V. said...

Stephen Colbert uses witty satire and seemingly boundless energy to entertain his viewers. He brings up news and questions in a comedic way to attract people while enlightening them. His questions and responses may seem like jokes, but can insightful questions. In his interview with Elizabeth Alexander, he asked questions about the purpose of poems and its literary technique. Olsen’s response to Colbert’s questions would be based on his belief of what a poem is and its purpose.

Colbert quickly starts the comedic questions right when he sits down on the chair. He asks “poems aren’t true, are they?”(Colbert) While comedic and easily misunderstood, the question does have a reason more than just for laughs. Colbert follows his question will concern that a poem he recently read was an accurate description of his life and future. He was concern that if poems are actual facts. He was afraid that the poem was telling him “no matter what he achieves in his life that he is never really going to be great.”(Colbert) Colbert in the end is actually asking, what is the purpose of poems? Is it meant to be factual information or something else? If Olsen was to answer the question he would bring up his belief “a poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it.”(Projective Verse) Olsen believes that influences in a poet’s life allows the poet to the create poems. The poet has thoughts and believes from these influences and tries to express them in a form of a poem. The readers can then see the message in the poems. The poets beliefs feels true to the readers and it allows people to connect with poems. I believe his response would be similar to Alexander’s in the sense that poems is not “strictly factual, but a poem should be, in some way, emotionally true, [and] true to the language that it has.” (Alexander) Olsen would say that poems are not meant to state facts but gives a point of view and allow the reader to see that point of view and think about it. Just as his poems about the change in Gloucester were meant for people to see though his eyes, poems are the energy passed though the poets to the reader.

Colbert follows up with his question, “What is an occasional poem?” (Colbert) Alexander responds by responding with the factual answer being that an occasional poem is just for a certain occasion. Colbert then relates her poem to comical theme and goes deeper into how it “only makes sense when you are at Thunder Dome.” (Colbert) Alexander then proceeds to point out that the poem should be used to “mark the occasion but write words that will last afterwards and be useful afterwards in some kind of way.” (Alexander) Olsen would completely agree with Alexander’s idea of the occasional poem. Olsen’s Maximus poems are similar to “Praise Song for the Day.” Olsen’s Maximus poems were created for the occasion of the sudden change in the old city of Gloucester. Old buildings were being taken down and his town was changing from the once humble fishing community. He knew that Gloucester was changing, but the right change for the fishing community. His poems was specifically about Gloucester but is also meant to have a lasting affect. Generations later should listen to Olsen’s message and remember what Gloucester is and make the right choices for it. The poem can also be interpreted for other communities or even other elements of life. Even though poems can be occasional poems, both Alexander and Olsen would agree that words should be used in a way so that the lesson can be still used after the occasion is long past.

Colbert’s quick tosses of comedic questions and comments hold deep questions. When he asks if poems were real, he asked about the purpose of the poem and how it should be understood. Both Alexander and Olsen will have similar response in which they both believe that poems not facts but it can have a message that is true to the reader. When he brings up the point about occasional poems, Alexander relays her idea of how a poem’s lesson can still live on similar to the purpose of the creation of the Maximus poems. Although Alexander and Olsen created different poems from different occasions, they both would answer Colbert’s humor in a similar way.

Mels1619 said...

The interview between Stephen Colbert and Elizabeth Alexander introduced an intellectual topic in a humorous manner. Colbert interviewed Alexander in a short period of time but he was able to obtained valuable information that the audience may have been wanting to hear.

In the interview Alexander tried to maintain a serious and important topic. A response, in particular, from Alexander, caught my attention; “[poems] should be emotionally true”, she then elaborates that there must be “something in the poem that feel is true…that is how you connect to the poem”. If Olson would have been present in this interview, he would of agreed with most of Alexander‘s response.

To elaborate more on this response, let’s look at Olson’s essay Projective Verse. At the beginning, Olson discusses about Kinetics and its role in poetry. His firsts thoughts: “A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it” (Olson). This simple theory relates to Alexander’s response to Colbert’s questions “Poems aren’t true?”. Alexander explained that there has to be something behind the poem that must be true, something that made the poet write about, and Olson’s kinetics (“high-energy construct“) proves this. Even though Alexander’s response relates to Olson’s ideas, I believe Olson would of answered this questions in a much better manner. He would of elaborate more on it and go deeper into what separates poems between fiction and reality.

Moving forward, another question asked by Colbert; “What’s the difference between a metaphor and a lie?” created a deeper conversation yet comical. Colbert then continues to elaborate on the question by asking Alexander why can’t you just say what you mean without using “flowery language”(Colbert). Alexander’s response consisted on the definition of a metaphor and she argued that they are used just for comparison instead of facts. She responded that “a metaphor is using language where you make a comparison to let people understand something as it relates to something else.” Poetry is about what the poet might be going through at some point, and the flowery language adds to those emotions. The idea of using metaphors can easily relate back to the idea of Kinetics (energy). As metaphors are being use by poets to increase meaning between their experiences and emotions, they also want to create this “energy” between their words and their audience. But going back to Olson, if this question would have been asked to him, he would elaborate more on the idea of what a lie really is? Olson had this intellectual perspective about life and he would of rather maintain the focus on the “lie” then into the “metaphor”.

One of the last questions asked by Colbert was “What is an occasional poem?”. He brought up a good point because readers, at times, may wonder about the occasion of the poem and if it is meaningful. Alexander simply responded “an occasional poem is a poem written for an occasion” (Alexander). The context of the poem is written for a certain event, an event that any reader could relate to. The good thing of poetry, is that it can be interpreted in various ways, which provides the audience with the option to interpret poems in any way they want.

Both Olson and Alexander agrees in similar aspects of poetry. Even though they write about different “occasions”, they maintain the idea of writing with emotions yet giving the audience space to interpret their poems as freely as they can. Both Olson and Alexander use language to increase meaning. While Olson keeps his topics to be about Gloucester, to introduce this city to those who have never lived or visit it in a philosophical style, Alexander is more realistic and writes about events that are currently happening. The interview with Colbert, opened our minds to compare and contrast these two poets. With few knowledge of Alexander’s career, and with a higher knowledge of Charles Olson’s poetics, this interview would have been more meaningful is Olson was the one being interviewed. Even though Alexander never went off topic, her responses were quite simple. Olson, on the other hand, would have answered with the same ideas but he would have put more thought on his responses.

The interview would of definitely gone differently if Olson was present. I dare to say that perhaps if would have been less humorous and more intellectual. During Ferrini’s film “Polis is This”, Olson was introduced as this high-intellectual man. Olson would of made this interview still interesting, he was a people’s person as many mentioned in Ferrini’s film, but he definitely had this influence over people that made everything more intense and profound.

Cynthia R said...

Although intended to be an interview strictly for the purpose of comedy, Stephen Colbert’s interview with poet, Elizabeth Alexander, turned out to be not only humorous but also thought-provoking. While Colbert was asking questions that could be thought to be silly or funny, they were actually questions that pop up into many readers’ minds when analyzing poetry. Colbert’s questions included, but were not limited to “Poems aren’t true, are they? They’re made up, right?” and “What’s the difference between a metaphor and a lie?” Possibly the most important question that Colbert asked to Alexander, who read her poem, Praise Song for the Day, at Barak Obama’s inaugural ceremony, was, “Why don’t you just say what you mean; instead of dressing things up in all of this flowery language?”
Had Charles Olson been there during the interview, or had simply watched it on television, how would he have responded? To begin, it should be made clear that Olson would have most likely not been a fan of Alexander’s work. In his own work, Olson focused greatly on the form of his poetry and even said in his essay that, “For is never more than an extension of content.” Both what was being said and how it was being said were important to Olson. Specifically, Olson tried to make his work mimic breathing; in a sense, when a poem is being written, it should be kept in mind how a person would read it out loud. In poems such as I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You and The Death of Europe, Olson carefully spaced out his words so that they would be read in a specific way. When Olson reads his poems out loud it is even more evident just how important the spacing of his words is.
When laid out, Alexander’s poem does not have unique or interesting spacing. Instead she just has fourteen stanzas containing three lines each and a final stanza with one line. When read out loud, the poem carries a repetitive and drawn out beat to it. Alexander probably wanted the poem to sound like an every day routine in order to emphasize daily life and contrast it with that particular day, President Obama’s inauguration, and its historical significance. Although the poem was probably meant to be simple, it was too ordinary; so ordinary that it was some what boring. Olson would have probably heavily criticized Alexander’s lack of attention to the melopoeia of her poem.
He would have also criticized the simplicity of Alexander’s poem and yet how verbose it was. It seems as though Alexander could have carried out the same message in a much more powerful and short poem. Probably in trying to create a poem that spoke to the masses, Alexander used every day words instead of using “flowery” words as Colbert called them. More mature vocabulary could have taken the poem to another level at which it might not have been understood the first time, but only understood when deeply analyzed. From Henry Ferrini’s film Polis Is This, one could infer that to Olson, completely understanding a piece of writing was not the most important thing. In fact, it was perfectly fine to walk away from a poem not comprehending every word, line, or idea, but instead thinking. Unfortunately, Alexander left the audience no room to think. Her poem was so simple and dully universal that it required no thought.
Alexander could have greatly benefitted from that “kinetic energy” that Olson mentioned in his essay Projective Verse and that Ferrini mentioned in his film. Olson believed that, “a poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it…, by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader.” Alexander, although probably very excited and honored to have been at the inauguration, did not give off the energy that she could have. If she had read the poem in a different, possibly more definitive or firm tone, she might have been more captivating.
As for Olson’s response to Colbert’s specific questions, it is possible that he would have been irritated and even offended by Colbert’s attitude toward poetry. Olson was a man that clearly took poetry seriously especially since he often wrote about his own life, such as the way Gloucester changed around him. “Flowery” would not have been a word that he would have even associated with poetry and he would have responded to Colbert by telling that him that poets choose each word they use carefully in order to convey a certain idea. Each word is necessary and vital to the theme of the poem. Although most likely not a fan of Alexander, Olson would have probably defended her work in front of Colbert for the simple fact that she is a poet, just like him, and Olson took his craft seriously.

Tzivia H said...

Tzivia Halperin

Throughout his interview with Elizabeth Alexander, Stephen Colbert utilized his brash humor in order to disseminate ideas on her poem, “Praise Song for the Day” and on poetry in general. During the course of which it became clear that Alexander’s poetry in many ways reflected the ideals of deceased poet Charles Olson, especially in her discussion of emotional truth. However, in form the two highly juxtapose, Alexander emphasized a general structure of three-lined stanzas where Olson rejected structure to convey speech. Although Alexander’s poem may have resonated with Olson thematically, his emphasis of the abstract would have put him at odds with her.

After initial introductions, Stephen Colbert launched into the question, but “poems aren’t true?” which was greeted by an explosive round of laughter. Although humorous, his flippant question allowed Alexander to explore the difference between emotional and literal truth. As she described it, poetry does not have to be “true in the strictly factual sense” but rather “emotionally true.” Truth was therefore objective, different for every reader, depending on how he or she interpreted it and what emotions it conjured. Her response would likely be quite comparable to Olson’s, had Olson too been interviewed. Olson’s abstract poetry, that was highly reliant on imagery, emphasized an emotional rather than literal truth. In “Song 2” of “Songs of Maximus,” Olson writes, “how get out of anywhere (the bodies/ all buried/ in shallow graves?” which conjures images of corpses atop the earth, making movement difficult. His imagery emphasizes an emotional truth- being moored to an area, rather than a literal truth. This idea is further conveyed in his essay “Projective Verse,” especially in his discussion of perceptions. He noted, “ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION.” In choosing to use the word “perception” rather than truth i.e., Olson (like Alexander) contends that poetry reveals understanding in a different manner for different people.

Colbert later posed the question “what’s the difference between a metaphor and a lie?” which was not answered in depth. Olson, like any poet, does employ rhetorical devices to convey his ideas. In the poem “Maximus of Gloucester, to You,” Olson writes “love is form, and cannot be without/ important substance (the weight, say, 50 carats, each of us perforce,/ our own goldsmith’s scale.” In this manner, Olson utilizes a metaphor to emphasize the importance of substance by comparing it to an important substance, gold. In spite of using these stylistic elements in his poetry, Olson would be opposed to Colbert’s consideration of metaphors as simply “flowery language” that are only used to “dress up” writing. Olson contends in his essay “Projective Verse” that descriptive language can be a central aspect of writing as long as it doesn’t detract from the ideas and is used sparingly. He writes, “The descriptive functions generally have to be watched, every second, in projective verse, because of their easiness, and thus their drain on the energy which composition by field allows into a poem…if allowed in, [they] must be so juxtaposed, apposed, set in, that it does not, for an instant, sap the going energy of the content toward its form.” Olson qualified his discussion of figurative language that it was only relevant until content suffered for the sake of form.

Olson’s discussions of content versus form would place Alexander very much at odds with him. In her own poem “Praise Song for the Day,” Alexander consistently uses stanzas of three lines with about 9-11 syllables per line. In the converse, the structure of Olson’s poetry is immeasurable. The lines and line spacings are always distinct, providing different breathing and pauses. This is evident even in his reading of the poem, “Maximus, To Himself” where extra pause was given between the lines that ended with “obedience” and “that we are all late/ in a slow time,” as the latter lines were offset. Olson noted that “FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT” in his essay “Projective Verse.” It is the content itself and an expression of everyday speech that should forge line length, spacing, stanzas. “Each of these lines is a progressing of both meaning and the breathing forward, and then a backing up, without a progress or any kind of movement outside the unit of time local to the idea,” Olson wrote. Alexander’s strict adherence to stanzas and syllables for form’s sake rather than content’s remains in disagreement with Olson’s ideals.

Michaela I. said...

In the interview with Elizabeth Alexander, Colbert posed simple questions about poetry, and although the simplicity of the questions was used as a comedic technique, these questions were so simple that they proved powerful and ironically insightful. The first of the series of comical questions was “Poems aren’t true are they?” To which Alexander responded by explaining that poems are not “strictly factual” but are “emotionally true” and “true to the language that [they have]”. If Olson was asked this same question he most likely would have agreed with Alexander’s response. According to his essay Projective Verse, Olson did believe poems to reflect true, sincere feelings. When explaining how a line of poetry is formed he writes that lines develop from “the HEART, by way of the BREATH, to the LINE” The heart, being the source of true emotion, is responsible for producing poetry. Therefore the poetry produced is true. Looking at this question through Olson’s eyes, it is important to recall that Olson often referred to producing poetry as a transfer of energy. Taking that point into consideration, it is only logical that if honest emotional energy from the heart is transferred to poetry then that poetry is honest as well. Also, according to the film, Polis Is This by Ferrini, Olson’s intent was to get readers to understand the dire effects of industrialization in Gloucester and the pivotal role of the average citizen. When discussing such topics, topics that were taken with apparent seriousness, Olson spoke and wrote with honesty, would never have reason to lie. So according to Alexander and probably Olson as well, the emotional truth in poems is what makes them “true” as opposed to the adherence to factual information.

The second question was phrased in a simple manner similar to the first: “What’s the difference between a metaphor and a lie?” Alexander’s response was that metaphors are comparisons that allow readers to understand a greater idea in relation to something else. Colbert then argues, “Why don’t you say what you mean?” If Olson was present for this interview he may have responded to this question by first agreeing with Alexander’s basic explanation of a metaphor. Then he may have defended the use of metaphors, a technique he uses in his poems, Maximus of Gloucester, To You and The Song of Maximus, by explaining that lies are an act of dishonesty and do not help a reader understand poetry, while metaphors are used with the intent to help not deceive.

As for Olson’s thoughts and opinions on Alexander’s work, although their writing techniques were rather different, Olson perhaps would have appreciated Alexander’s poetry more for its themes rather than its form or delivery. In Alexander’s poem Praise Song for the Day, her thoughts on the everyday life and role of the common citizen in relation to his or her surroundings, history, and context are prevalent. Olson’s poetry tended to focus on locality and the life of the common citizen. That being said, when it comes to the question of how he’d respond to Elizabeth Alexander’s poem Praise Song for the Day, Olson would appreciate certain aspects of this poem because the theme of “the citizen” is retained. For example, Alexander writes,

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

These lines simply demonstrate the daily routines of citizens and the continuing daily action that Olson discusses in his essay, Projective Verse. Olson writes, “ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION.” Alexander’s work reflects this thought technically in the sense that she maintains a continuous flow of action. She mentions the pair waiting for the bus, the farmer and then the teacher, one after another in a continuous manner. This is exemplary of Olson’s idea of immediate connections between perceptions. Also, in some parts of her poem Alexander’s use of commas reflects this idea as well. The idea of parts constituting a whole is an idea shared by both poets. In her poem, Alexander uses the word “we”, mentions the idea of individuals existing together in America, and love transcending “marital, filial, national” relationships. All of these ideas focus on the greater idea of citizenship and the togetherness that comes with such citizenship. In Olson’s essay he discusses how the “part of a whole parts come together to make a whole like the community”. Both poets address similar topics and therefore Olson would have enjoyed that aspect of Alexander’s poem. Finally, similarities in the use of imagery, particularly sound imagery, are present in both Olson’s Maximus of Gloucester, To You and Alexander’s poem. In Praise Song for the Day she writes:

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

While he writes:

The fixed bells rang, their voices
came like boats over the oil-slicks,
like milkweed hulls

Olson uses sounds to describe the city around him and to metaphorically describe a larger idea. Alexander does the same in her poem. Therefore, taking the similarities between the two excerpts into consideration, Olson would have appreciated the use of sound imagery in Alexander’s poem.

Olson’s presence would have allowed viewers to gain interesting insight on the topics presented, but his death prevented such opportunity. As for Alexander, she addressed the questions with a simplicity that helped the viewer understand her point. And although differing in style, both poets provide somewhat similar insight of the world around them, from the viewpoint of a citizen.

R. Gallagher said...

Good morning.
It is a little after eight a.m.

Stephen said...

Here's my Open Response

Elizabeth Alexander was given the special honor of reciting a poem at the inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States. Her poem, “Praise Song for the Day” was generally favorably received by fellow poets. However, some commentators, notably the fictional Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report panned the poem. Elizabeth Alexander was interviewed by Colbert on the Report, where she explained some of her thoughts on the poem to a somewhat sarcastic Colbert. Although Colbert, we assume, has no obvious literary background, another famous poet named Charles Olson, who was a modernist, may have vocally responded to this poem had he been alive to hear it. A distinguished poet of his time, Olson is regarded as a poet of the first order. Although he is dead, Olson left behind a wealth of information that allows analysts of poetry to determine his personal poetic philosophy. An essay in particular, entitled “Projective Verse” differentiated between the kind of poetry that Olson approved of and the kind that he doesn’t believe to be truly inspired. Were he alive today, Charles Olson, if he had watched the delivery of “Praise Song of the Day” and the interview that Alexander conducted with Colbert, would have criticized Elizabeth Alexander’s responses to Colbert as too inflexible, her poem as too structured and, and her delivery as too flat.
In the interview with Stephen Colbert, Elizabeth Alexander responded to Colbert’s trademark obnoxious style with patience, grace, and scholarly definitions. However, Charles Olson, while agreeing that the questions were answered gracefully, would fully disagree with the substance of her answers. Several times, when Stephen Colbert raised questions about elements of her poem, Alexander corrected them. Colbert raised a question about the title, asking whether the poem was a “praise song,” or a poem that “praises” something called “song.” Her responses places her poem into one extreme of this choice, instead of allowing for reader interpretation of the poem. Instead of allowing readers to gain different impressions on the poem, Alexander corrects and formalizes her poem into one category. If her title had been interpreted as a poem that “praises” something called “song,” the results are intriguing. When we, as readers, read the lines:

“Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.”

with the latter interpretation, then we can read this poem as a glorification of the idea of “song” rather than simply as “praise song.” By responding to Colbert’s question by concretely categorizing her poem, Alexander, to use Olson’s words, “closes” her poem rather than allowing it to be a “field composition.” While Colbert’s questions are very obnoxious, Olson would have criticized Alexander’s responding to the question in the first place, since it undermines the idea that poetry is what the reader interprets it to mean.
Reading the text of Alexander’s inaugural poem, it is immediately clear that this poem is highly structured. With fourteen three line stanzas and one line at the end, this poem follows a predictable pattern. While some poets believe this to be elegant, Olson disagrees, emphatically stating that “FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT.” While Alexander maintains the structured three line stanzas even when talking about chaos:

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.
This clearly shows a case of content standing alone- the form of the poem isn’t arranged to supplement the ideas of the poem. In contrast, Olson’s Maximus poems practice what he preaches, with indentations and an arrangement of the lines for effect, and to add emphasis. Olson, in critiquing Alexander’s poem, would note that, in his view, her poem is “closed” and “non-projective.” Olson is also “against syntax,” and “against grammar generally” in poetry, believing them to be too constraining for poetry that, in his view, must be an “open field,” rather than being constricting. Poetry, Olson reasons, must be allowed to rise above the mundane aspects of writing, to defy logic. Alexander’s poem, on the other hand, is a study in proper syntax, a direct contrast to Olson’s main premise of poetry.
When viewing Alexander’s delivery of the poem, one can note her rather flat and emotionless recital of the poem. Olson devotes many pages in his essay to the discussion of syllables and of delivery. Utilizing a prose-like style, Alexander goes through a litany of the everyday events happening to convey a sense of continuity in life. Olson, if he had watched her deliver her poem, would have criticized her flat delivery and a wasted opportunity to use inflection and different speaking styles to complement the poem’s message as an overall praise for the daily life that goes on in regular people’s lives. Indeed, Olson would probably have also criticized her performance as lacking physical energy, inhibiting the transfer of energy from the poet to the listener which Olson cites as a preeminent reason for poetry.
Alexander’s poem can be contrasted with Olson’s Maximus poems, which is clearly arranged with form in mind, for a specific purpose, and to reflect the poems themselves. Olson practiced what he preached, and recordings of Olson reading his poetry confirm that his delivery style was varied and paid attention to syllabic nuances. Projective Verse, defined in poetry by, but is not limited to, fluidity in interpretation, use of different structure in poems to complement the content of poetry, and cognizance of the style of delivery, are all missing from Alexander’s work, and thus Olson would term this poetry “run of the mill.”