Thursday, September 23, 2010

Charles Olson (online) reader and links

Please read / watch / listen to all of the following items for the SRD on Tuesday, September 28th.  Note: Some of these things may require you to read more than once, mark up / take notes, etc. so that you can have something specific, probing, and sophisticated to say in class.

Charles Olson reads "Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld]"

Print and read all of the following for class discussion:

Finally, you have 48 hours (from the end of Tuesday's class) to make a comment in the comment stream that continues the class discussion:
recommended minimum: 700 words

Post your reaction to something specific and thought provoking from a classmate's comment in the SRD and elaborate on how it could be used to further explicate the poetry of Charles Olson--please be specific and original--this is not the place to be restating ideas, but furthering them . . .

This post will be graded on the Malden High Open Response Rubric and counted as a homework grade.  Because of the nature of the assignment, late credit will not be granted.


KKatz said...

From the student run discussions the past two days, it is hard to put all my ideas and thoughts into a certain form. So what I would like to do is to start off saying my ideas are about Olson’s structure and meaning. I am going to start in the order that the poems are on the blog. So for Olson’s Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld], the line beginning with “it is the imposing...” I want to further what Alex had said about Olson using big words with a lot of syllables and how he makes something so simple sound really deep, not just in this poem, but the rest of his Maximus poems as well. I wanted to connect Alex’s idea to Olson’s biography. From his biography, it says that Olson believes that “from the union of the mind and the ear that the syllable is born. But the syllable is only the first child of incest of verse...” I just wanted to know, why Olson would say a child of incest of verse? Is the syllable like the offspring of two similar pieces of writing that start a poem? In this Letter 27, Olson speaks a lot in the future tense and it’s related to why aren’t we changing? Towards the end of this poem, Olson brings up this philosophical idea of like dualism - the separation of the mind and body and how we see ourselves as a body an soul. And what he writes is saying that he is comfortable in his own skin and he doesn’t need to separate different aspects of himself or change. He feels as though American feels the need to change and fit in with the social norms.

Okay so now Maximus to himself; my favorite is the pun in the beginning, which Mr. Gallagher brought up at the end of class. It is a great way to start his poem because it makes a reader really think about what Olson is trying to say. Here, Olson considers, philosophically of course, how he navigates or has navigated the “waters” of his own life. This poem is like his own personal letter to himself. I think Joao brought up how Olson is giving his insight into why things are changing and how he has not changed and doesn’t plan to change. He also mentions how he thinks he has done everything he could and some things just are. I want to connect this to the movie as well and it said that “we do have the ability to change, but can we still keep our roots?” This also reminded me of The Namesake and Things Fall Apart because it dealt with characters trying to keep their roots or trying to sway away from them and as much as we try to sway away from old culture, we end up making culture anyway. Olson is showing us that Americans are trying to sway away from our traditions for newer and better things.

Olson’s next poem, I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You, really focuses on the ideas of nostalgia and staying in the past. But I think it was Nidale or Alex who brought up this idea that he also says that the shiny new thing is better than the old thing. So Olson is inevitably contradicting himself, which brings up another one of Alex’s point and how it relates to the complex human and how we are always contradicting ourselves.

My favorites were The Songs of Maximus: Song 1 and 2. I like how it showed how America has become this nation where we rely on everything to be done for us and we have become brainwashed by all of the consumerism. I wanted to focus on Philip’s idea of transcendentalism because I think thats really what Olson wanted for everyone; this idea of the culture of a city or nation to override it’s fascination with material things and values. We have become this corrupted, shallow-thinking nation where everything is going wrong.
Olson’s Letter 2 I think, focuses on how America, or just Gloucester fell into this sort of gray area of thinking. We sway many different ways; it is never just black and white with people. We have lost our ways and our traditions, and Olson thinks we will never make it back to the way we used to be the way it was good.

KKatz said...

I had to post this part separate because it only allows 4,096

Overall, I love how Olson structured his poems. I believe that the way Olson structured his poems is how he wanted them to be read; with the pausing and the stopping so readers could take the time and actually think about what it is that has happened to us. As for meaning, I like Olson’s approach to our changes in becoming a materialistic nation. Reading these poems gave me a better understanding of how life used to be and how good the simple things were.

(but it is altogether 819 words! yay! courtesy of word count)

Renee S. said...

Charles Olson was an American modernist poet and studying him provides insight on one of his main topics; Gloucester, Ma. In fact, Olson’s series of Maximus poems show how according to Olson, the values of Gloucester have disintegrated. Lets take a few steps back, even though we know Olson is not a fan of doing so. As discussed in class, the word Maximus is a Latin term for the maximum, or large amount. I interpreted this idea of Maximus in two different ways; the first being that Olson sees himself as the greatest most knowledgeable poet. The second being that Olson writes because he wants to regress to more traditional times in Gloucester because there has been a large amount of change.

Olson was said to have anti-humanistic views, which is understandable. Humanism is defined as the reckless disregard for environment. His collection of Maximus poems appear as an argument against traditional poetic forms yet the function as a metaphor for the criticism of “inherited” culture and tradition.
I did some research and discovered that Olson admired the ancient civilization of Sumer. He valued its coherence and the joining of knowledge to culture because it had “one center.”

Renee S. said...

In Polis is This, we learn that Olson does not have a car with a reverse gear because he does not like to be put into a position in which he has to go backwards. I find this quite contradicting to the message that Olson is portraying. Polis is this sort of Eutopianism or what Olson wants Gloucester to be like. He wants Gloucester to go back to the way it was before. In fact, as Kristina pointed out in class, in The Songs of Maximus: Song 1 Olson writes “No eyes or ears left to do their own doings.” This after reading Projective Verse and watching the video is a very deep line. We can see Olson’s disappointment of how technology has taken over Gloucester and how it does everything for us. In I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You, Olson uses the past tense of verbs. For instance “neoned”, “glowed”, “used” and “came.” Again, Olson is revisiting the past, which is hard to comprehend because he does not like to go “back.” But, I was puzzled at the beginning of the poem Maximus, to Gloucester: Letter 2 because Olson writes “people don’t change. They only stand more revealed.” I agree with Olson that technology has taken over personal exploration and education, but I do not agree with his statement. In order for Gloucester to have changed, the people living there would have had to change as well. If people didn’t change, why would Olson want Gloucester to be back to the way it was. As technology develops, the people develop along with it and we become more technology savvy.

When watching Polis is This, I thought that the large amounts of fish represented Olson and his views on Gloucester. There is a large amount of fish in the ocean and as they swim, they continue to move passed old homes and head toward new food sources, homes, etc. In many ways, the people of Gloucester in Olson’s poems are like the fish. As time goes on, we continue to develop needs for new technology and ways of living. The fish that were caught by the fishermen represent the Gloucester of the past; how it has come to an end and how Olson wants to save it.

Renee S. said...

In class, I also posed the question what is the purpose of Olson not including an end parenthesis in some of his poems such as The Songs of Maximus: Song 1 and I Maximus of Gloucester, to You. I agree with the replies of Kisla and Kristina. Kisla said that when she thinks of a poet using parenthesis, she feels as though the poet is trying to show us his view on what he is writing or include another piece of information. Kristina said that the set of parenthesis isn’t closed because there are endless possibilities to the feelings of the poet. I agree with both of these responses. For instance, in The Songs of Maximus: Song 1, Olson writes “(all invaded, appropriated, outraged, all senses including the mind…” There is no end parenthesis here, which shows that there are endless feelings about how we do not do everything for ourselves by ourselves anymore. In fact, the reader gains the sense that change will continue, yet for the worse. “Invaded”, “appropriated” and “outraged” are words that express feeling toward something being taken without permission. As Nidale pointed out, on page 6-7 of Projective Verse, Olson states “if he wishes to pause so light it hardly separates the words, yet does not want a comma…follow him when he uses a symbol the typewriter has ready to hand.” I would like to thank Nidale for pointing this out to me because it is almost as if I asked Olson the question personally and he answered it. Without the end parenthesis, the lines in his poem, which contain only one parenthesis progress in the senses of meaning and breathing forward. This way, Olson could take a step ack, without a “progress or any kind of movement outside the unit of time local to the idea.”

So sad this discussion is over too Mr. Gallagher.
Sorry for so many posts by the way. The blog kept saying
my response was too long!
all together 903 words lol

Rachael S said...
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Rachael S said...
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R. Gallagher said...

from Rachael (who had trouble posting):

Based on our class discussion, I thought the two most interesting topics that stemmed were the ideas of the parenthetical arrangement in the poems and also the phrase “An American is a complex of occasions, themselves a geometry of spatial nature.” I’m going to go in order for my explanations because, like many of us have realized in class, this is a lot of information and it’s pretty hard to synthesize into complete thoughts.

As for the topic of the parenthesis, I have to agree with Nidale, Kisla AND Kristina. I know that what Nidale stated was specifically from the text: that “…he wishes to pause so light it hardly separates the words, yet does not want a comma…follow him when he uses a symbol the typewriter has ready to hand.”(Projective Verse) So, obviously she actually does have a very valid point (and is probably correct) about this matter. However, but I also think that Kisla and Krista have valid points in their interpretations. In a way, I completely agree with all three of the explanations. Based on the quotation, I agree with Nidale’s for obvious reasons. I find myself in agreement to Kisla’s response because she stated (during the class discussion) that when a poet places parenthesis in writing, he/she is trying to include other bits of information that the audience might otherwise not know or realize. I think this is a very good theory because when poets are writing poems, they are trying to have a specific tone or voice. Along with that, they are also trying to make their poem flow in a certain way. Adding in an incomplete punctuation mark interrupts the flow of the words without adding correct punctuation, which would change the entire meaning of the poem. Also, I believe that aesthetically, looking at incomplete punctuation marks makes readers pay closer attention to the lines in a poem or text. Perhaps that is what Olson wanted us to do, to look closer at that piece of text specifically? Finally, I agree with Kristina’s response of saying that the parenthetical marks are not complete because of the “endless possibilities” that the poem holds for its audience. Clearly, I think we can all agree, to some extent, with this answer based solely on our class discussion for the past two days AND the furthering of the discussion through the blog. One of the lines we examined in class with the parenthesis is: “No eyes or ears left to do their own doings (all invaded, appropriated, outraged, all senses…” (The Songs of Maximus: Song One) Before the discussion began, I felt that this was one of the most powerful lines throughout all of the poems and passages we read. I think this quote caught my attention because, besides the punctuation that is left wide open, there is a shift in the poem at this point. Olson moves from speaking of the “colored pictures of all things to eat: dirty postcards and words, words, words…” to talking about eyes and ears. He is almost making the audience transition from the imagery of “dirty postcards” to the imagery of “eyes and ears” and how they would handle eating the tainted postcards. Now, back to the open parenthesis. You may completely disagree with me about my “transitioning” idea with the eyes and ears. You might also completely agree. This is the point I’m making, it is up for interpretation and discussion. Like with any poetry or story, it can (and will be) interpreted in tons of different ways. I primarily agree with Kristina’s idea because I think the idea of the parenthetical incompletion in the text reflects on the idea of all literature. Yes, it does change the appearance and arrangement of the text (which is why I agree with Nidale and Kisla) but it also is like anything else we see in literature. It is exactly like all of the rhetorical devices and strategies we have learned about, it does change the text but the direct meaning behind it is completely up for interpretation. To quote Kristina, “the possibilities are endless.”

R. Gallagher said...


Finally, I just wanted to add in a quick note about what Alex said. She mentioned the quote: “Am American is a complex of occasions, themselves a geometry of spatial nature.” (Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [Withheld]) I completely agree with what Alex said about Olson and the next line, where he writes: “I have this sense that I am one with my skin…” I think that according to Olson, humans are very similar to geometric figures and math, aka tessellations. Maybe we all sort of “fit together” like tessellations because we reside with each other on Earth? I have no idea, but “Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [Withheld]” was my favorite poem of Olson’s that we read because of his interpretation and concept of spatial nature.

Thank you!!


AlfonseF said...

During the two days of the student-run discussions, there was a number of different topics that were discussed in depth, which were very helpful in the sense that soem of my classmates proposed ideas that i never even considered, but made complete sense to me after being talked about, and caused me to think even more after the discussions.

To start off, during the student run discussion that took place on monday, there was one discussion in particular that really sparked my interest. The topic that i am referring to was started by Nidale, who initially claiemed that Charles Olson was a bit cocky, which took away from his overall appeal. My first time reading through the poems and the essays, the idea that Olson was full of himself never even crossed my mind, but after going home and doing more thinking about the subject, it really did make sense to me. For instance, Olson constantly talks about how the new changes to Gloucester are all terrible and ruining a great place. It seemed to me as though Olson thought he stood for everybody that ever set foot in Gloucester, and because he felt that way about the changes taking place, everybody else felt the same exact way, contributing to the idea that he thought of himself in an extremely high regard. Also contributing to the fact that Olson was a narcisist is the fact that "Olson did not consider himself a poet or a writer, but rather that nebulous and rare archeoligist of morning..." as stated by the biography. This just shows that Olson did not think of himself as just a common writer or poet, and just because he went about the process of writing poems differently, he felt above those who did not do the same, thus showing his egotistical ways of life.
One subject that intrigued me that i dont feel like was discussed to its full extend during the fact was simply the structure of his poems. I think it was Brian who touched upon the subject,saying that the way Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27, and its indentations interesed him, and i wanted to build off of what he said. During Projectile Verse, "breath," is constantly referenced, and i wanted to make a connection between the breathing and the first poem. To start off the poem, the stanzas are rather bulky and clustered close together, causing the reader to take breaths to read all of the text, however as the poem continues, the lines break into smaller, 4 word lines, which is a large shift from the larger first lines, and in that shift the reader has to slow down their breathing to keep with the pace, which in turn emphasized their own "breathing." In doing this, the reader can more closely get a grasp on the tone change that occurs in the poem.

To continue on the subject of line structure, and the use of punctuation in Olson's poems, Renee brought up an interesting point that i would otherwise have not noticed. She pointed out that in The songs of Maximus : song 1, that there is a a line that has a parenthesis, but there is not a second parenthesis. After re-reading the poem, i thought alot about why Olson's decision to avoid putting a secon parenthesis in the poem, and came to the theory. My theory is that in the song, Olson is referring back to his memories of Gouclester and how it has changed, sounding very disguisted at what it has become; "colored pictures of all things to eat: dirty post cards..." Because thinking back to such a great time only reminds Olson of the horrible thing that Gloucester has become, he does not want to keep it in his mind and have to deal with it in the future, so by not adding the second parenthesis, he is purposely failing to keep the memory alive.

To conclude on my blog, i really think that the student run discussion was a helpful activity for me. Going into the discussions, I was definitely confused about some things, and completely oblivious to others, but after discussing, and a fair amount of thinking, Olson's work started to come to me, allowing me to get a good understanding of what his messages and intensions were.

francesca said...

So, first I’d like to say that I really enjoyed discussing Charles Olson. I believe he is an amazing writer. Also, There was so many different ideas and opinions during the discussion that I didn’t think of before. For example, I was intrigued by the idea that some people believed Olson thought of himself as this great almost “better-than-everyone-else” man. I could see why this opinion would be made, because he did write a Projective verse that basically talks about how poetry should be written the way he says and not “a lazy reliance on simile and description” because it “can drain a poem of energy.” And Olson is a big believer in energy of a poem. However, I would have to disagree that he is an egotistical man. I believe Olson just has a lot of respect for himself and his ability as a writer.
But that is not what I want to address here. I would like to go back to something I said in the discussion about how Olson structures his poems. In his poem “Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld]” I noticed that Olson starts his poem off very personally. “I come back to the geography of it, the land falling to the left where my father shot his scabby golf” this first line not only creates an image for us, but also starts us off inside the speaker’s head (which we discussed in class that you can say Olson is himself the speaker of his Gloucester poems). When Olson is describing the setting, which is Gloucester, his lines are very close, with no spacing, only in between the stanzas. This is because the things he is saying are very close to his heart; one of his “first memory” is included. Olson starts of most of his Maximus poems very personally. But each time, they branch out into a deeper meaning. I believe this can be connected to what Olson believes poetry should do. Olson’s idea of reading poetry has to do with breathing and the heart’s rhythm. According to him, you read from “the heart, by way of the breath, to the line.” When Olson makes his poems begin personally, he is already trying to get the audience’s emotions on his side. Therefore, when he branches out to make his main point, your heart is already beating with the way of his words, therefore his words go into your mind and you see what he sees. And in these poems, specifically, Gloucester becoming something it isn’t.

francesca said...

The poem “Maximus to himself” is already personal because it is this unknown spirit Maximus addressing himself. The entire poem only has spaces between each stanza, unlike “Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld]” which has spaces that grow between lines of stanzas as his points become larger. He begins with personal, out to place, out to the world, out to history. Doing this helps him set the tone with his reader and get their attention and support. It is also a coincidence that the one poem that really goes beyond just Gloucester was withheld from his published book. Maybe he was not ready for people to read those things. This is the energy he is talking about in the projective verse that a poet needs to have to be able to succeed in creating good poetry.
I also have to comment on the idea that he likes to use “juxtaposition of a very abstract statement with a practical, jocular illustration of what the statement might imply.” (from the biography) I believe Alex was the one in class to bring up the beauty of how he does not use complex literary techniques, but basically just puts words together and creates poetry. And example of this in “Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld]” when he writes “it is the imposing of all those antecedent predecessions, the precessions of me, the generation of those facts which are my words, it is coming from all that I no longer and, yet am.” This one line really says a lot without making it so abstract. The words antecedent, predecessions and precessions all have the same idea of one thing coming from another, change. And what he is saying is coming from him, but not who he is anymore. Because now that Gloucester has changed, so has he. And just like Gloucester, he cannot go back.
I believe Olson was a passionate man. He loved everything about Gloucester, and when that was taken from him, the only way he could express was through poetry, another thing that he loved. From the movie, his poems, the biography, and his Projective Verse, I have come to the conclusion that Olson is a man who just likes things the way he likes them. He liked Gloucester when it was all about labor, and men risking their lives for their jobs. Because things like that were out of love and passion. He wrote his projective verse because simply using basic words and finding a way to arrange them to create this beautiful rhythm was more heartfelt than just using techniques. To Olson, you did and understood things based on breathing (living) and what your heart told you.

HongC said...

Charles Olson was a poet, a self-proclaimed founder of ‘projectile verse’, a man who did not have reverse in his car for he believed his lifestyle should reflect his philosophy on life also. Olson strived to project his ideas and views through his ‘projective verses’, lashing out against American mercantilism, revealing the “complexities” of the American identity. His stern resistance set against the backdrop of soft waves and quaintness of Gloucester where Olsen found consolation.

First, I would like to elaborate on Olsen’s linguistic and syntactical choices. His structure is just as profound as the content which is subtly embedded in carefully arranged stanzas. Juxtaposition of syntactical structures, as Olson indicates with phrases as “I no longer am yet I am”. To me the contradiction was not ‘hypocrisy’ as some classmates in the class discussion concluded it was, rather I thought it was a clever ploy utilized by Olson to further extenutuate the idea of “idle change” (irony). We all know that Olson was deeply troubled by the growing commercialization of Gloucester- his resistance to this change was projected through his desires to preserve the glory days of Gloucester, pre-billboards and “muck”. I don’t believe Olson was really rallying for change rather he stood in the face of transformation and acknowledged it, change is inevitable, Olson just had another change in mind.

Further expanding upon that thought, what exactly was the change Olson had in mind? Well if we examine, Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld], he presents this utopian idea of “Polis”, to elaborate further, “Polis is this”. The ‘this’ is vague, it kind of leaves it up to the reader to kind of decide the future they want to embrace, using Gloucester as a mere model- or foil to that idea. It is the duty of the reader, or rather we, ‘Americans’ to undo the evils of American mercantilism. The patriotic appeal is rich in Olson’s poem, especially in Letter 27 [withheld] , as Olson attempts to define “An American is a complex of occasions”. To me Olson explaining the complexity of the American identity, and I compared Polis in the poem to essentially representing America. Polis is America. Our identity is derived from our birthplace, our homes, the land we tread, and the water in which we sail. By essentially scraping the remnants of old Gloucester away, or the backbone of what America was (again Gloucester is the foil to the bigger photo of the American identity), we are no longer keeping our identity. We must not lose ourselves to commercialization and industrialization, by assimilating and becoming prototypes of this new age of change (perhaps, brainwash to Olson), we are not American, we are not Polis. Rather this Polis Olson presents here is a conceptual idea of American identity- rather than a replica of a place he desires Gloucester to be.

HongC said...


Now, lets taker a deeper look into Charles Olson himself. Nidale pointed this out in the class discussion as she said Maximus, derived from a latin origin is meant to indicate something that is grand and simply stated, over the top. She further added that Olson’s tone made himself look very egotistical as he really was into himself, and Gallagher adding this sense of ‘idol worship’ that resonated from Olson. Although I do agree to this to a certain extent, I believe the grand persona that Olson takes on his poem is just a mere extension of himself in the form of poetry. Just like how Olson embraced the quote from Robert Creely, that “form was an extension of content”. In order for Olson to project the ideas he wanted, he needed to adopt this diabolical ego. Olson was a huge fan of objectism in which “ [if] a man is contained within his nature..he is a participant in the larger force, he will be able to listen..hearing through himself will give him secret objects to share.” I believe that only through this adopted persona could readers really understand the complexity of Olson’s own beliefs and ideas. In the movie, it was understood that in real life, Olson was actually a quiet, and very humble guy- not using his celebrity to gain an upper edge in society or to feed on attention. This again seems like an contradiction as he embodies such an iconic image in his poetry, the nature and tone of it all. Through contradiction are people only to better understand and comprehend. It is multidimensional which Olson had intended for his writing to be all along. A poem about resisting assimilation, finding and preserving one’s identity, and the concept of inevitable change that shall enfold as long as time exists.

kisla said...

From the video, to the poems, to the two day SRDs, it’s fairly acceptable to conclude that Charles Olson is a very unique, gigantesque, and profound poet and literary icon. The reason why I say this is because his poems are extremely different from any other poems that I’ve read prior to these and every poem left me puzzled when I was done reading it, especially “I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You”. During the SRD on Tuesday, Renee discussed the fact that Olson rarely uses closed parentheses in his poems and I built on that idea, stating that maybe he wanted us to know his personal opinions or thoughts. But then Kristina came up with a good point by claiming that all of Olson’s “Maximus” poems were his personal thoughts and feelings and maybe the parentheses were just meant for a break (breath) in the poem. In his projective verse, Olson “argues that the breath should be a poet’s central concern, rather than rhyme, meter, and sense.” From reading this, it’s easier to relate the random parentheses incorporated in his poems to a break in breathing rather than an inside look at his feelings or thoughts.
Another interesting idea that was brought up during the SRDs was Olson’s ego. Hong and Alex stated that by reading his poems, it seems as though Olson is completely full of himself because he belittles “academic verse” and thus attempts to convince us that writing poems while focusing on each breath by each line is much more important. I agree with their statements to a certain degree. Although Olson “rejects academic verse” his poems do not seem to give me a sense of conceit as I read them. While reading his poems, I continuously thought of an elderly person reminiscing about the “good old days” rather than a grumpy, middle-aged man who thinks that he is the greatest thing out there. “Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld]” was the poem which convinced me that Olson was reluctant to accept the technological advances in Polis but he still had this fixation on only moving forward and never backward (hence the “no reverse in his car” from the video.) In the last page of “Letter 27 [withheld] Olson writes “the geography which leans in on me I compell backwards I compell Gloucester to yield, to change Polis is this”. In this line, it seems very clear that Olson wants Gloucester to stay the same without any technological interferences or advances but Alex brought up another great point from “I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You” when she mentioned that in the last page Olson seemed to appreciate the idea of “progress as opposed to nostalgia”. Alex’s reasoning was behind the “jewel” being worth more “than any old romantic thing, than memory, than place, than anything other than that which you carry”. When Alex made that statement, I automatically realized where everyone was getting the idea of Olson contradicting himself in his poetry. It’s as if he really wants to move forward and progress but he also wants everything to stay the same and seems to oppose “bad change.”

kisla said...

On Wednesday during the SRD, Joao stated that “Olson wants us to read his poetry exactly as he writes it”. I totally agree with him because every choice that Olson makes in his poetry is deliberate. The spacing, the indents, the word choice and even the overall flow of the poem are intentional. Joao also asked “what is this change that we keep talking about?” Well in my opinion I believe that the “bad” change Olson witnessed were the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Hitler’s Nazi Party which caused the Holocaust (mentioned in the video). Not only these historical tragedies but also closer to Olson, the old buildings being torn down in Gloucester and factories being built all over the place probably upset Olson since it was his hometown.
Lastly I’d like to mention Philip’s statement about the title of Olson’s poems and how “Maximus” could refer to Olson’s stature. Since he was this extremely tall man he felt the need to express just how big he actually felt through his poems. The SRDs really helped me get a better understanding of Olson’s writing because I opened my mind to facts that I would have otherwise never thought of myself, such as “Maximus” being related to Olson’s size or the contradicting ideas that constantly show up in his poems.

Philip said...

I believe it was Joao who requested some additional specificity on the meaning of the word ‘change’ – a word we so often tossed about during the conversation. A legitimate request it is, and one I’d like to try my hand at answering. The obvious answer would of course be that Olson is lamenting the change that Gloucester is experiencing, which is the catalyst for why he writes these poems in the first place. His love for his city is made obvious by how he so affectionately refers to it as “my city” constantly, like in I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You, where he observes “the flake racks” of HIS city. Anything that is seemingly negative toward the city as a whole, Olson has no reservations toward talking down on condescendingly. And change is one of these things.

“To the left the land fell to the city, to the right, it fell to the sea”, from Maximus to Gloucester Letter 27 [withheld] would indicate that change effectively split the city in half. The influx of modern technology and the exile of past traditions divided the city’s spirit so deeply as to cast the two factions aside into opposite corners, one to the left, and one to the right. The land ‘falling’ to the city would imply that technology was not merely integrated into the city of Gloucester – it took over. And this was one such conquest that Olson would not tolerate.

Philip said...

Beyond that, it’s hard to say exactly would else Olson’s definition of change encompasses. Many of his poems make references to the sea. And from my previous quotation, it would seem that the sea represents the remnants of the city’s spirit before the invasion of technology and modern commercialistic values took place. Olson often finds himself with “the sea stretching out from [his] feet” as in Maximus to himself, which may imply simply that he just lets nostalgia get the better of himself. He couldn’t bear to cope with handling new-fangled pieces of technology and so relegated himself to living in the past where things were more simple and thus more to his liking. If Olson was to be perceived like this, then maybe the concept of “change” did not exist and was only a mere perception of his. So that change may actually have been a natural progression for cities at that time for America, and the problem lied within Olson, who refused or could not adapt to the flow of things.

Lastly, the change could possibly refer to the state of the human mind that came about as a result of the growth of cities and encroachment of technological assets. Prior to all this, people in Gloucester had a mindset more suitable for forming a tight knit community, perhaps even a grand Polis or Greek city state, in where success could be achieved from the contributions of every person in town. A utopia of sorts. But when the evil technology came strolling in, the minds of the people changed drastically. No more were people likely to look after one another, to protect one another, or to even give a damn about one another. It became quite literally every one for themselves, as everyone scrambled for jobs operating or creating the new technological assets, and money became the top priority in everyone’s’ minds rather than preserving the community. And so, the change Olson refers to may in fact be the corruption of Gloucester and the people’s minds bending to the will of the forces of commercialism and consumerism – forces he wishes to combat using his abstract form of poetry. But given that he went as far as withholding Maximus to Gloucester Letter 27, one of his stronger poems, he may have felt hesitant to assert his opinions because it was hard to not think that technology would be here to stay. Who in there right mind would relinquish an asset that makes like more convenient? More tolerable? Better? No one. Not even the strength of poetry could convince a man to abandon something so powerful.

Therefore, change was many things. The subject of Olson’s writings. What Gloucester was experiencing physically. What the city’s people were experiencing mentally. And most of all, Olson’s natural nightmare.

Gabby said...

First I want to say that I found this lesson on Charles Olson's writing very fascinating because by him writing projective verses I was kind of more able to understand Olson, from my point of view. How he liked to talk about everything not just one topic, and wanted readers to understand through his point of view. Also, for the fact that I like poetry. After watching "Polis is This" I think many people looked up to him as a great man. He was a brilliant poet after all in my opinion. It was said by a person in the film that "Olson had a lot of freedom in his heart," therefore I connected that straight to free verses in his poetry. Olson speaks from his own perspective. It's as if he was open to everything because he dedicated his life to writing poems.

At Kristina: I just want to *try to answer your question from what I thought why Olson said "the syllable is the only first child of incest of verse..." I thought the same thing when I read his biography, I questioned what he meant by that. The first thing I interpreted though was basically that when a poem is created, all the ideas are related based on theme. All of the lines, syllables, and ideas are branched off each other to help figure out the rhythm of the poem and the deeper meaning behind it so the story becomes more interesting. It's like the entire poem is related based on the main theme of the poem and then you try to understand the meaning in different portions. The poem is joined together, like the verses are a family that “link together” creating a bond (a meaning) of incest.

Charles Olson definitely reminisces on his past a lot in the Maximus series. I think the reason why is because his past made him who he is. In Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld] he says, "it is coming from all that I no longer am, yet am..." Meaning who he was in the past is not who he is at the moment he wrote this poem (many years later), but his old character from the past will always be with him in his memory.

Gabby said...
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Gabby said...


As he states in Maximus, to himself "I have learned the simplest things last...the nature of obedience, that we are all late in a slow time, that we grow up many..." I related these two specific lines back to Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 because as we all grow older we become more wise and humble, something in which I believe Olson may have experienced. From the first day student run discussion in class, Nidale constructed (and others may have agreed with her that I don't recall) an idea that she believed Olson seemed to be talking highly of himself in all of his poems. I had to disagree with that because like I said in class, I feel like maybe Olson just wanted other people to understand where he was coming from. We are all human and we're all capable of the same things. The reason why I disagree with Nidale's idea (no offense) is because in Maximus, to himself, Olson says "The agilities they show daily who do the world's businesses and who do nature's as I have no sense I have done either..." and I thought he was saying that there are always those people who get recognized and put on a pedestal for doing all these great things, and then there's these other people who aren't recognized at all for anything great they do. Like Francesca said sometime during the discussion, and I have to agree, Olson just wanted readers/ people to come inside of his world and see things from HIS point of view, connect and understand him. After all, in general we ALL want to be understood by someone and not be judged.

Elaborating more on why I believe Olson writes free verse poems and why he is not necessarily narcissistic is because in Projective Verse, Charles Olson states himself, that he believes in the term Objectivism. When I first read this line, “Objectism is the getting rid of the lyrical interference of the individual as ego, of the subject between what he is as a creature of nature and those other creations of nature which we may, with no derogation, call objects…” I didn’t quit understand it so well, but after re-reading it and the student run discussions, it crossed my mind that Charles Olson created his own meaning of a word to differentiate egotistical people from people of living nature. People who are arrogant and centered are ones who don’t want to share their ideas with others and hope that they will just understand. Where as, people who want to make a better change, like Olson did for Gloucester, will put their idea out there for other people’s outlooks. Therefore, I stand supported by my evidence to say that Olson was not much of a “Narcissistic, Maximus” person.

Alex Math said...

During the discussions, one of the things that caught my attention was this belief that was definitely shared by many of my classmates: they did not like Olson’s style. To a point I can see their position. Olson’s style is very straightforward when it comes to his language. He does not use any superfluous words, or employ many literary devices.
In fact he condemns doing so. To this, I disagree that figurative language only slows down poetry and should not be used. Shakespeare shows us exactly what figurative language can do when it is used effectively. Shakespeare’s sonnet “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day” is brilliant because the whole thing is an extended metaphor. Shakespeare’s message, that to whomever the poem is directed to is beautiful and lovely, is distinguishable almost instantly. He does so without explicitly saying “I think you are beautiful”.
However, I do not share the same opinion as my classmates. Olson’s style is hard to deal with because of its structure. It is fragmented but together and flowing at the same time, a contradiction in itself. Also, all though he does not use figurative language, complexity is created in his poems through the phrasing, placement of words, of course structure, and plays on syllables. I used this example in class and I have to use it again because of its brilliance. In “Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld]” Olson writes “It is the imposing/ of all those antecedent predecessions, the precessions/ of me, the generation of those facts/ which are my words, it is coming/ from all that I no longer am, yet am,/ the slow westward motion of/ more than I am”. The phrase “antecedent predecessions, the precessions of me” alone is complexity at its finest. I am totally certain what this phrase means, but the way it sounds, I guess the breath of it, is indicative of Olson’s attention to syllables and the intricate patterns they create. This is just on one level though; complexity is also built with the phrase “from all that I no longer am, yet am”. Here again Olson creates this contradiction of being something and not being that at the same time. This idea of something being greater than yourself. It is truly a fascinating web of complexity that Olson creates in his poetry, making him talented and making his poetry, I think, worthy of more than a cursory glance.

Alex Math said...

Continuing on this thought, Olson to me is also great because essentially his work is all about how human nature and life is contradictory. How at one moment people can be satisfied with one way of living and switch to a completely different one. To me it’s just interesting how everything from structure to syllables to themes conveys contradictions and complexities.
One last thing that I want to mention is this ego of Olson’s. From his very presence on screen to the tone he creates in his poetry, Olson comes off as arrogant. He himself in “Maximus to Himself” says “and my arrogance was neither diminished nor increased”. However, I think that he feels this way because he believes everyone to be sell outs to a way of living that is inferior to his. He calls America a spatial geometry, as in fragmented and disjointed, whereas he calls himself “one”. He calls the billboards dirty and says in “I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You” that the New Englanders will never be able to see love because with commercialization, they do not notice the little things anymore. Olson, or to be more accurate I suppose his speaker, believes that Gloucester has really went off the deep end and now it is beneath him, something to look down on since it has now gained an unnecessary luster. Kind of like figurative language. In poetry, Olson believes it is an unnecessary addition of flash and sparkle. Perhaps that is why Olson looks down on other forms of poetry since to him they are selling out on the natural “clean” format he preaches.

Gabby said...

(Continued...last part!)

If there should be a change in anything, it should always be made a good change rather than a bad one. Which brings me to the discussion we had in class about how Olson says he never reverses in life, but he enjoyed his past life and wishes things would change back to how they used to be. All of this brings me to conclude that maybe Olson never goes back in life, but the change that occurred in his hometown Gloucester after many years, was nothing but a bad change in his eyes. He enjoyed his past even though he’s far from it when he wrote the Maximus series. As Alfonse said, America has changed so much from his past that he can’t get over it. I agreed with that statement because change is unbelievable sometimes.Olson was more of a common sense living man who stood for what he believed and wanted people to understand how he felt about life.

10zin said...

During the last two days of discussion it just seemed like there just wasn't enough time to discuss about these complex and meaningful poems by such a remarkable poet. Charles Olson was not just a poet, but an “archaeologist of mourning”. In no doubt, many of Olson's poems were about change and mainly change of his town Gloucester. Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 clearly exemplifies the changes that occurred in Gloucester. You can really tell that Olson was against urbanization when he wrote “to the left the land fell to the city” (Letter 27), Olson was comfortable where he was and enjoyed the naturalness of his city. I believe Mr. Gallagher and Josh said how it was not so much that Olson was against change; he just wanted the right change. Olson only wanted to “try to find a way of living that honored the past but made the present just as good.”
I also want to talk about the speaker verses the poet. Ever since we started analyzing poems, we were constantly reminded to always separate the speaker and the poet because they may not be the same person, which was not the case for these sets of poems. I read these poems before I saw the movie and before reading the bio of Olson and the projective verse, but after seeing the movie and reading the bio and projective verse I could see how personal Olson’s poems were. Olson wrote poems directly about his life and what he thought. As Joao (Sorry if I spelled your name wrong) and Philip stated how the structure of the poem was to enforce the reader to read the poem the exact way Olson would have read it. I also remember Alfonse stating how the way the lines in the poems are spaced really causes you to pay attention to your breathing which I didn’t realize at first.
One of my favorite quotes that stood out the most was from Letter two: “people don’t change. They only stand more revealed.” Renee and Amanda also mentioned this quote in the discussion. When I first read this line I was so confused but after reading it a couple more times, it made so much sense. I perceived this line as people constantly wearing a mask whether acknowledging it or not, but the more you get closer to someone, they are not changing; they are simply taking of their mask and revealing their true colors. From the movie Polis is This, at the end of the movie the quote “You’re your own train. You are on your own track. You can go anywhere,” I simply love this metaphor. When you think about it, many people let others steer their train instead of going in the direction they truly want to go. I too am guilty of this but this inspires you to do what YOU want, and not what others want you to do.
Many people made the assumption that Olson was a very cocky man and thought very highly of himself but in my opinion I did not think that at all. I believe that Olson was just expressing his true feelings and wanted people to see in his perspective and experience what he was going through the movie; like Gabby stated in the discussion “Olson wanted people to understand him.” I remember in the movie someone said that although Olson “didn’t give a damn of what other people thought, he never though of himself as important.”
I also want to bring up this phrase from the movie that was said by one of the poets, “Death alone defines life.” If you think about it the minute you are the born, the one thing that is guaranteed is, your death. Since nothing in this world exists permanently maybe the other poet was suggesting how everything has its end whether you like it or not.
Like Kristina had mentioned earlier this Olson’s poems about not wanting to change relates also to The Namesake and Things Fall Apart. Just like Ashima was trying so hard not changing into an American and holding onto her Indian ways firmly and when the Ibo tribe did not want the Europeans to change the way of their thinking; similar to Olson and how he was not enjoying how Gloucester was changing into something is was not. With the discussions in class you can see how differently everyone thinks and how opinionated everyone is.

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Brian said...

After watching videos about Charles Olson and videos about his poems, he is a poet that shows passionate love on his thoughts. The way he read his poems and the movement of his hands reminded me the joy of doing something you like. You do not see many writers creating a video of them selves, reciting a poem that they wrote with such passion. Renee mentioned that Olson rarely uses closed parentheses. I find it very interesting that you can do “anything” to a poem. I was not here on the second day of SRD, however, I did an explication on one of Olson’s poem The Songs of Maximus: Song 2 where he semi-parenthesize “(the bodies all buried in shallow graves?.” Contextually speaking, the reason why he did complete the parenthesis is because souls of the deceased could live on “in shallow graves” without having actually ending their existing life. The ending of his poem offers hope, so long as deceased is resting in peace. Again Olson’s feeling of coping with death cannot be specified contextually, but the fact that the bodies of the decease are buried in “shallow graves” does provide comfort. To resolve his point, Olson claims that the deceased are buried “in shallow graves,” as opposed to buried in deep graves. The meaning of “shallow graves” is communicated by catharsis because it alleviates the pain and confusion that death has created.

Brian said...

So this is one way that Olson could have used his semi-parenthesis to provide such continuity to his feelings to the people who passed away. Having lived passed WWI, Holocaust. WWII, and most of the Cold War struggle from 1910-1970; Olson may have expressed his deep remorse for humanity - the millions of death over the course of the 20th century.
Personally, when Olson titled his poems “Songs of Maximus,” this reminded me of the movie Gladiators (2000) starred by Russell Crowe as Maximus. I think the imaginary character Maximus, which Olson creates, is similar to character in the Gladiator movie in that they both represent “Olson’s stature.” The courage to avenge his family, Maximus had to fight against the corrupted prince in the Colisseum. Similarly, in Olson’s Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld] poem he mentions that “an American is a complex of occasions, themselves a geometry of spatial nature. I have this sense, that I am one with my skin . . .,” here he seems like he imagines or dreams that he is this hero in “Polis” Greece. Both characters probably had a strong depth in character and the courage to overcome their conflict or a change in the level of development. In short, Maximus is regarded as some sort of a superhuman being. To me, the name just sounds so majestic that its use is mostly reserve for people who hold greatness.
Olson said that “what does not change, is the will of change.” I think Olson wants progress, not so much that he wants change or not. You could change drastically and dismiss the values and traditions of doing something conventionally. Taking into account of struggle between wars and the technological innovations of the 20th century, Olson may have left out of direction in society. The advantages and disadvantages that technology brought did not make Olson feel any better of change in society. Nor was the first use of nuclear weapons for atomic bombs was anywhere a progression in protecting mankind.

brittanyf said...

Initially, after reading through Olson’s poetry and later, the thought behind it, I was disapproving. His method frustrated me with its strict limitations. Poetry, of all forms of writing, I have always considered the holder of the most infinite possibilities. A manner of expression, a form of art, I always believed poetry to have the ability to take whatever shape best suited its creator. While I understand and accept that this idea of projective verse is Olson’s own preference, I find myself unable to accept his opinions on these beliefs of how poetry should be. While I respect the fluidity of his work, while I’ll admit that I am, at least in part, captivated by the curious form that his poetry takes, his apparent obstinacy to stand by his own structure, his own style, is as annoying as it is insular. Despite my bias against his attitude, however, during our class discussion, I began to see his work itself in a new light.
At one point, Rachel had expressed that she believed Olson was speaking in the future, asking something along the lines of, “Why aren’t we changing?” This point caught me off guard at first, as Olson’s position on change seemed so rigid, his desire to preserve some past factor(s) of his hometown, Gloucester, or perhaps only the ideas they represented. However, then, I began to consider just that; maybe every physical characteristic of the past that he longed to preserve only mattered so because of the ideas that they represented. Hong mentioned that, in “Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [ Withheld],”Olson acknowledges change, as he addresses this “slow westward motion” but also points out that she believes he wishes it was going in another direction. Rereading the poem, I can’t help but agree. Olson discusses towards the end of the first page of this same poem the “precessions” of “the generation of those facts which are [his] words,” which, for me, serves as evidence of this specified desire for change. The word “precessions” means a change in the position of the Earth’s axis, its very core, perhaps representing the great changes of traditional values that took place over the years past. The word “generation,” meanwhile, obviously signifies the period in which these changes occurred, and these “facts which are [his] words,” I think, are the ideas that he tries so hard to preserve in his poems. For me, extracting these ideas from his work proves the greatest challenge of understanding it, as, before anything, I notice his stance on maintaining them.

brittanyf said...

(cont) Looking over my notes post-discussion, my stubbornness against Olson and his work has indeed begun to subside, as I try to understand this substance that exists beneath the scattered surfaces of Olson’s poems. Someone had brought up (actually, I believe it was Mr. Gallagher), that it is Olson’s goal to create “universe” with verse—creating separate worlds in his poetry. In the easier-to-access of these worlds, we have Olson, trapped in this newer zone, forever reminiscing and comparing to the previous. What I believe adds the most depth to his work is the depth of that second world; that is, the world that existed before, that he treasures so. His desperate efforts of recollection, his radical beliefs of restoration suggest the wonder that this world once was. With this considered, I believe that is the reason for the parts of his poems in which his thoughts are especially scattered, in which he practices projective verse at its most extreme, for they represent both the desperation he feels towards to subject and the distance of this universe. In his songs (The Songs of Maximus: Song 1 and The Songs of Maximus: Song 2), I felt this desperation, this need not for change but for that restoration at its strongest, and it is in these two particular pieces which his form is particularly fluid and scattered, even featuring unclosed parentheses. Comparison, meanwhile, illustrating, for the most part, the more accessible, more current world, is clustered together (see the beginning of Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld] and the majority of Maximus to Gloucester: Letter 2), thus suggesting its overwhelming presence, its reigning superiority. While, before, I was frustrated with the fact that so many so him as a man who believed in change and that a resistance to change was evident in his poems, I know understand what I believe Renee said about his simply desiring the “right” type of change. I no longer believe he was resisting change—in fact, I believe he understand its benefits, to an extent—but rather understand that he simply wished to maintain the values that made his home the amazing place that it was (Gloucester, America….Polis), that he was simply trying to keep up with the job of being “Maximus”: guardian of that “span of responsibility and time,” so the film claimed.

Nidale Z. said...


We keep going back to the line from “Letter 27 [withheld]” – “An American is a complex of occasions.” I think this is only natural, considering we are all Americans and Olson’s emphasis on them was bound to get our attention. I think it’s especially interesting when we consider the contradictions that Alex (with whom I actually agree for once) brought up and that Olson seems so fond of – the whole idea of regressing to a past time versus the idea of not having a reverse on his car is pure complexity, pure American complexity, and I feel like it says a lot about our society – American culture is packed with contradictions, from magazines that airbrush their models to unreal perfection but preach about positive body image to the freedom promised in our Constitution (freedom of speech and expression) allowing for intolerance to the idolization of democracy being held above all else even as the government decides upon new laws without really consulting the citizens that put them into power.

But going back to that line again, where Olson says that “An American,” not all Americans, but “An American is a complex of occasions.” I find it interesting that Olson uses the singular form of the noun, almost as if he is confessing to a certain loneliness that may spread over all of America and not just Olson/the speaker/the subject. This loneliness is emphasized again in “Maximus, to himself,” when he says that he is “estranged from that which was most familiar.” This may be a consequence of the arrogance that he betrays in “Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld],” an arrogance that may have caused him to withhold the poem in the first place; after all, the rest of his poetry is certainly revealing, but it is difficult to find as interesting a passage in a letter to Gloucester or even in one of the Songs that so clearly betrays this loneliness. Additionally, in “Maximus, to himself,” the speaker explains that “the sharpness (the achiote)/I note in others,/makes more sense/than my own distances.” He clearly states that he is distant, implying that this distance may be self-created.

The use of the word “achiote” further separates him from the average person, and even from his reader, who must pause to try and figure out what exactly “achiote” is – because really, how often does the typical American use the word achiote in a sentence? Interestingly, Achiote is, according to Wikipedia, “a shrub or small tree from the tropical region of the Americas” that produces a natural pigment that Native Americans used to make body paint. The presence of Native Americans in Olson’s poetry is, I feel, similar to the presence of Greeks in his literature – it forces us as Americans to think back to our roots, to where we came from and what the land that we live on went through before it was colonized, as well as how massively different we are today. The separation here can also emphasize how far we have come from those beginnings – Americans are no longer confused for Indians, nor do they use seeds from the “lipstick tree” to apply makeup; we’ve become much more commercialized than that. Achiote fruit, interestingly, is prickly to the touch; this could serve to emphasize the “sharpness” that Olson describes, but I’m not entirely sure what he means by that. Perhaps he feels that the American public in general (or maybe specifically in Gloucester and the surrounding area) is hostile; after all, the very nature in which colonizers conquered the Americas was hostile. It’s hardly a stretch to imagine that Olson could be referring to them (and what their existence says about us) when he mentions achiote.

Nidale Z. said...


And, again, back to the idea of a complex of occasions – or a complex of anything, really. Poetry itself is a complex of occasions, at least according to Olson, who focuses on syllables for a lot of “Projected Verse,” at one point specifically calling a syllable “the smallest particle of all.” He also focuses on the “kinetics of the thing,” specifically of poetry. Talking about poetry in such scientific terms is interesting, purely because it’s hard for me to comprehend this idea of poetry as an objective science and not as a subjective art. Olson’s ideas about how to write poetry are very like the scientific method, which emphasizes a very formulaic, step-by-step method to experiments and research. It reminds me a little of “ideal type,” which is this idea that sociology and other social sciences cannot be thought of objectively because people in general cannot be generalized. And since Olson is speaking of society, one would expect him to stick with the “ideal type” and not the much more objective scientific method. But I can understand where he’s coming from – as Brittany mentioned, though his voice is generally arrogant and he clearly reveres himself, Olson’s poetry and essays are brilliant; I think the sheer amount of stuff we’ve analyzed in these comments displays that. You can’t analyze something and have all your analysis make sense if it’s not a brilliant piece of work.

I also have to mention that the whole discussion of particles, which break down further into atoms, reminds me of atomic bombs – which are literally created by splitting atoms. Olson was shocked and deeply affected by the dropping of the bombs in Japan, and I feel like this could subconsciously be a reference to that. I find it interesting (maybe even a little endearing) that despite the massive harm to humanity that he feels science has done, Olson still forces science into his poetry and into his essays. It may be acceptance of science as an essential part of our lives (medicine, technology, etc) – or it may be yet another contradiction, another way that Americans are a complex of occasions.

Finally, I think geography in general is an essential part of Olson’s writing, as well as an essential part of our society. In “Letter 2,” Olson speaks about several different locations – from the library to the post office to Main Street to a Unitarian church to Pleasant Street, where the city suddenly becomes “abruptly black.” I think it’s important to consider the connotations of each of these places – the library represents knowledge and education, the post office represents communication, Main Street represents the general public, the Unitarian Church rejects the holy trinity and is therefore something of an outsider in Christianity, Pleasant Street could represent happiness but cannot in this case because it is, for some unknown reason, “abruptly black.” I have to wonder if Olson meant for us to consider this – do knowledge and communication ultimately separate a person from the general public, eventually casting a shadow upon any happiness the person in question has? I think this goes back to what Tenzin was talking about, the “archaeology of mourning,” because that’s what I think Olson is describing here. Archaeology in a very literal sense – what the city actually looks like, the buildings that fill it, and the names of the streets, all of which create a very desolate tone. I think it’s interesting, this whole notion of geography and location being as essential to the poem as the allusions to Greek mythology. Again, there is again this idea of a “complex,” though here it is the complex of locations that make up Gloucester.

xi said...

In Projective Verse, Olson believed that it was a poet’s responsibility to pass on the energy to readers and harnessed Edward Dahlberg’s belief that “one perception must immediately and directly lead to a further perception.” This immediately reminded me of the idea of writer’s duty by William Faulkner, who believed that it was a writer’s duty to touch the reader’s heart, to encourage the reader, to remind readers of the glory of life, or else the writing will be worthless. It fits into Olson’s belief because he wanted to remind his readers of the glory of Gloucester when it was not taken over by today’s technology. He wanted to motivate people to change maybe not back to the past, but back when people were not corrupted by the ideas of media, needs, and materialistic things. The “energy” that Olson wishes to pass on to readers is his love for Gloucester, the way the community members used to connect, as mentioned in the movie, the love of his city from childhood summer trips.
The name, Maximus, also connects to the idea of writer’s duty, because it means great amount. Similar to Renee I also had two interpretation of the name’s meaning. It could mean that Olson refers to himself as a great poet. However, unlike others who referred to him as arrogant and self-centered, I think Olsen meant his greatness as a leader to set change for the better, help inspire them, and pull them away from corruption in society caused by technology. Josh mentioned that Olson wants to go black to the past, turn Gloucester into a place like Polis because of what was happening in the world at the time with WWII and Great Depression. It makes sense because the city was split between into two, one fell to the city, the other to the sea. Moreover, Faulkner wrote his essay at a time of epidemic spread when people thought the world was ending. His purpose was to remind people of life, just as Olson is reminding people how to live greatly being simple. “Great amount” could also refer to the great amount of materialistic people depend on today which causes people to care for only themselves, thus proving why in his poems, Olson mentions how the Pleasant Street is “abruptly black” and words like “invaded” and “outraged” to describe the present.

xi said...

In Projective Verse, Olson also mentions the fact that poems should not use figurative language because it only slows down the work. As readers try to figure out the deeper meaning through figurative language, they sometimes miss the message, so it makes sense to be more direct. By being direct and simple in his poems especially through the way he starts his poems with personal memories like how his “father shot his scabby golf” in Maximus to Gloucester, Letter27, Olson creates a stronger connection with readers, thus transferring that “energy.” I think this could also be a metaphor to how being direct and simple in life, people can live better. When life is thrown with complex things (figurative language) it creates a wall of unnecessary needs and wants that prevent people from seeing the true purpose in life. Thus why he proves the idea that America is a “spacial geometry” too complex and fragmented. Olson sees himself as fit connecting form with his body because he understands the concept of simplicity.
As Olson speaks about invasion of technology and good in simplicity, it reminds me of the idea of the Native Americans just as Nidale had mentioned through the word “achiote.” For the Native Americans, life was wonderful without the invasion of Europeans with their guns and horses. The newcomers only made life more complicated and bloody with wars and greediness.
I agree with the others that the open parenthesis in Songs of Maximus1 is about endless possibilities but I also think that it could connect with what Olson was saying about “no eyes or ears left to do their own thing.” Maybe the parenthesis doesn’t have a closing parenthesis to symbolize how it is also not doing its own thing.

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Anonymous said...

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João N. said...

Let me begin by saying that, after the discussions we had, I began to truly appreciate Olson. Phillip was maybe the first person who showed me that, even though I seemed to understand the poems, I didn’t exactly “feel” what Olson intended me to feel. When Phillip directed us to the lines “Plus this—plus this: / that forever the geography / which leans in / on me I compell / backwards I compell Gloucester / to yield, to / change / Polis / is this” (Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld]) I began to derive meaning from his Greek motif. Like Phillip said, Polis means Greek city-state, and this represents Olson’s idealized version of Gloucester. The Greeks also have a flair for a tragedy, and I think the parallel between Polis and Gloucester serves not only to show the perfection that Olson perceived Gloucester as being, or having the potential of being, but also emphasizes the tragic demise the city is slowly going through. On a more basic level, in these lines, we can at least see the importance of culture and location to Olson, the geography of Gloucester “leans in / on [him],” the city is such a fundamental part of Olson, and once I understood that, I began to see his poems as less melodramatic and more as indignant and desperate, as pleads for a population to see the beauty and importance of a Gloucester in demise. Like many said during the discussion, I also think that Olson suffered from a superiority complex (I was surprised no one brought up his criticism of Eliot as evidence during our discussions), and he justifies the beauty in relation to himself, because he found Gloucester beautiful, therefore it was, therefore it had to be protected. The poems are all purely from his perspective. He calls Gloucester the “sea city” (I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You), and the connection he draws between the city and the ocean makes it clear how grandiose he believes Gloucester is, but at the same time he hints at its fragility, since it can be flooded if the ocean gets out of control. Gloucester had many fishermen, and Olson constantly brings up boats in his poems, up to a point that I believe the sea can represent the citizens of Gloucester. “Sea city” then can become the city of the citizens (which connects to the Greek Polis I mentioned earlier), implying both that the city is not only loved by its citizens but somehow, with its geography and culture, loves the citizens back. Continuing the sea metaphor, Olson’s urgent tone in his poems seem to address this sea, or the people, warning them to not lose control and “flood” the city.

João N. said...

Alex was another person who also showed me a lot to like about Olson’s poetry. During our discussion, she advocated for Olson’s style, explaining that it was amazing how, through structure, he could make what wasn’t beautiful very beautiful. I can now agree that that is a strong element of beauty in his poems (and of course I agree with her about its technical quality, Olson’s structure is genius), but what I think really helps his poetry is the fact that he wrote several poems about the subject. I remember reading about sonnets in How to Read Literature Like a Professor, and how the author stated that a sonnet cannot have an epic scope. I think that is always how I felt about poetry, but it is different when I can see the author being so passionate, in this case, Olson being passionate about Gloucester, and writing out this passion from many different perspectives as he does with his poems. What made Olson’s poems beautiful to me was said epic scope, his subject was limited, but these poems contain a monumental range of emotions, meaning, and intentions.

R. Gallagher said...

for Amanda (who has trouble posting...

After being exposed to various poems that were written by Charles Olson, as well as a biographical text of the author and his “Projective Verse”, which discussed his method for writing, I believe that the development of Olson’s distinctive writing style was driven by his desire to re-evaluate the traditional forms of poetry that pervaded society at the time. As well, he also wanted to shed light on the issues that had plagued his mind, as he witnessed the period of reinvention and progress within the city of Gloucester, M.A.

In regards to Charles Olsen’s writing, I believe that he felt that he had a responsibility to honor the times that he lived in, while also making certain that he acknowledged the differences he observed in the present society in comparison to what existed in the past. Olson tried to utilize the styles of poets that came before him as inspiration for his own writing. He saw them as building blocks with which he could reference while attempting to advance the ideas that they discussed for his own present-day audience. Once I had read some of his poems, and watched a documentary that chronicled his life and works, I felt as though I could confidently say that Charles Olson had established a strong bond with the city of Gloucester. As with any bond, Olson had a reason for his attraction to the culture of Gloucester, as well as to the history that had paved the way for what the city would become. Through his series of Maximus poems, Olson illustrated his desire to protect the city’s old-fashioned institutions that prevailed and had built the foundation for the city’s notoriety, in the wake of commercialization. While many students in class discussed the idea of Olson being resistant to the change that was occurring in Gloucester, in terms of its ever-present commercialization, myself included, I also believe that Olson was trying to reveal the emergence of a new kind of humanity within our society.

In “Maximus, to Gloucester: Letter 2”, Charles Olson made the observation that “people don’t change. They only stand more revealed.” In saying so, Olson is supporting the idea that we can learn more about a person as time passes by, because we can see their reactions to events and situations that they encounter. By observing a person’s mannerisms and aspects of his/her character over a period of time, we are more likely to have a more accurate notion of that person’s essence. During the student-run discussion of Charles Olson and his poetry, I had a strong reaction to a comment that was made by Josh, in regards to the poem. In reference to what may have contributed to the perspective that Olson held in that particular poem, Josh said something to the extent of: “Over time, he [Olson] saw the world for what it was, and the darker side of humanity”. Josh’s comment resonated with me, as I felt that it provided us readers with a less romanticized view of Olson’s intention in writing the poem. He offered a somewhat cynical tone when writing this line because he cements our fears that we may not really know who people are. While someone could be familiar with a person, there could be deeper layers to that person’s character that are made out to be less than obvious. It is up to someone to dig past those layers to get closer to the heart of a person’s character, although, the entirety of a person’s spirit could never truly be revealed.

R. Gallagher said...

for Amanda (continued):

As well, Josh’s comment helped to propel further analysis of this poem for me. Olson went on to reference a “light”, which I interpreted as the author’s deeper awareness of the motives of our society, an understanding of society’s tendencies. He writes, “...the light does go one way toward the post office, and quite another way down to Main Street”. In saying such, I believe that Olson is discussing how the revelations that are made can be used to illustrate different features of a society. The “post office” represents the commercialization of society, as well as our desire for an increased convenience in how we run our day-to-day lives. By contrast, I interpreted “Main Street” as being the environment of the “every man”, where the ideas and behaviors of people are easy to predict because they have been entrenched in that particular environment for so long. Olson uses this contrast to his advantage, highlighting the tendency of treasured institutions to lose their innocence and become corrupted by the powerful, capitalistic machines that prevail in our society. In doing so, whatever was once special and unique can no longer hold true significance. Something that would ordinarily be viewed as being so ordinary-a post office-as well as something that would help to advance society, is now defined according to its context. The post office is one of the many examples of a method that can be used to allow “sins” to breed in our society. Olsen goes on to advance this idea by using the example of a woman who does not have the same ideals as the mainstream society, writing, “Only the lady has got it straight. She looks as the best of my people look in one is elements men stand in the midst of, not these names supported by that false future she...has her foot upon”. The woman does not “look in one direction” as many other people do, meaning she does not believe in the ideals that prevail in society. These ideas could include the commercialization and the changing morality of society. Olson targets the ideals of our society and what it strives for, ultimately deeming it as a “false future”. In writing this, Olson is cementing his opinion of the value of the so-called advances that our society is making. They may offer us convenience and provide us with a respected reputation in an international context, but our traditions and history are threatened by such progress, with our moral integrity hanging in the balance.

This brings the discussion back to the need for necessary change to occur in society, as opposed to launching change just for the sake of having change. Olson views the tendency of people to constantly want to advance and build upon the past as being one of the darker aspects of human nature. I feel as though this conflicts with Olson’s own previously mentioned method with which he used to write his poetry. While Olson intended to build upon the stylistic choices of poets that came before him, in terms of his poems’ structures, he was opposed to replacing the valued cultural institutions that existed in a society, particularly a society that is as unique as that of Gloucester, M.A.

In conclusion, while Charles Olson frequently built upon ideas that were mentioned in literature, as well as stylistic choices, he was opposed to any change that he felt might wreak havoc upon the deep-seated dynamics of a society in which he was comfortable with. This is noted in many of his poems. One such poem is “Maximus, to Gloucester: Letter 2”, in which I believe that Charles Olsen successfully acknowledged the changes that had occurred in Gloucester, while using the existence of such changes to show the darker sides of people, the ones that we may not be witness to at the time.