OLSON as the conference approaches
This week I designed pages for printing broadsides of visual poems from Charles Olson's Maximus. Not original design in any sense, except for the setting, i.e. the imagination of page size and material. The poems themselves, trying simply to render them as Olson did, with reference to how they are laid out in the published versions of The Maximus Poems. Type in one poem, beginning a section "What is the heart, turning," took hours, as did "My beloved Father," a circular poem at top that spirals down to its end. The whole act felt like an honor, to try to get this poet, to whom language is object in field, object in world, as is person, as is wood or water, to try to get it right; this was the honor, and the task.
This is where I stand, right now, trying to get it all right as the conference, CHARLES OLSON: LANGUAGE AS PHYSICAL FACT, approaches. It will be Oct 10-11 in Tucson, at the University of Arizona Poetry Center. Sponsored by Chax Press, featuring Anne Waldman, Steve McCaffery, Myung Mi Kim, Cole Swensen, Tenney Nathanson, Barbara Henning, the film POLIS IS THIS: CHARLES OLSON AND THE PERSISTENCE OF PLACE, by Henry Ferrini. Featuring these 10 printed poems, framed, or unframed in a box made just for them. Featuring friends and talk and the physical fact left in words by this poet who has meant a great deal to me for some 33 years now. Not one I ever knew or could have known, though I have known several who knew him.
I first found Olson through his words, having got there through reading Ed Dorn's work, after Donald Davie first pointed me to Dorn by reading "Ledyard: The Exhaustion of Sheer Distance," in a class. Or, as memory gets fuzzy, it may simply have been in that book, The Maximus Poems vol. 1, which I remember seeing time and again at a bookstore, maybe the Stanford University bookstore, or possibly Kepler's Bookstore in Menlo Park, or possibly that little bookstore in downtown Palo Alto whose name I don't remember where I found William Carlos Williams's books. I remember seeing Maximus, picking it up several times, reading bits, intrigued, finally buying it, and reading for hours, and again and again. I remember having to specially order Maximus IV, V, and VI; and the same for Maximus vol. III, by which time I had read much of Olson's prose and much work about him. For me, the poet I found not through classes or anyone telling me about him, but to whom I was led by my reading, but led, as it seemed, inevitably. I remember going to the Olson Festival, 1978, in Iowa City, leaving home and classes in grad school in Madison, Wisconsin, spending a week with 100 or so people hearing of Olson and thinking about Olson. Having breakfast and lunch several days in a row with Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, Edward Dorn, at a table that included, at times, Nathaniel Mackey, Robert Bertholf, and Anselm Hollo. It was, in several ways, entry. It led me (as did seeing, at that festival, the small press work of Allan Kornblum's Toothpaste Press) to want to find out about small presses and the making of books, which I did, and later starting my own press and book work. Again, Olson, physical fact, language as visible and tangible fact, entry, the doing of it, the making of work, the finding oneself in the work, in the world. And that work corresponded exactly with my finding my work as poet, a broad work interlinked with language as physical substance moved by hand and eye and mind.
Perhaps this conference is in part getting back there, or getting back moving forward. Olson reached to the archaic to forward humanity into the postmodern. His postmodern was the archaic brought into the present, a necessary push, an ouroboros, a joining of beginning to end, or a way forward. Let us hope so. Let us hope others join there.
For conference info: http://chax.org/olson.htm