I have had to learn the simplest things
last. Which made for difficulties.
These lines written by Charles Olson (1910-1970) have been fixed in my brain since the first time I read the poem “Maximus, to Himself,” and it being one hundred years from his birth, I thought that I might glimpse into his worlds of words by perusing the John Wieners Collection at the Burns Library. But the simplest things first: Olson was born in Worcester, MA, but his poetic imagination resided eighty miles away in Gloucester where he summered as a child and resided later in life. He studied Melville and wrote a critical study of tremendous beauty and insight. Call Me, Ishmael (1947) begins with a bold assertion:
“I take SPACE to be the central fact to man born in America, from Folsom cave to now. I spell it large because it comes large here. Large, and without mercy” (1).
He developed a notion of projective verse and was associated with a generation of American modernist poets that followed in the tradition and shadow of Ezra Pound. During the 1940s, Olson befriended Pound and frequently visited him during his incarceration at St. Elizabeth’s psychiatric hospital in Washington D.C. Olson was an instrumental part of the experimental Black Mountain College and helped to found the poetic movement associated with the school. This is where Olson’s narrative meets that of B.C. graduate John Weiners ’54. Desirous of a career in poetry, Weiners appealed to Olson for admission into Black Mountain in a letter held in the collection (Box 1, Folder 45- Wieners to Black Mountain College Registrar). This initial contact began decades of friendship, collaboration, and personal turmoil. Their correspondence, as well as numerous poems in manuscript from Olson and Weiners, is owned by the Burns library. Olson died of liver cancer in 1970, but his poetic life remains in his Maximus poems where Olson creates a sort of literary persona tied to Gloucester and its history, inhabitants, geography, and myth.
The John Wieners Collection at the Burns Library is made up of over fifty manuscript items, including the aforementioned correspondence and poetry but also transcriptions of Olson’s lectures, legal documents, and a number of broadsides and books of poetry. If you would like to learn more about the collection or see it for yourself, please read the finding aid for this collection or contact the reference desk at the Burns Library at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-552-4861 because…
It is undone business
I speak of, this morning
with the sea
from my feet
- Andrew Kuhn, Burns Library Reference Reading Room & Doctoral Candidate in the Department of English email@example.com
Other sites of interest on Olson:
Charles Olson Research Collection at the University of Connecticut
2010 Charles Olson Centennial Celebration in Gloucester, MA
Recordings of Charles Olson reading his poetry, from PennSound at the University of Pennsylvania
Polis Is This, a 2007 documentary film made about Charles Olson, directed by Henry Ferrini