Charles Olson is often described as one of the most influential American poets of the last quarter century; some would rather describe him as a cult figure, prophet of the Black Mountain poets and their descendants. Both judgments refer to an influence exerted as much through theories as through poems. Here is an examination of Olson's understanding of poetry that is cogent and a pleasure to read. It provides the framework needed for understanding Olson's work.
Mr. von Hallberg shows us the Olson of the 1950s, who tried to bring change through teaching, who wanted poetry to communicate knowledge, as well as the more private poet of the 1960s, turning from history to myth. Olson's ambitions for poetry were based on his sense of cultural politics, and the author studies the relation between Olson's politics and his poetics. He traces too Olson's relation to older poets, especially Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. His book will interest anyone reading contemporary American poetry.
Brilliant… One puts it down with the conviction that it is also one of the most remarkable books on any post-war poet… Von Hallberg’s contention that Olson’s poems ‘cannot be adequately appreciated within terms of recent poetic theory’, and his subsequent exploration of alternative theory, powerfully remove our preconceptions of what a poem ought to be and so enable us to see with a new clarity the nature of Olson’s achievement.
This book is careful, useful and provocative, and intelligently sees Olson in the literary tradition of Pound, Williams, and the Objectivists, and the politico-cultural context of New Deal liberalism.
Von Hallberg is especially good on Whitehead's influence on Olson and the relationship of Olson's poetics to that of the ‘objectivists’…His study of Olson's relation to Pound and Williams is definitive. Moreover, even though he is interested mainly in Olson's theories, his readings of difficult key poems are often little short of brilliant.
Charles Olson: is he a cranky, self-obsessed, and messianic theorist? Or is he indeed a particularly charismatic writer who has synthesized the several poetic impulses of a generation? These are the components of the Olson ‘question’—a question to which Mr. Von Hallberg commits himself with energy and erudition. His book is deeply engaged with previously untouched materials and broadly informed.
Robert von Hallberg's is the first reasoned effort to say what kind of poet Olson was: always the first thing we need to know about an American innovator. No intending voyager in the seas and shoals of Maximus should omit this book from his kit.
- 264 pages
- 6 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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