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.
Robert 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.