Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's Part 15.17 (Charles Olson)

Olson, Charles
Letters For Origin, 1950-1956

Purchased at Rust Belt Books.

I must have bought this quite a long time ago, as I have recollection of reading it at the old Cybele's cafe in Allentown. When I first moved here in 1997, I rented a lower flat in a two family home on Cottage St. It was about two blocks from Allen, which is a historic district. Allentown is also home to numerous bars, restaurants and boutiques. It has gentrified a bit since I first moved here, but it still retains most of its funky, artistic air. I chose to live there originally because it was the only neighborhood in Buffalo that reminded my of the East Village, where I'd been living for the previous five years.

(Note: we just moved back to Allentown after a ten year absence, and are happy to be back!)

Anyhow, in the spirit of replacing like with like, I immediately set out to find a funky cafe where I could sit and read and smoke and eat and drink every day, as was my habit in NYC. This was it.

Cybele's, in its original incarnation, was a small storefront on Elmwood Avenue near the intersection with Allen St. 'Small' is a generous description. 'Cramped' comes closer to the truth, but that's not quite it, either. Oddly designed. Maybe that's it. It had a small dining area that, behind the counter, included a residential kitchen stove to cook the food.

I seem to recall they had an adjoining room that was sometimes open. In summer, I sat in a metal table on a lovely brick patio that faced Elmwood Ave. In winter, I often sat on a dais near the front window. I always ordered bacon and eggs, or a bacon egg and cheese croissant. They made strong coffee, which I liked (and still do).

Eventually, they moved across the street to a building housing Rust Belt Books and the restaurant on the first floor and the studio of artist Peter Fowler on the second. The owner eventually got into some financial trouble and ended up in jail for sixth months, effectively ending the restaurant's run. They had terrible service, but great atmosphere and delicious food. Nothing has really come along to replace it.

I recall thinking that when I read these letters that Olson was really bullying in his treatment of Corman. I should go back and read the letters again to see if that impression holds true.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's Part 15.16 (Charles Olson)

Maximus to Gloucester by Michael_Kelleher
Maximus to Gloucester, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Olson, Charles
Maxiumus to Gloucester
The Letters of Charles Olson to the Editor of the Gloucester Daily Times, 1962-1969

Purchased at The Bookstore in Gloucester, MA, used, for fifteen dollars. Not sure when I bought it. I have been to gloucester four or five times, but I feel like I acquired this on one of the more recent trips. Next to it on my shelf I also keep a copy of the Gloucester Daily Times, dated January 18, 1968. Mike Basinski sent it to me many years ago when the UB Poetry Collection was doing a routine cleaning. It contains one of Olson's letters that is not collected here.

A huge picture of LBJ giving the state of the union adorns the front cover.

It's very possible I was conceived on this very day -- I was born nine months and eight days later and I came out about ten days late.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 5.15 (Charles Olson)

Olson, Charles
Charles Olson & Ezra Pound: An Encounter at St. Elizabeths

Purchased at Rust Belt Books. Given that I bought this book at least ten years ago, and used at that, it's in surprisingly crisp shape. Feels new but for the five dollar price penciled into the upper right corner of the first right facing page. A little noise in my office this morning. I hear a lawnmower. A couple of guys talking across the street. One of our cats is scratching something somewhere in the house. The lawnmower is getting louder.

This morning in the shower I thought up the lyrics to a song. It goes like this:

The Poetry Song

Should I become a conceptual poet?
Should I become a conceptual poet?
Should I become a conceptual poet?
What should I become?

Should I become a new narrative poet?
Should I become a new narrative poet?
Should I become a new narrative poet?
What should I become?

(Slow tempo)

Should I become a slooowww poet?
Should I become a slooowww poet?
Should I become a slooowww poet?
What should I become?


(no instruments but clapping hands)

L equals A equals N equals G equals U equals A equals G equals E
L equals A equals N equals G equals U equals A equals G equals E
L equals A equals N equals G equals U equals A equals G equals E


L equals A equals N equals G equals U equals A equals G equals E
L equals A equals N equals G equals U equals A equals G equals E
L equals A equals N equals G equals U equals A equals G equals E


Should I become a conceptual poet?
Should I become a conceptual poet?
Should I become a conceptual poet?
What should I become?

(The sound of a dog barking, chorus hums the melody in the background)

What's that little doggie? Did you says something?
What's that? We left something out, you say?
Well what is it? Un-hunh. Un-hunh. So we did.
Well why don't you tell our friends in the audience, ok?
On the count of three. One. Two. Three.

(the dog barks)



Should I become a conceptual poet?
Should I become a conceptual poet?
Should I become a conceptual poet?
What should I become?
What should I become?
What should I.......beeeeeeeee.....coooome.

Thank you. And good night.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 5.14 (Charles Olson)

Von Hallberg, Robert
Charles Olson: The Scholar's Art

I am not one hundred percent certain, but I think Gerrit Lansing gave this book to me when I past through Gloucester on the way back from the Poetry of the Forties conference at Orono, ME in 2004. If not, then I have no idea where I bought, probably online somewhere.

I think I remember Robert Von Hallberg being at that conference.

Anyhow, I gave my one and only academic conference paper, on Olson. It was a kind of revised version of what was to have been the first chapter of my dissertation. I wasn't happy with the academic tone, so I made it a bit more casual and conversational.

I remember making a joke at the beginning of my talk about who all the toilets at the U of M were made by Olsonite and that because of this I would refer to those gathered as "Olsonians" rather than as "Olsonites," despite preferring the sound of the latter. A couple of people chuckled, but it kind of felt like the joke died.

I had already, at least unconsciously, decided not to continue to pursue and academic career, so the presentation was more like a swan song, really.

from Charles Olson: The Scholar's Art

The premise of this book is that Olson deserves close attention precisely because his poems do not conform to what modern critics have argued is essentially poetic. His poetry raises questions of poetic theory with unusual directness, and these questions, rather than the poems themselves, are my subject. What are the attractions of an expository poetics? What ends are served by expository poems? Why should a didactic poet use so exclusive a rhetoric?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 5.13 (Charles Olson)

Bolderoff, Frances & Olson, Charles
Charles Olson and Frances Bolderoff: A Modern Correspondence

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books, probably in 2004. I know this because tucked between pages 84 and 85 is a bus ticket, dated 05/01/2004 Lunes (European dating, so this is January 5). It was for a bus trip from Mérida, Mexico to Chichén Itzá, on the Yucatán Peninsula.

Lori and I traveled around the Yucatán for ten days in early January 2004. We flew into Cozumel where we spent the first night among the many cruise ship passengers that exited the boat for all of about sixty minutes in a foreign land.

It was kind of sad, really.

Disembarking on a pier about twenty feet above the ground, they crossed at that same height over the Main Street in groups of twenty or so, all of them wearing color-coordinated name tags and being shepherded along by a cruise director wearing the same color tag into a shopping mall selling trinkets from all over Mexico (though I think they mostly bought cheap diamonds and Tequila), in which everyone spoke english and charged about ten times the amount the vendors on the street below did. After making their purchases, they boarded the ships and disappeared to their cabins to discuss their "visit" to Mexico.

Our package included ten nights in a hotel, so we left all our bags in the room and took off for the mainland on the second day. I remember getting seasick on the ferry. I ended up downing enough dramamine to put an elephant to sleep. Come to think of it, I got motion sickness on the first leg of the flight, from Buffalo to New York. We flew on one of those old propellor planes that used to be the norm on that route. About thirty minutes before landing I had to put a bag over my mouth. I did not throw up, but I was sure that had we stayed in the air a minute longer than we did, I would have.

So, we took a bus to Mérida, a great little coastal town on the opposite end of the Yucatán from Cozumel (which is an island, by the way), and we spent about five days hitting as many ruin sites as we could: Chichén Itzá , Uxmal, Tulum and Cobá. At the latter we rented mountain bikes and road them around the forest all day, which was a blast.

After visiting the ruins, we ended up back in Cozumel for a few days. We laid on the beach and rented a scooter, which we road endlessly in circles around the island, and we tried to sample all the best foods we could find. We ate some spectacular Mole sauces!

I can't recall whether I had this book with me or if I started reading it after we returned. One of the poems in my first book, "A Note on Utopia," came directly from one of Bolderoff's letters to Olson.

from Charles Olson and Frances Bolderoff: A Modern Correspondence

This letter is from Bolderoff to Olson, unsigned

Woodward to Washington
15 December 1949 (postmark)

My bedroom streams full of light--it is very Woodward quiet and I am absolutely alone except for the very soft falling of the coal into ash

I send you from an Egyptian legend of creation--

"I lifted myself up from the watery mass, out of inertness.
I diod not find a place where I could stand.
I was alone.
I took courage in my heart.
I laid a foundation.
I made every form.
Many were forms coming forth my mouth."


"There are saamu-flowers in my wreath.
One is uplifted in their presence.
I am thy first sister.
I am unto thee like the acre
Which I have planted with flowers
And all manner of sweet-smelling herbs;
And in it is a pool which thy hand has digged.
In the cool of the North Wind,
It is a lovely place where I walk.
Thine hand upon mine, and my body satisfied,
And my heart glad at our going together.
It is mead to me to hear thy voice,
An dI live because I hear it.
If I but see thee
It is better to me than eating or drinking."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 5.12 (Charles Olson)

Boer, Charles
Charles Olson in Connecticut

I think I bought this at Talking Leaves Books.

I remember that reading this book made me feel kind of sad. It depicts Olson final days before he succumbs to cancer, so his premature death hovers over every word in the book. But the part that made sad was the way Boer describes Olson's profound loneliness and alienation. Here was a man profoundly alone with his thoughts, who lacked the ability to ever turn them off. The scenes in which Olson calls Boer in the middle of the night, or shows up at his house and then talks for two, four six, ten, twelve eighteen hours at a time at once paint a portrait of a brilliant mind at work and of a man whose connection to the outside world and to other human beings in it is tenuous at best. One senses he knew this, too, but even so could not turn off his thought process. It's written as a direct address to the poet, which makes this all the more poignant.

from Charles Olson in Connecticut

You would sit sometimes in the solarium on the twelfth floor, looking out at it all, pleasureless. The hospital, at East 68th street, had an extraordinary view of Ziggurat Manhattan, especially at night, the city's billion-dollar neon noise seeming a vast silent movie in the enforced peace of the solarium. How distant was Gloucester, I thought, where Maximus knew most men on the street by first name, knew each eighteenth century house as few men know their own, knew evening's shriek of hungry coastal birds as signal and hearkening to his own great appetite. Gloucester was another land, another time, and no man could be Maximus to New York.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 5.11 (Charles Olson)

Olson, Charles
Olson: The Journal of the Charles Olson Archives, Number 10

Click here for details on my acquisition of this set.

Well, this is the last number in the Olson Set. I guess it was the last issue. I don't really know much about the history of this journal. Feel free to fill me in in the comment section if you know why it only went for ten issues. That said, we are a LONG way from the end of the Olson section!

I am trying to think back to what it was like when I first started reading Olson. He was definitely not in fashion in the late 90's, having been sidelined by a multitude of attacks, mostly impugning his character, his didacticism, his attitude towards women, and so on. There never seemed to be any talk about the poetry or the ideas in his writings.

I decided to investigate him after hearing Jackson Mac Low talk about Pound in Charles Bernstein's seminar. In it, he talked about his lifelong struggle with Pound, whose poetry and poetics were foundational to Mac Low's own, yet whose politics were so execrable as to make him question the value of the poetry. The point of Mac Low's talk was that for him, it was the STRUGGLE with the material that was important, not the decisive choice between the politics and the poetics.

I think the same is true with Olson. His attitudes towards women, in his writing, but also the way he often excluded them from his seminars in Buffalo, ARE execrable. But then there IS the poetry and the thought, which are foundational to pretty much all American poetry written since the Second World War -- including that written by women. I basically spent the rest of my years in grad school struggling with Olson.

It wasn't always simply a struggle, though. It was also an intellectual adventure. The first thing you realize in reading Olson is how little you have read of anything. A major challenge Olson posed for me was that I felt I had to familiarize myself with some of the history and politics and philosophy that grounded his work.

But where to begin?

I think I started with Melville. One summer I read all of Melville's work, then returned to read Call Me Ishmael. Then I think Olson's reading of Melville, which emphasizes his Shakespearean roots, led me to read through Shakespeare. And then back to Call Me Ishmael.

My reading of Olson has always operated in this manner. I start to read something by Olson, which then opens up into something else. I go read that, then return to Olson, which again pushes me outward in some other direction. Then back again.

I can think of few other poets I read this way. Most poets of the post-war era are self-contained in their expression. While the poems might be allusive, the point in, say, Creeley or O'Hara, is being there, being in it, feeling it in all its intensity.

With Olson, there's is this powerful rush of intellectual intensity that, while not without sentiment, has force because it is impersonal. It pushes against the outside world and spills over into it. Just as importantly, the world spills back into the poems. The old in and out, as they say.

I think this is probably one reason people are hesitant about Olson -- because there is something impersonal about his poetry. His poems ask you to push outside them, not remain inside. It's a difficult task.

Hmmm...I think I have more to say about this. But not today.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 5.10 (Charles Olson)

Olson, Charles
Olson: The Journal of the Charles Olson Archives, Number 9

Click here for details on my acquisition of this set.

Thanks again to Richard Deming, Literary Outlaw, for leaving a link in the comment box yesterday. In case you missed it, it linked to a full frame image of the photo I described in yesterday's entry. It's worth taking a second look at.

In the full frame, the shadows of the trees are much more apparent than in the cropped version on the cover of the journal. Also, the branches I described as bamboo look more like vines. The one that I said seemed to be growing out of the poet's head still appears to be doing so, but it also looks to be tenuously connected to a vine at the lower righthand corner of the frame.

Another detail that alters somewhat my perception of the photo, or rather its intent, is Olson's vest. I can now see that it is not a vest but a cardigan sweater. Further, though it is, as I said, buttoned up to the top, it is not buttoned down to the bottom. The lower two buttons are undone, hinting at something more disheveled.

Richard wrote an introduction to several of Williams' Black Mountain photos, which you can read here.

from Olson: The Journal of the Charles Olson Archives, Number 9

Shag Rock

the positive: the mythological
(the world, the mundus:
round. No explanation.

All that happens is eternal.
No examples. No 'proving'

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 5.9 (Charles Olson)

Olson, Charles
Olson: The Journal of the Charles Olson Archives, Number 8

Click here for details on my acquisition of this set.

Thanks to the Literary Outlaw Richard Deming for pointing out that the photo on the cover of issue number six was taken by Jonathan Williams in Olson's cabin at Black Mountain. Read RD's comment for more details about the photo.

I believe the photo on the cover of this issue was also taken by Williams, also at Black Mountain. It's another photo that, upon close examination, has a kind of whacky staginess to it.

As in that other, the poet has something draped over his shoulder, though instead of a towel it is a plaid blanket. It looks more like a mantle. Beneath the poet's mantle he is wearing a plaid tie, a light-colored vest buttoned all the way up, an open sports coat and a white shirt whose collar looks freshly starched.

Now, if the mantle weren't stagy enough, he is posing against a white background that looks like a white sheet has hung behind him from some trees. Shadows of trees dance across its surface. Some appear to be projecting outward from the poet's head. Is he dreaming Plato's cave?

But then there is another object, which looks almost like a stalk of bamboo, that enters the frame at the left and disappears behind Olson's head. Almost looks like aheaddress.

The poet wears the same horn-rimmed glasses and looks very serious. Grave, even.

The other thing that strikes me about this photo is the angle from which it was taken. Olson stares down at the lens, which was obviously much lower than him. Even given the man's enormous size, the angle seems deliberately low, as if to emphasize that size. Or rather that authority. Yes, whereas that other photo emphasizes the concentration and focus of the genius at work, this one highlights his gravity and authority.

But then there's that stick coming out of his head. It could be a garland, but it also seems to cut against the seriousness of the scene, as if to remind us that the source of that authority might be something altogether wild. Even mad!

Postscript: I was just flipping through this issue and discovered that this photo was indeed shot by Williams, ca. 1953, at Black Mountain. There are several other photos, including one I don't recall seeing before of Olson laying on his back on some chairs, his head in the lap of his wife, Connie. He's looking up at her playfully. She's not smiling.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 5.8 (Charles Olson)

Olson, Charles
Olson: The Journal of the Charles Olson Archives, Number 7

Click here for details on my acquisition of this set.

This is an interesting issue. It contains Olson's complete journals from a sword fishing cruise he worked on in July, 1936. According to the introduction, the cruise took place about a year after his father had suddenly died. It appears he was at sea for about three weeks. His journals begin more like a log book and end up something like an early Maximus poem, with Olson taking notes on everything from sailor lingo to bills of lading, with a dash of mythology thrown in for good measure. I don't think I'd noticed before how much these journals DO look like the Maximus poems. The list below looks almost like a schema for a novel.

from Olson: The Journal of the Charles Olson Archives, Number 7

from Journal of Swordfishing Cruise on Doris M. Hawes, July 1936

1. The rhythms of a vessel–like a good woman
2. The order of a day aboard
3. Morning & Evening
4. The indirectness of fisherman
5. The ripeness, Eliz. gusto of their speech
6. At the wheel in the storm
7. The colors of the sea
8. The food & the eating
9. Each member of the crew characterized
10. The fleet–makeup–rivalry
11. The porpoises
12. The blackfish
13. The faded coat of the sea
14. The sun like a cigarette burn
15. High liners
16. [blank]

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 5.7 (Charles Olson)

Olson, Charles
Olson: The Journal of the Charles Olson Archives, Number 6

Click here for details on my acquisition of this set.

I am not feeling a strong urge to remember anything this morning. I feel more inclined to examine the objects in the photo of Olson on the cover of this issue of the journal. If you are interested in Olson, you've seen this photo many times before. He sits at a table by the window. Morning sunlight filters past a white window frame, gently lighting up a white curtain on its way to bathing the poet, hunched over a piece of paper, in its soft glow.

I have no idea when this photo was taken. I assume it is from the early fifties, as he looks much slimmer than he did in the sixties. A dark, short mustache covers his upper lip. His hair recedes straight back from the forehead. He's wearing black, horn-rimmed spectacles. He is not wearing a shirt. A towel is draped over his left shoulder. As if he were about to get in the shower but had a thought he decided he needed to commit to paper right away. Or he just stepped out of the shower and needed to write it down before he got to dressing and let the moment pass. At least, that is what the photo seems to want to indicate.

But who took the photo? And why would someone suddenly decide to take a photo of a half-naked poet just before getting into or out of the shower? It's probably staged, though it may have been staged in the moment.

The poet is quite hairy. Hairy chest, hairy shoulders, hairy back. Even his right arm, which holds the pen, and which can be seen crossing over his body as it extends across a sheet of paper, is quite hairy.

The table upon which he writes looks to be a small wooden one pushed against the window frame. Some part of the grain can be seen near the edge of the sheet of paper he's writing on. Next to the window sits a white paper cup with a faint, decorative band printed along the side. The cup is overturned and appears to be pressed over top of something else, possibly another cup. At the edge of the photo, just in front of the cup, can be seen some kind of round object. An apple, perhaps.

Following the same edge of the photo down toward the lower righthand corner we can see an ashtray, which resembles a shard of broken pottery, filled with the ashes and butts of five or six cigarettes. Just before the corner, at the furthest distance from the poet in the photo (in reality a couple of feet) one can see a portion of a ceramic bowl with a lid.

The bowl sits on a woven placemat, whose weave pattern highlights and confuses another weave pattern. At the edge of the mat, in front of the poet, dominating the frame to nearly the extent that the poet himself does, rises a rounded cask of wine. It's the kind of cask that used to be associated with dinner at a cheap italian restaurant tucked away in some quiet corner of Greenwich Village. The bottle is corked.

To its right (our left) sits a small tin cup with an elongated handle, almost like an old military or camping coffee mug. Behind the mug rests another object. Possibly a pack of cigarettes, possibly not. A cylindrical object, resembling the small end of a miniature baseball bat, peeks partially out from the left edge of the frame. The last object, also only halfway visible, is a small glass jar. On the label I can make out a few letters, but nothing intelligible: "-crip" and "-affers" and the number 42.

Could it be ink? Pen bits? Coffee? Who knows.

What the picture succeeds in doing is to portray the poet in a state of intense concentration. He is focused on the task at hand, which is to get his thoughts down on paper. Neither the temptations of wine nor food nor cigarettes nor even the need to bathe can distract him from his task. The only question left unanswered is, "What on earth is he writing?"

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 5.6 (Charles Olson)

Olson, Charles
Olson: The Journal of the Charles Olson Archives, Number 5

Click here for details on my acquisition of this set.

One of the nice things about having a dog is that they require one to walk them several times a day. The boredom that attends the ritual performance of this act leads one to find new paths to walk in order that if the activity doesn't change then at least the scenery will.

We have several small, lovely parks within a couple of blocks of our new home. Directly east is Arlington Park, a modest square consisting of grass and trees, mostly oak and maple, around which is constructed an array of post-Civil War historical homes. I most often walk the dog around Arlington park in the morning, but lately I've been wandering into different areas in search of something else to look at.

Days Park, two blocks south, is similarly constructed, though at one end it opens to pedestrians onto Allen St. It's a bit larger than Arlington, but, except for the open end, is very similar in character.

Just north of here sits Symphony Circle, a roundabout that joins three different streets, altering them all along the way. North St. enters from the east and comes out Porter on the west side of the circle. Richmond feeds in from the north and becomes Wadsworth on the other end. Almost an afterthought, Pennsylvania runs one way ways off a spur at the beginning of Wadsworth. It never changes its name.

The roundabout area creates four separate pocket parks. Imagine it as a compass with the SE/NE/NW/SW quadrants as grassy areas with concrete walking paths connecting them.

For the past couple of mornings I've taken our dog, Zelda, north and walked her through the southwest corner of the park, which passes before Kleinhans music hall, a beautiful example of high modernist architecture that houses the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. It's also where I host the Babel series of author lectures.

The curved, east-facing facade of the building rises over a reflecting pool. Zelda and I were walking along the path in front of the reflecting pool this morning. I was admiring the way the dawn light was hitting the facade, the three-quarters moon still floating in the blue sky above, when suddenly we heard an unfamiliar bird loudly cawing.

I am not much of a bird watcher and can at best identify about ten species on the planet; however, in this instance I was certain I was seeing something unusual. The bird making all the noise had blue feathers and a long beak, and it took several dives into the reflecting pool, as if it were hunting. I stood and watched it for a time.

Then, just as suddenly suddenly, two larger birds, one of which seemed to be pursuing the other, burst through the top of a maple tree and began darting upward and down, also above the reflecting pool. At first it looked like a hawk pursuing a crow, one being light (the pursuer), the other dark (the pursued).

The noisy blue bird continued cawing and diving and flying sharply back and forth over the pool.

I noticed a woman with three small dogs a little ways up the path admiring the birds. As we continued on, I said hello and she said hello back and turned toward the building. Then she turned to me again and said, What a sight! A kingfisher and two kestrels. I don't know where that kingfisher came from, but if he is all the way over here he is in trouble. I think the Kestrels were released by D'Youville College up the street. O, by the way I work for the SPCA, that's how I know all this.

I thanked her for the info and began to arc around the roundabout back home, thinking how apropos it was to have seen a kingfisher just as I was headed home to write about Charles Olson.

from Olson: The Journal of the Charles Olson Archives, Number 5

from The Long Poem

Is it possible to do a long poem called WEST?
Or is the American experience too stiff, historical, unfabled for use? There seems to be an innate treachery in it: with the exception of Whiteman–or is he not rather an example of what I mention below–the material has balked Crane, Macleish, Salt, Aiken. Which may of course, only be their inadequacy.

Whitman–Pound–Williams, and scattered pieces of Eliot. But in each case it has been carried by a strong injection of the poet's self, so that what is historical is made subjective through the poet's character as directly an actor on the scene. This is certainly true of Whitman and Pound. Better read Patterson to say what about Williams.

The which is Dante's method? By contrast Homer and Shakespeare keep themselves out.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 5.5 (Charles Olson)

Olson, Charles
Olson: The Journal of the Charles Olson Archives, Number 4

Click here for details on my acquisition of this set.

Starting to feel a but more like we have arrived in this house. I gave away all the archive boxes I'd used for my books yesterday, so almost all of the boxes we've unpacked are now gone. There's still a lot of clutter. we accepted too many free things from the previous owner, especially chairs. We have an attic full of chairs we probably won't use.

I am trying to remember more about my trip to the Olson archive.

I remember I stayed with the Literary Outlaw Richard Deming and his partner, Nancy Kuhl, in New Haven. I drove 90 minutes or so each morning to the archive, where the curator, Rutherford, would have a couple of carts worth of material waiting for me.

Like most archives, the excitement is all in the content, not the context. I remember it being a quiet, carpeted, air-conditioned room with large, utilitarian (meaning student-proof) tables. All of the stacks were hidden behind the counter.

I don't remember much else, except that it cost something like 50 cents per photocopy, which meant I could only make about ten, of which I've since lost about half.

from Olson: The Journal of the Charles Olson Archives, Number 4

from "On History"

(This is Olson speaking with Ginsberg in Vancouver in 1964)

Olson: Etymon. The right word. The root. The word in the rightness of its root. Not at all the usages, the behavior of the word, but the actual thing that it is. Yeah? And that thing in itself is where we really have a chance to put our hand out and grab ahold of something. Otherwise we're simply getting caught in the event either of the society, which is one form of what's boringly called history, or the event of ourselves, which is also that damn boring thing called personal history.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 5.4 (Charles Olson)

Olson, Charles
Olson: The Journal of the Charles Olson Archives, Number 3

See the previous entry for details on my acquisition of this set.

Still trying to find a rhythm for this blog in the new house. We've been doing so much work on it that I find myself exhausted from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to bed. I spent three whole days in the basement this week helping Lori's father work on the plumbing. I learned more than I ever wanted to know, got real dirty.

I then spent two full days in front of my computer taking an online seminar on how to use Raiser's Edge development software for my job. At the end of the second day, I spilled half a cup of coffee on the keyboard of my MacBook Pro. It's fried. Not the whole computer, but the keyboard. I took it to the Apple store and they told me the charge to fix it would be $1240, flat rate, covering any and all problems. I might as well buy a new computer at that rate. Thanks, Apple. No wonder you are richer than Exxon.

Fortunately, I use a docking station that elevates the screen and allows me to use an external keyboard, making my laptop more or less a desktop. It still functions fine in that regard, except for some minor screen discoloration in the upper left hand corner. So, I'll use it that way, as a desktop. I brought home my laptop from work (a supersonic MacBook Pro purchased earlier this summer), which I can use downstairs for casual websurfing. it time for an iPad?

Returning to the theme of comfort -- one of the difficulties, besides finding energy and time to write amid a hectic move and impending fatherhood, has been the location of my office. In each of our previous two houses I had an office/library on the first floor. Both were semi-private, thus also semi-public. The new library is on the second floor and is somewhat isolated. This part is good, but it means I have to run up and down the stairs to get coffee or whatever. This throws off my routine. Or maybe I am just tire. I am sure I'll get used to it.

Speaking of coffee...can I tell you about my bad technology week?

First, the super-automatic espresso machine broke. We have to send it back for repair. I can't complain too much, as we are heavy users, having made between 12 and 15K shots on it in 2.5 years. But still, it hurts. Plus, our year-old microwave (just out of warranty, natch), shorted out. It can be used, but it beeps all night if you leave it plugged in. Then came the computer, and on Saturday, the infant car seat.

Our friends had given us a car seat and stroller system to use for the baby. We also bought an extra base for the car seat online. Yesterday, we took them to a police station to have an officer show us how to install them correctly. He did, then told us that the seat we were given had been recalled and would we like a replacement. We said yes and he brought out a brand new car seat and base and installed it into Lori's car.

The only problem is that it doesn't fit into the new seat base we bought or into the snap-in stroller frame. So, we had to return the new base and order a new seat and another extra base, and we'll have to give away the free one received from the police.

And if that wasn't bad enough -- the passenger side window on my 11.5 year-old Honda popped out of the track, forcing me to pull the glass up out of the door and prop it into place until I can get to the mechanic on Monday -- O, and did I mention Lori's A/C & heat fan died on her Honda and that we had to have that fixed?

It's almost enough to make me a luddite. Almost, but not quite.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 5.3 (Charles Olson)

Olson, Charles
Olson: The Journal of the Charles Olson Archives, Number 2

Given to me by Rutherford B. Withus, formerly the curator of the poetry archive at Storrs, where I spent a week going through Olson's papers in 2001 or 2.

If you have never visited the Olson archive at Storrs, it is worth your while to make the trip. I spent about five days there towards the end of my grad school years. I spent most of that time combing through Olson's marginalia and unpublished papers. More than anyone I have ever seen, Olson wrote in his books. In some, like Brooks Adam's The Emancipation of Massachussetts, he wrote so much that there seemed to be an entirely new book being written in the margins. He wrote a filthy poem across the title page about ejaculating in a woman's mouth, comparing his semen to "cereal."

There were also some sad bits, as in the margins of Havelock's Preface to Plato, where he wrote a fragment about his wife Betty's death in an automobile accident. I lost my photocopy of this, but I recall it revealed a morbid sense of guilt, saying something about him feeling like he "drove" her to her death. The implication seemed to be that he had driven her away, possibly towards another man she visited the night of the accident, and thus to her death in an automobile accident on the way.

I barely touched the boxes and boxes of unpublished fragments, poems, etc. There's so much!

from Olson: The Journal of the Charles Olson Archives, Number 1
from Introductory Statement for Black Mountain College Catalogue, Spring Semester, 1952
Black Mountain College is heretical because it has practices from its founding (1933) two of the simplest & oldest principles on which higher learning__when it has been higher--has rested.

I, that the student, rather than the curriculum, is the proper center of a general education because it is he and she that a college exists for

& II, that a faculty fit to face up to the student as the center have to be measured by what they do with what they know, that it is there dimension as teachers as much as their mastery of their disciplines that makes them instruments capable of dealing with what excuses there profession in the first place, their ability to instruct the student under hand.

Several things follow from these two basic principles, so far as the instruction at Black Mountain College goes. One characteristic, from the beginning, has been the recognition that ideas are only such as they exist in things and in actions. Another worth emphasizing (it is still generally overlooked in those colleges where classification into fields, because of curriculum emphasis remains the law) is that Black Mountain College carefully recognizes that, at this point in man's necessities, it is not things in themselves but what happens between things where the life of them is to be sought.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 5.2 (Charles Olson)

Olson, Charles
Olson: The Journal of the Charles Olson Archives, Number 1

This is the first entry from the new abode. I am writing in from my new library and office on the second floor. It feels a little strange. I have all of my books out, yet nothing on the walls to make it feel like home. I've taken a few days off from lifting and housework in order to let my sore elbow and back recover a little. Both have been aching from carrying book boxes and various other heavy items around the house.

The library occupies a narrow room in the front of the house. I think this room might have once been a staircase, as it sits over what used to be the foyer for a front porch entrance. You now enter on the side of the house and the main staircase is in the center.

My desk sits next to a window overlooking the street. It blocks a door that leads directly into the master bedroom. No door currently obstructs the entryway leading in from the hallway. A vertically contoured paper keeps the plaster of the walls intact. Everything is painted white, except the floor, which is painted black over pine boards.

We have a couple of built-in bookcases downstairs, but they don't hold very much.

Three cheap, pressboard bookcases bought from Matt Chambers before moving in to the last house, but which were never needed for books there, as well as a wide bookcase purchased at a garage sale my first year in Buffalo, were commandeered from Lori's studio, where they'd been used to store paint and glass for the past few years, in order to house my books.

I also bought a used bookcase from a local office furniture place and a new, cube-storage bookcase from Office Dept. All are full, except for a shelf and a half in the built-ins. which are going to serve as a downstairs office space for Lori or for guests on the sleeper sofa. I am sure it will not be full for long.

My office chair rolls around on a plastic office mat to protect the floor, and much of the rest of the room is now covered with the same sisal rug my desk sat on at the old library. I put a black, mid-century modern wicker chair in the corner underneath a cheap work light clipped to a bookcase. For reading. My guitar sits quietly in the corner. Both the chair and the light were left behind by the previous owner, as was the open-shelf Ikea storage unit behind me.

The new house feels good. The right size and shape, the right location, the right amount of privacy with just the right amount of nearness to things like stores and parks and book stores. We're both happy to be here, as are the animals and, we hope, our little Emily, due in about a month, if not sooner. We hope not too soon!

Lots of Olson and Olson-related books to move through for the next 35 or so entries. I am going to have to get inventive here! As to todays title -- the whole set of ten issues of this journal was given to me by Rutherford B. Withus, formerly the curator of the poetry archive at Storrs, where I spent a week going through Olson's papers in 2001 or 2.