Friday, September 23, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 5.36 (Charles Olson)

Projective Verse by Michael_Kelleher
Projective Verse, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Olson, Charles
Projective Verse


Given to me as a birthday gift by Dan Machlin. I can't remember which birthday, but it was in my early thirties. I have had it for a long time. This might actually be the most valuable book in my library. With amazing cover and title art by Matsumi Kanemitsu, it was published in 1959 by Totem Press, which was run by Amiri Baraka (then still LeRoi Jones) It's going on Alibis for up to $750. The value doubles for an inscribed copy, which this is not. It does, though, contain an original errata slip, which is quite Olsonian in and of itself:


I got to meet Amiri Baraka a few years back. We brought him to Buffalo for the first of several celebrations of Robert Creeley in the year following his death. He headlined the event along with Joanne Kyger and Tom Raworth. I found him to be engaged, sensitive, intelligent, and, contrary to his public persona, quite amiable. I remember sitting in the lounge at the bed and breakfast where the poets stayed, talking to him about Jackson Mac Low. I don't remember the details of the story, but I recall him telling me about a reading the two of them had done many years earlier in Rome. I think Gregory Corso (who is buried there) also came up.

The reading took place at the Church, a huge performance space the was rehabbed from its former religious life by Ani DiFranco (it's now called Babeville). Ani herself sat in the front row for most of the event. The wide stage at Babeville rises about three feet above the floor. A short staircase leads to the stage on either side.

Baraka read from stage left. A grand piano, kind of a prop. stood silent at stage left. He read for nearly an hour. A fiery, breathtaking performance that was equal parts poetry and sermon in tone. About halfway through the performance, a young man walked up the steps at stage left and seated himself at the grand piano.

Panicked, I ran around the rear of the hall to ask Ed Cardoni what he thought we should do. I felt a looming presence at my back and turned to find Geoffrey Gatza towering over us both.

You want me to go get him? he asked.
Hold on. He's just sitting there, Ed replied. If he starts to play the piano or make any noise, we'll go get him.

We waited. The kid sat hunched over the keyboard. He quietly elevated both hands until they hovered above the keys, threatening to play. Geoff took a step toward the stage. The kid sat absolutely still. Slowly, one finger on his left hand lowered itself from the others until it pointed straight down. He lowered the hand. Geoff took another step forward. He touched a key, playing the note just loud enough to be heard. Geoff took another step forward.

The kid held his hands over the keyboard a second longer, then replaced them in his lap. We waited. Nothing more. He just sat there until the end of the reading, when Ed escorted him to a seat to ask him a few questions. Just art school dropout looking for attention, it turned out. I saw him a few times after that, always disrupting readings or performances around town. He seemed to take pleasure only in upsetting people, which he was, admittedly, pretty good at.

I asked Baraka if he had noticed. He said yes. I asked did it bother him. He said no, he'd dealt with a lot worse than that. I am sure he wasn't lying.

from Projective Verse

I want to do two things: first, try to show what projective or OPEN verse is, what it involves, in its act of composition, how, in distinction from the non-projective, it is accomplished; and II, suggest a few ideas about what stance toward reality brings such verse into being, what that stance does, both to the poet and to his reader. (The stance involves, for example, a change beyond, and larger than, the technical, and may, the way things look, lead to new poetics and to new concepts from which some sort of drama, say, or of epic,pehaps, may emerge.)

First, some simplicities that a man learns, if he works in OPEN, or what can also be called COMPOSITION BY FIELD, as opposed to inherited line, stanza, over-all form, what is the “old” base of the non-projective.

(1) the kinetics of the thing. A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it (he will have some several causations), by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader. Okay. Then the poem itself must, at all points, be a high energy-construct and, at all points, an energy-discharge. So: how is the poet to accomplish same energy, how is he, what is the process by which a poet gets in, at all points energy at least the equivalent of the energy which propelled him in the first place, yet an energy which is peculiar to verse alone and which will be, obviously, also different from the energy which the reader, because he is a third term, will take away.

This is the problem which any poet who departs from closed form is specially confronted by. And it involves a whole series of new recognitions. From the moment he ventures into FIELD COMPOSITION— put himself in the open— he can go by no track other than the one the poem under hand declares, for itself. Thus he has to behave, and be, instant by instant, aware of some several forces just now beginning to be examined. (It is much more, for example, this push, than simply such a one as Pound put, so wisely, to get us started: “the musical phrase,” go by it, boys, rather than by, the metronome.)

(2) is the principle, the law which presides conspicuously over the composition, and, when obeyed, is the reason why a projective poem can come into being. It is this: FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT. (Or so it got phrased by one, R. Creeley, and it makes absolute sense to me, with this possible corollary, that right form, in any given poem, is the only and exclusively possible extension of content under hand.) There it is, brothers, sitting there, for USE.

Now (3) the process of the thing, how the principle can be made so to shape the energies that the form is accomplished. And I think it can be boiled down to one statement (first pounded into my head by Edward Dahlberg): ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION. It means exactly what it says, is a matter of, at all points (even, I should say, of our management of daily reality as of the daily work) get on with it, keep moving, keep in, speed, the nerves, their speed, the perceptions, theirs, the acts, the split second acts, the whole business, keep it moving as fast as you can, citizen. And if you also set up as a poet, USE USE USE the process at all points, in any given poem always, always one perception must must must MOVE, INSTANTER, ON ANOTHER! So there we are, fast, there’s the dogma. And its excuse, itsusableness, in practice. Which gets us, it ought to get us, inside the machinery, now, 1950, of how projective verse is made.

If I hammer, if I recall in, and keep calling in, the breath, the breathing as distinguished from the hearing, it is for cause, it is to insist upon a part that breath plays in verse which has not (due, I think, to the smothering of the power of the line by too set a concept of foot) has not been sufficiently observed or practiced, but which has to be if verse is to advance to its proper force and place in the day, now, ahead. I take it that PROJECTIVE VERSE teaches, is, this lesson, that the verse will only do in which a poet manages to register both the acquisitions of his ear and the pressures of his breath.

1 comment:

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