All of the Following were written by students and reflected their reading of Charles Olson’s Maximus Poems. The entries correlate with page numbers. Individual authors are discernible for each entry. You may also wish to check out individual essays on the entire Maixmus poems under the heading: Students’ Guide to the Complete Maximus Poems. Here students wrote essays on a particular aspect of the work as a whole.
(If you wish to see all of the Entries and all seven of the final Essays in one file, you may go to the Introduction Page and click on the PDF link. The PDF retains the original formatting and contains some illustrations.)
Below, you may look at the entries alone. The Entries are in bold face and follow consecutively through the entire text. The author of each appears at the beginning of each entry.
Entry 1: Pages 1-29
MELIS ATALAY (Aug 31, 2009 6:48 PM)
here we go. Gloucestor is important. But must it necessarily be Gloucestor? For Maximus it must be, I suppose. But what about for the rest of us. Personally, I had never heard of Gloucestor before this class began. For me, and others in like situation, is this place a reality? Can it not be to me? Place might be like a container – which was the first image
that came to mind with the line “love is form” (I.1). If love is form, “and cannot be without important substance”, then place may be a form which may hold an important substance, which must be specific to the reader, I infer. I love the image of a bird trying to embark on this mission of creativity to find this form, or “nest”, for his own appropriate sense of
place. I say that the bird is creative because he uses unconventional materials for his nest: “a bone of a fish / of a straw… / of a color / of a bell / of yourself, torn” (I.3). Just as Maximus states his objectives to find – what? … his unique sense of place as a requisite to house his unique “important substance”, or own experience, – the bird uses his
creativity in abstract forms of color and sound and even uses a part of himself, to make a nest so that he may …havent figured that part out yet. form is love, though, continues to beat in my head, so I am thinking that to assert one’s own place necessitates dedication and genuine dedication at that, and with that individuality. These lines, I believe,
relate: “Limits / are what any of us / are inside of” (I.17). I see an emphasis on personal experience and direct interaction, with encouragements to hear, to experience
sound, to move, to smell, etc; “there are only eyes in all heads, to be looked out of “(1.29).
I find the image of the swordsman striking “mu-sick” silly – how could he pierce such nonsense?
How can we “know polis” (I.10) ? “to have the polis in [the] eye” (1.28).
I like the images of I.14. The house does belong to him, not really to anyone, but he feels the need to be creative in trying to fix it, by using paper clips, etc. I am sure this has something to do with “know[ing] polis”. Who is this poem for?
While enjoying the aesthetic, i must admit i am confused by some of the images and the connectedness of the letters, among other and all things in the poem. This anxiety irritable as I tend to want want want to understand it immediately. I appreciate the form. I appreciate how Olson uses an open paranthetical mark, often without a detactable closing
one. This does encourage the reader to forge onward, and think that the unanswered questions will have answers in the text, eventually.
Did i miss the mark? Welll, now to do my economics homework, grrrr.
Entry 1: Pages 1-29
Ian Mintz – IAN LOUIS MINTZ (Aug 31, 2009 8:19 PM)
Before I begin my response to the assigned poetry, I think it is appropriate to examine the derivation, at least minimally, of “Maximus.” “Maxi-,” according to the OED, forms “nouns denoting things which are very long or large of their kind.” “Maximus,” then, alludes not only to Maximus of Tyre, but to the prodigious body of text, The Maximus Poems, as a large object. After all, the poetry, ideally, is printed on very large leaves. “Maximus” also names a voyage
of incredible scope, particularly in the speaker’s awareness of history, with his mention of the “Four Winds,” the Anemoi in Greek mythology, as one of the many examples (Charles Olson 23). What I find especially interesting is that the epic consists of many particulars—of body parts—that form one body of text. For example, the very specific and seemingly insignificant mention of the “lad from the Fort / who recently bought the small white house on Lower Middle” (11). Particulars such as this one “in the end, are / the sum” (5). Indeed, the
particulars both come from and form the sum: we are all “of a bone of a fish / of a straw, or will / of a color” (7). We are, put differently, all derived from something—everything—else. Particular individuals, as members of humanity, as products of human history and as beings of the Earth and earth, are part of a worldwide consortium. We are all, as a
group, Maximus. We are individuals in an individual whole; we are parts of a oneness.
One can also become aware of particulars through individual words and conflation in The Maximus Poems. Maximus uses a line break between “make you” and “slave,” which reveals clearly that “slave,” depending on its context, can be read as a verb or a noun. “Schooner” is also a sailing vessel or a beer glass (6). Finally, when “suddenly, he turned to a Gloucesterman, a big one, / berthed alongside this queer one, and said: / ‘I’ll own her, one
day,'” Maximus conflates ships and people (11). “Slave,” “schooner” and other words refer to all of their meanings, but readers often choose particular definitions. In this way, the particular definitions are parts of a greater whole or, in other words, a variety of definitions. The same idea could be applied to all language, which would, perhaps, prove language
ultimately arbitrary because one always selects meaning.
Entry 1: Pages 1-29
LOREN JAMES BRINDZE (Sep 4, 2009 5:19 PM)
The tradition of tonal western instrumental music, otherwise known as ‘classical music’ to the less particular tastes of the general public, has centered itself (until very recently) around a musical form known as the Sonata form. The sonata form can be categorized
by the appearance of 3 formal elements: an exposition that establishes the home key, a development that explores distant or remote tonal areas, followed by a recapitulation that reestablishes the home key. In short, the sonata form, popularized mainly by male
composers, outlines a narrative concurrent in many other forms of story telling — that of the male sexual experience; stasis, tension, and release.
Olson uses a similar latent sexuality in the beginning letters of his Maximus poems. Sure, Olson too needs to establish a home ‘key’ from which his journey may depart. However, the sexual imagery within the opening lines of this work connote not a sense of
brooding tension, but rather focuses on the integral reproduction that necessitates, in certain respects, the need to establish a home to even bother returning to in the first place.
I feel Olson’s speaker Maximus best establishes home as a sexual (and undoubtedly physical) center most clear at the end of letter one: “in! in! the bow-sprit, bird, the beak/in, the bend is, in, goes in, the form/that which you make[…] can, right now hereinafter erect, the mast, the mast, the tender/ mast!” The clear phallic and (for lack of a better descriptor) forward or outward imagery is countered by the concluding physicality and weight of “The nest” Maximus says, “flashing more than a wing… than anything other than that which you carry.” The nest, for one is considerably more maternal than the “bow-sprit” or the “tender mast,”
yet the speaker clearly values it more than something that can be carried – associating meaning with the nomadic (and generally patriarchal) tribes of old. Olson ends the first letter with an oppositional unity of one of two trajectories in life; the innate desire to
travel and see the world, countered with the more latent and later developed domesticity—male, and female. (all quotes taken from page 8)
Entry 1: Pages 1-29
BRITTNEY RENEE STANLEY (Sep 6, 2009 9:22 PM)
The Maximus Poems
Reading Response 1 pg 5-29
“I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You Off-shore, by islands hidden in the blood
jewels & miracles, I, Maximus,
a metal hot from boiling water, tell you
what is a lance, who obeys the figures of
the present dance”
Immediately Olson establishes the character of the narrator as one of fortitude who is going to actively occupy the next
635 pages. However, despite his formidable persona that matches his Grecian name, this stanza is subtly ambiguous,
allowing for multiple interpretations of what this Maximus is setting out to do. The opening line is one of command as it
begins with “I,” but it ends with “You,” and particularly a capitalized “You,” thus giving the reader the same power as a
proper noun like Maximus. This line is also almost perfectly balanced, set off by commas and weighted equally on
opposite ends by opposite pronouns. The only word that throws off the symmetry is “to,” which already alludes to the
poem lacking a definite balance, and a definite answer.
Continuing into the opening stanza, Olson utilizes distinct enjambment: “blood/jewels.” Separate, these two words have entirely different connotations, living vs unliving, violence vs beauty, etc., but together as a phrase it generally refers to
a jewel mined in an war torn country for the purpose of funding the insurgency. In this sense, then, Olson is naming an object with a facade of beauty and grandeur, highly sought after, but one that is dirty and awful underneath the facade.
This introduces Olson’s theme of things lacking substance and thus being false that he often touches upon in regards to love. By coupling “blood jewels” with “miracles,” Olson engenders an eerie environment, but also one that encompasses the entire spectrum of human experience, from the horrifying to the awe-inspiring. Maximus then compares himself to a “metal hot from boiling water,” which initially establishes him as an element able to scald and brand, something than will leave a mark on the reader. However, a hot metal is also highly moldable and therefore Maximus is subject to being shaped by the poem as well. This metaphor, then, continues upon the opening line that sets up the mutually equal relationship between reader and poet. Finally, by referring to “the present dance,”
Olson literalizes the movement that will occur between reader and poet throughout the poem.
Entry 1: Pages 1-29
STEPHANIE ANTOINETTE ANDERSON (Sep 7, 2009 11:54 AM)
It may be because this is the beginning of the epic, but Maximus seems to concentrate primarily on positive aspects—i.e., aspects concerning what is presently true about the world, specifically what is true about his world. He provides the background that is necessary for the reader’s understanding of whatever it is he is about to dive into. With
constant allusions to his “city!” and the body of water that lies before him, he invites us to travel forward with him (5). Having read neither about Charles Olson nor his Maximus poems, I am not certain what this journey will entail, but I feel confident that it will reveal more about Maximus’s ties to Gloucester—assuming these ties transcend mere
geographical location. And further, I hope that the poems will help to illuminate the universal (or perhaps personal) connections between the self and the self’s origins—origins both of geography and more importantly, of body/mind. As I mentioned earlier, Maximus focuses on the more positive accounts of his life, and he does not delve too
far into the normative aspects, which concern what ought to be. I find that at the beginning of most chapters, I ruminate on what ought to transpire, what the results ought to be; with little attention paid to what is. However, Maximus’s penchant to describe and elaborate on the present conditions, along with some of the past, seems infinitely healthier
and more productive. It provides a better foundation for what actually will come to be—no wishful thinking, only action that will more likely yield results. He speaks of “the lad from the Fort,” who does not lament his lack of ownership or demand he deserves to own the ship, but rather the lad declares, “‘I’ll own her, one day” (11). Such insistence may
demonstrate a misguided need and perhaps even greed, but “the demand / [that] will arouse / some of these men and women” itself only suggests a want for something and the notion that there are voids that can be filled (12). And
whether or not this demand is something more intoxicating and dangerous is something that only the future can say, and I am sure that somewhere in the next 600 pages Olson and Maximus will tell us.
Entry 1: Pages 1-29
Laura (Sep 8, 2009 9:10 AM)
The Maximus Poems open as a love song for polis. Through the faintly embodied (in text) presence of a kylix, the unraveling of ‘what is polis’ is projected into the field of the page, in midst of the geography of Gloucester, of the change happening in Gloucester.
This change, the influx of capitalism on the seaside village, presented in the poem as intimate with itself (via Maximus), of its movements of waves, and light, and people, is central to the imagery of the opening movements of the poem and establishes an
immediate tension between voice and objects (hearing and seeing). An immediate call to the action of knowing:
…o my people, where shall you find it, how, where, where shall you listen
when all is become billboards, when all, even silence, is spray-gunned?
when even our bird, my roofs,
cannot be heard
when even you, when even sound itself is neoned in?
“our bird” establishes an immediate relationship between the narrative voice, the residents of Gloucester, and the reader, and warns all are
endanger of losing the ear, or the ability to hear. “my roofs” suggests the narrative voice is considering it’s own boundaries. Roofs, the
uppermost physical extension of a “house”, are echoed later in the poem: “…Limits/ are what any of us/ are inside of” [1.17].
The immediate call of the poem is to Listen, and the necessity of listening in the process of making. Olson elaborates upon the relationship of
hearing and action, in the process of writing, in his “essay”, Projective Verse:
Let me put it badly. The two halves are:
the HEAD, by way of the EAR, to the SYLLABLE
the HEART, by way of the BREATH, to the LINE
In the poem, the process of the coming of being of a thing, an object, a home, polis, is revealed in the following lines :
of a bone of a fish
of a straw, or will
of a color, of a bell
of yourself, torn
“of yourself, torn” strikes me here as the tearing of the line, itself [the HEART] in the act of creation, of coming of itself (cue The Secret of the Golden Flower). What comes of a bone of a fish, straw, will, color, bell — the usefulness in death (fish bone and straw are objects that were
once, physically, alive), intention (will), sight (color), sound/vibration (bell). That the poem is concerned with “of a … of a … of a …” points
toward Olson’s sense of “objectism” :
“Objectism is the getting rid of the lyrical interference of the individual as ego, of the
‘subject’ and his soul, that peculiar presumption by which western man has interposed himself between what he is as a creature of nature (with
certain instructions to carry out) and those other creations of nature which we may, with no
derogation, call objects. For a man himself is an object, whatever he may take to be his advantages, the more likely to recognize himself as
such the greater his advantages, particularly at that moment that he achieves an humilitas
sufficient to make him of use.” [I need to find the original source for this quote…qtd. in Stormont: http://www.bigbridge.org/BB14/CraigStormontOnCharlesOlson.pdf%5D
Olson is writing against what he posits as “humanism” and against “tradition” it was believed in during the time he was writing. To see out of the thing itself is to see out of polis, and the “older polis” that is reflected in the collapsing of geographies and eras within the poem, create the polis of the poem, the place from which the eyes of Maximus project. The sense of extending outward, of projecting, of radiating outward is a masculine construct.
What is the representation of the female thus far?
In fantasy of ownership/possession (as ship): “I’ll own her, one day!”
As prostitute: “While she stares, out of her painted face…”
“you islands / of men and girls” Girls ?!?
as goddess, Nike – not a “human” female presence
Helen Stein (tho nothing is made of her as woman)
The narrative voice of the poem seems to be (and is) speaking to men — male poets, painters, philosophers, explorers, fishermen, etc in a sort of homosocial allegiance.
Objectism, Polis, Maleness (in voice (where the “He” meets the reader), in design, and in process, itself) – these are three facts of the text I would like to explore, but/and in keeping with the nature of the text, it is nay impossible to separate them.
Entry 1: Pages 1-29
1 – Joe Wolff (Oct 19, 2009 8:08 PM)
In the first letter Olson is a bird gathering his nest out of particular strands. He starts offshore, so the movement towards shore is simultaneously inwards and outwards. Here he first expresses his two major themes of forwarding outward to everything and the local, the particular. “Art is Local,” says W.C.W. “The temple is not for sale” says Pound.
And then towards the end of this letter he shockingly cries out, “o kill kill kill kill kill/ those/ who advertise you/ out).” I found the audacity of this statement to be somewhat fascist in its cry to cleanse the lands through killing. Butterick notes that it may be a reference to King Lear, who cries out “five or six times” when he bemoans something.
Pejorocracy = “worse-rule,” from Pound’s Pisan Canto LXXIX. Oregon is the new frontier.
In the second letter he extends the circle of his nest out towards the mythos of his environment. He notices and collects the stories of his elder fishermen. He revisits the idea of a nest. Olson obviously aspires to be like “he with muscle as big as his voice, the strength of him/ in that blizzard” can be likened to Olson, the poet, running with all his
muscles and energy into the whiteness of the page. Letter 3 is the tansy letter. The sound and rhythm of the first page of this section strikes me as having qualities of the
Elizabethans, “that old Shakespearean rag.” This kind of music rises in contrast to those “who use words cheap….they play upon their bigotries (upon their fears.” Olson wants them to leave. He admits that “I was not born there [Gloucester], came, as so many of the people came,/ from elsewhere…” Polis, pelvis means basin: “o tansy city, root
city”. Here Olson calls to extend out of the merely local to the universal local. Olson addresses “you islands/ of men and girls.”
The Songs of Maximus brings a relief from the dense overlapped lines in the first three letters. There is more air here. More space is given around each word; there is less of an argument going on here as in the Letters. “you sing you/
who also/ wants” Olson in his high energetic lectures and poems moved like a song and dance man.
Letter 4 is Olson ripping on Ferrini’s 4 Winds for publishing apparently mediocre writing. He asks him to meet him in the barroom and in a drug store, even a library. But in the end Olson can not meet him anywhere because Ferrini is
too busy being “anywhere/ where there are little magazines/ will publish you.” In sum Ferrini is portrayed as a slut for attention, even if it comes from limited readership.
In this reading I also like how Olson uses proper name of people to describe specific objects. For instance, on page 18, he uses Seth Thomas, the name of an American clock designer that is now a brand but not when Olson was writing, to describe a clock in the kitchen. Or he talks about the Bullfinch doors. Olson is often careful to cite the name, the
specificity, of the particular craftsman of a local living artifact.
Entry 2: page 30-62
- LOREN JAMES BRINDZE (Sep 4, 2009 5:21 PM)
- Olson moves from his examination of the home as an ideological entity to a more physical examination of the city or town. Specifically, Maximus outlines his home of Gloucester in two ways. One, in an examination of the physical structures and interlinked personal meanings that lie within; the second as a cross-section of the personalities within.
One moment that striked particular interest is the section labeled Tyrian Buisness. The name itself harkens back to classical epic liturgy (the Tyrians after all, were Dido’s people). The first section of this suggests the role reversal of Dido’s rule by examining:
The waist of a lion, For a man to move properly And for a woman, who should move lazily, the weight of breasts […]
This passage suggests that a man’s proper movement, as differentiated from a women’s, could be read as more comparable to a lion, and less lazy. With the Virgilian allusion hanging over it, this might ue a new reading to the mysterious female image (“in the painted face”) that seems to be a strong recurring theme in the poem.
Perhaps a connection could be made between the “painted face’s” implicit connotations of sexual promiscuities with Dido’s dedication and ultimate betrayal. Section 5’s direct transition to a sea journey also parallels the narrative arc of this part of the Aene id, suggesting a sea-faring voyage following the encounters with this incomprehensible female figure.
Response 2-Brittney – BRITTNEY RENEE STANLEY (Sep 6, 2009 11:50 PM)
The Maximus Poems Reading Response 2 pg 30-62 Anti-feminine Discourse in “Tyrian Businesses”
The feminine image throughout the first 40 pages of the The Maximus Poems appears briefly but is never fully defined, particularly because the only “female” mentioned is the wooden representation at the head of the ship. This representation is referred to somewhat negatively when discussing the desire for ownership of the painted figure, but is also inherently positive because the figure guides and leads the ship.
In “Tyrian Businesses,” the feminine image is explored somewhat more fully, or at least the woman is not wooden (physically). The closing line before “Tyrian Businesses” concludes a description of the hands of an artist, Hartley, and a netter, Jake. Women are not referenced in this particular segment, but the concluding line acts as though this is a primary point: “as Hartley’s [fingers]/ refusing woman’s flesh.” This is simply stated as a neutral fact, but then transitions into the perhaps slightly more opinionated Tyrian segment.
Man, or presumably the ideal man, is immediately compared to a lion, a necessity “to move properly,” while the ideal woman “should move lazily” because of the “weight of breasts.” There is nothing directly anti-feminine in these statements, as it is more pointing out physical differences rather than negating physical differences. However, there is still an underlying subtlety of male superiority because of the choice in diction: “move properly” for men and “move
lazily” for women. The subtlety does become more obvious in the 3rd section where a rather negative woman is depicted, simply referred to as “she.” This “she” is said to “crave” abuse and dominance over her (“to be scalped,/and dragged over the ground”) and when she does not receive this dominance, she whores herself out (“she has everybody do it.”). Still this whore insists upon “clean sheets/ each night;” she desires the shroud of purity, later emphasized by the phrases “has to have silk” and “in the white house,” even though it is a facade of purity. The poem continues in the 4th segment, referring to “those who sing ditties, that dead reason/of personality,” again pointing out a pretense of being a good woman, one with a lovely voice, but a voice that can only voice dead reason, or nonsense. She is then described as “the body of a shell, the mind also an apparatus,” an utter falsity.
Olson does seem to be using this woman to further his theory on the need for substance at the core, and though the reference notes mention that Olson was referring to a particular woman, the famous dancer Martha Graham, because it is so vaguely general, it is natural for the reader to presume this is describing women as a sex. Perhaps this is overly analytical, but Olson has tended thus far to employ the female image as the quintessential empty shell, whether a decorative wooden masthead or a painted prostitute.
Entry 2: page 30-62
STEPHANIE ANTOINETTE ANDERSON (Sep 7, 2009 8:47 PM)
For Maximus, “polis is eyes,” i.e., his city-state (Gloucester) is a collection of its inhabitants’ sensory organs and the materials produced using such organs (30). When reading these selections, I had initially taken it to be the case that Maximus discerned a singular importance in vision and man’s eyesight, as he likened them to man’s capabilities. However, in addition to esteeming painters (visual production), he admires other creators, such as the unnamed carpenter and all others who “make things” (35).
In speaking of the necessities of folly and boyhood, he refers to a handful of friends and townspeople who impacted him in one way or another (30). He inquires how such men (and presumably all men) improve themselves and their craft—“how do […] / the eyes [become] / sharp? by gift bah by love of self? try it” (33). He rules out the impact of hierarchies and politics and settles upon the influence of “only / eyes in all heads” or, rather, the collection of everyone’s simultaneous efforts and contributions to the societies in which they reside.
Maximus may insult Vincent Ferrini, but judging by the number of references to Ferrini alone, clearly this man has made some sort of an impression on Maximus, despite Ferrini’s supposedly petty attachment to literary magazines (29). Maximus admits (and does not seem to criticize) the reality that “every human head” is busy with exactly what each human chooses to invest himself in (32).
On an unrelated note, I want to briefly pay some attention to his recurrent allusions to cracks, both when speaking of love in the last set of poems and now when speaking of the ship’s flaws (7, 36). He characterizes the form of love as “torn” materials assembled intricately together, but his ingredients, including “bone of a fish” and “straw,” depict this formation as somewhat makeshift (7). He explains that this form comes into existence only when the love is born, perhaps only when the collection of raw and assorted materials begins to appear to the lovers as a real union. The tears and cracks of the composition account for the existence itself; they are what characterize it. When speaking of the ship, he deliberates on “[h]ow much the cracks matter” (35). When do cracks become indication of irreparable damage and not simply indication of a fine creation’s layered composition?
Entry 2: page 30-62
MELIS ATALAY (Sep 7, 2009 10:20 PM)
The question of Olson’s political viewpoints was brought up last class, and I think “The Song and Dance of” in this section do answer such questions. Using these lines as evidence, I think that Olson disagrees with much of the political leaders that helped shaped post WWII America. He speaks of “mechandise men, who get to be President after winning, age 12, cereal ad / prizes”, and how “war stooge[s] for the left, all that appretite for thick-necks, and refrigerators, for An-yan / steel” (I.54). Olson may believe that Eisenhower and Truman betrayed liberalism for economic power, and did so by playing up to America’s responsiveness for commerical images. “The race / does not advance, it is only better preserved / Now all lie as Miss Harlow / [as] … waxworks … with shells for eyes” (I.55). America has not, then, succeeded in “winning” WWII, but instead has been duped to keep buying into the idea of America, and have become hollow and lifeless as waxworks with shells for eyes. The images of this section are very haunting. Maximus tells us that the reality of this situation cannot be learned by books, and that he has “had to learn the simplest things last” (I.55, I.52). Again, a recommendation for seeking maxims about life not through traditional booklearning, but instead through a more organic process.
I feel that the idea of ownership is again relevant in this section, and presume it will be throughout the text. The carpenter mentioned in Letter 27, did use to own the land, but he gave that up once “Gloucester…got too proper / and he left” (I.30). Maximus continues to describe the exodus: “This carpenter / must have been the first to see the tansy / take root” (30). The reference to tansy required me to revisit its initial reference, occurring in Letter 3: “Tansy for Gloucester to take the smell / of all owners” (I.9). A few lines down: “Let them…leave Gloucester / in their present shame of, the wondership stolen by, ownership” (I. 9). I believe it to be significant that “tansy” reoccurs right after this declaration. I think that tansy is a distraction, something that gets in the nose of Gloucester’s people, and masks their ability to see the truth. Maximus right after this talks about how he “rolled in [tansy] as a boy / and didn’t know it was / tansy” (I.9). Tansy takes advantage of people’s ignorance and distracts them into ideas of ownership. Indeed the “lad from the Fort”, “look[s] idly” and “suddenly” says “I’ll own…one day”. His proclamation has come without consideration, as if he has been taken over by something, perhaps this something is represented by tansy, that convinces him that he a self-defining need to own. And now, to go back to the carpenter of Letter 7, I want to think about a possibility of why he has decided to leave Gloucester and abandon ownership once his city has become “too proper”. This becoming “too proper” is temporally linked with the occurrence of the first notation of “tansy tak[ing] root”. I think then, that the initial idea of ownership had changed into a new definition, one that this carpenter has become uncomfortable with. These lines are juxtaposed with notions of Puritan settlement, so I think that the carpenter must feel that in the world that is taking form and shape, with Gloucester becoming “proper” and organizing and settled, the idea of owning is akin to prostitution. This is an idea that was sparked into being from last class, regarding the woman with the “painted face”. It is possible that the carpenter feels that the land truly belongs to no one, and at the same time everyone, since every person has imparted a meaning onto the land. With this notion, “owning” a land is to own someone else’s being. I think tansy links with capitalism and the lack of consideration for acting in a certain way, a way that is the norm simply because it is mostly unquestioned. To own, in this sense, is to “destroy localism”, in that it focuses too much on capitalist ideas, and distorts the place’s history and reality (I.47). Indeed, the carpenter’s views coincide with Maximus’s, using the lines “that carpenter is much on my mind: / I think he was the first Maximus” as proof (I.35). Is tansy related to this image: “A man is a necklace strung of his own teeth…He sd: Notice the whiteness, not the odor of the dead night” (I.37)? Is tansy the odor, which is related to the idea of death?
The references to John Winthrop, and those first English inhabitants of Massachusetts also marks this section. I find the first parts of Letter 10 worthy for consideration. Why does he call Salem “Naumkeag”, first? It brings to mind land the injustice of the first settlements, which I guess is a tangible example of why it can be immoral to own land. I find these lines particulary interesting also: “There may be no more names than there are objects / There can be no more verbs than there are actions” (I.36). What if there were more objects than names? Then names would overlap for objects, which is a point that Ian had made in the previous entry. Do these two ideas, the one that Maximus brought up, and the one brought up by Ian, relate?
Entry 2: page 30-62
Laura (Sep 8, 2009 9:18 AM)
Letter 6 opens with Maximus leveling the field, through the concept of polis, “polis is / eyes”. The text argues that everyone has the capacity to see from a place of purity not polluted by ego. Olson states, in The Special View of History, “…POLIS, then, is a filled up thing (in the passive as city the community or body of citizens, not their dwellings, not their houses, not their being as material, but being as a group with will…” Through a etymological study of “polis”, Olson arrives at, “THE FIRE-CLEANSED FULL PLACE OF THE FIRE, THE PURE PLACE ist POLIS…” (Butterick 25). Through the exploration of the word, itself, Olson illuminates the process of seeing that he insists upon as a creative practice.
so few have the polis in their eye
So few need to, to make the many share (to have it, too)
There are no hierarchies, no infinite, no such many as mass, there are only eyes in all heads, to be looked out of [I.28-9]
I offer these lines while thinking of the sense of universal maleness that the Maximus poems exhert (see last entry). Olson presents the concept of Polis as a great equalizer, yet these lines also suggest there are there are a privileged “few” who possess that which he expounds. However, it’s interesting to note the language employed in these lines is gender neutral.
Letter 7 & 8 & 9 present and celebrate the individuals Olson considers, from their own polis, operative: painters Marsden Hartley and Helen Stein, “carpenter” William Stevens, poet Robert Creeley(who had just recently published “In Cold Hell, In Thicket”), Olson’s father, etc. The letters also continues the attack on fellow Gloucester poet, Vincent Ferrini, who Olson challenges to regard his own work with a deeper truth.
The physicality of hands, “(As hands are put to the eyes’ commands” are used to characterize individuals in part 3 of this letter – the narrative connects Hartley’s rough hands with his homosexuality. It’s interesting to note that this is the first reference to homosexuality in the poem [though i might’ve missed something earlier on…], whereas the text has been, thus far, dominantly homosocial.
Letter 9 is full of flowering/flowers, buds, fruits publication, and the pleasures in the moment of spring. poet’s own self-consciousness directly related to writing (and perhaps a reference to Dickinson):
I measure my song, measure the sources of my song, measure me, measure my forces
(And I buzz, as the bee does, who’s missed the plum tree, and gone and got himself caught in my window
And the whirring of whose wings blots out the rattle of my machine) [I. 44]
There is a sense of the
The appearance of the bee in the final two stanzas suggest the frustration of the narrator’s own desire, and the power desire has to (here, literally) sound-out will/intent/work. “Whirring” seems to be a more wondrous state than the “rattle” of a machine (machine vs. “nature”), but this passage brings the physicality of the bee close to the narrator, merging in the first line “And I buzz” and then separated in the perspective of sight “in my window”. In this letter, and later in “Maximus, to himself” and “The Song and Dance of”, the repetitive images of flowers and blooming suggest a heightened sense of desire, though not a human sexual desire (though I’ll have to consider this longer). Descriptions of geography and ecology often appear as quotations from the past (Columbus) and other places (Greece/Mediterranean).
Maximus states, “The agilities/ they show daily/ who do the world’s/ business/ And who do nature’s/ as I have no sense/ I have done either” [I.52]. This poem is very interesting in its suggestion of the formative experience of Olson’s coming into being as a poet. “…from one man/ the world” [I.52] – does he mean Pound here? Butterick says it’s Creeley… Again, a sort of homosocial allegiance, which seems to have been the norm in counter-culture cold war American poetry.
Laura (Sep 8, 2009 9:32 AM)
unrelated, yet I couldn’t help but draw parallels btwn Olson’s concept of “polis” and Mnouchkine’s approach to group composition in theater. As qtd in the New York Times this summer, during the run of Les Ephmeres:
The approach is decidedly different from the traditional Western notion of the individual artistic vision. “It’s not based on the genius in the wild,” Ms. Mnouchkine said. “It’s based on the quest. We are a group that is chasing theater.”
Entry 2: page 30-62
Ian Mintz – IAN LOUIS MINTZ (Sep 10, 2009 12:36 AM)
I started reading this section a few minutes before the blackout hit, so I decided to read by candlelight. I held one candle over the book and shifted the light down the page. This activity revealed that the act of reading The Maximus Poems was a process of discovering, which can be said of all texts. Also, because poems typically require careful reading and rereading, they often yield meaningful and rewarding discoveries. My point: I became aware of the act(ion) involved reading and of my interaction with The Maximus Poems during the blackout. This is worth mentioning, I think, because Olson was concerned with material and objects.
Olson’s abbreviation caught my attention. In Theory and Design of British Shipbuilding by A. L. Ayre on Google Books, I found that “M” is known as the “transverse metacentre,” and “G”–though perhaps I should’ve known–is gravity (Charles Olson 40). It helps to look at the diagrams in British Shipbuilding. “Sd,” as in “He sd,” is everywhere in The Maximus Poems, but it appears on page 41, so I can talk about it here. When I see Olson’s abbreviations, I think of how many things that “He sd” could mean. Naturally, we say, “He said,” but who says what it is? Even if “said” is on the page, my “said” is different from all others. Even something that appears unequivocal isn’t. True, I touched on the absence of fixed meaning in my last entry, but this brings me to the fylfot. It’s a matter of “who calls” it what it is (44). Unfortunately, something that was associated with luck, universal harmony, dharma (wheel), and other positive and nourishing things is now recognized as a symbol of Nazism (in the U.S., at least).
The “workings of my city / where so much of it / was bred” is also worthy of discussion because of “bred” (45). In my last entry, I talked about The Maximus Poems as a body. The poems are not just text to Maximus, but they are offspring. Humans also breed animals in order to produce breeds that serve certain purposes. It’s a process of refinement, in a way, and maybe that is an aspect of the journey in The Maximus Poems.
Oh, and obviously Nazism changed, or added, to the meaning of the swastika throughout the world. I left that out in my original post.
Entry 2: page 30-62
Joe Wolff (Oct 19, 2009 8:08 PM)
Letter 6: After he was thrown of the shackles of his association with Ferrini’s magazine and chided the local paper, Olson turns towards his heroic figures. He starts of with his own moment of glory catching three swordfish in the blaze of the sun, not realizing that the marked fishermen wouldn’t usually risk hurting their eyes where the sun shines the brightest of the boat. He moves on to talk about a Shipmate Burke who was a drunk but Olson is able to remember a picturesque moment when he once saw him with his family in a blue suit on Sunday showing them his boat. From Burke Olson moves onto an idealized portrait of Carl Olsen, who’s seen as a fisherman in tune with the world. Then Ezra Pound is discussed, disliking “pick-nicks”. Olson notes the “whole man/ wagging, the swag/ of Pound.” Pound is one of Olson’s father figures. Olson is also continuing Pound’s tradition of writing a modern epic. Butterick quotes a journal entry Olson wrote to himself in 1945 while reading Cantos XXXI-XLI. “Write as the father to be the father.” Olson wants to overthrow the father like Zeus did Chronos. Yet in the end of the poem after discussing his heroes, Olson comes to the conclusion that: “There are no hierarchies, no infinite, no such many as mass, there are only/ eyes in all heads,/ to be looked out of.”
Letter 7: Connie asks why Olson portrayed Pound in the previous Poem with “a black hat,/ and a brim…/when he wore tennis shoes,/ and held his pants up/ with a rope?” This is a meta-textual moment because Olson is revealing how he is mythologizing ordinary reality into more classic images. “How much the cracks matter.” Olson notes the imperfections of reality are also important. Like Mason Andrews, who lived on the street until he got arrested, or even like Pound in the “Bughouse” these undesirables, these cracks are Olson’s special heroes.
Tyrian Business: “how to dance/ sitting down” Olson uses Webster’s Dictionary for some of his words associations. The poems in this section start out real small and then build into blocks of text, which describe Olson’s personal narrative of being out to sea for three weeks.
Letter 9: Begins with extract from a Letter Olson wrote to Cid Corman asking him to hold Ferrini’s hand. He writes about how pleased he is with Creeley’s production of his book “In Cold Hell, In Thicket.” He compares the book to almonds and a plum. There is something human about holding a beautifully bound book. The end of the poem ends clearly with the image of the bee caught in his window.
Letter 10: Gloucester’s history of houses.
Letter 11: Here we get into John Smith. Olson comes across an actor playing John Smith, yelling “Tragabigzanda”, the name of a Turkish maiden who saved his life. When Olson and whomever he is with hears that name being yelled they get down on their stomachs live Indians and slid forward. Thus Olson puts himself in the perspective of the first Native people as they saw the white people coming. There is some liberal quoting from some of Smith’s writings.
Maximus, to himself: I once memorized this poem and found the projective spacing of his verse highly helpful in giving me a base to visualize the shape of the words in the poem. He sent this poem to Ferrini, perhaps as a sideways apology. Olson shows Ferrini that he is hard on himself, as he was to him. The first line of the poem comes from Heraclitus. The achiote refers to spiciness; it is a seed, which releases a reddish dye. “[F]rom one man/ the world” is probably Robert Creeley who Olson said taught him more than “from any living man.”
The Song and Dance of: Olson dances across language associations like a ballet dancer. We begin with a vague allusion of Navaho Indians perplexing the Germans during WWII simply by speaking their own language across the radios. The mention of the skull found in Jericho, “with shells for eyes” I found interesting. See what Pound says in “Make it New” on “the Mediterranean man” who it able to open his senses more than his fellow man to the north who is busy bearing the weather.
MELIS ATALAY (Sep 8, 2009 2:57 PM)
This section is concerned with discussing how America’s origins have led to its current problems. So much of the discussion of America’s past and origins include images of death and bones. John Hawkin’s father is discussed; Mr. Hawkins has carr[ied] an Indian back to London…and though the fellow die[d] on the voyage, the people believe old William’s story, and release the hostage to him. And stock his ship with goods” (I.63). The Englishmen, who already have this mania to own and posses land and people and power are unphased by this desire’s synchrony with death. Their investment is made, and so this trend of a certain death is accepted and even supported.
This new, walking-dead race of people, exemplified by the waxworks leaders from the past section that I had examined, are again examined in this section: “With the gums gone, the teeth are large. And though the nose is then nothing, the eye-sockets”(I.65). The skeletons that people have become because of commercialism are likely to not escape, for they are not able to acquire any knowledge from direct experienece. Olson emphasizes this in these lines; whereas in the first lines of Maximus volume I center on the idea of expedition, with encourages the reader to smell, and taste, and see with his own eyes, these skeletons are not able to do any of these things. Linking this with what he had talked about it class, this system of dependence on discovery is not working, and something ought to change, which is the new system Olson recommends to bring people back to life, and to see life, and the way their interaction with life links with this idea. Sorry I know my ideas are getting jumbled together; I hope my reader has found some cogency in these seeming ramblings. I guess I am still working out in my head. TOday’s class did jumble my thoughts a bit, but I think it will prove to be beneficial in the longrun of my reading of this poem, if it has not been able to do so today. I think the lines right before “The Twist” do illustrate OLson’s efforts: “On ne doit aux morts nothing else than la verite” (I.85). What these living dead have now resembles nothing of the truth that Olson encourages. We must give the “verite”, the truth to these dead, which assumes that they have not had this truth before, which may deem this lack of truth as causal to their death, or death-like state.
Entry 3: Page 63-90
STEPHANIE ANTOINETTE ANDERSON (Sep 10, 2009 6:16 PM)
Immediately upon reading in Letter 14 “The old charts / are not so wrong / which added Adam / to the world’s directions,” I imagined Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (64). For quick reference, here is the drawing:http://octagonmystic.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/vitruvian-man.jpg. The Vitruvian man was drawn within a square and a circle, so as to depict the geometrically perfect man. This man’s placement within two of the most fundamental objects—especially considering the astronomical revelations presented in class—encapsulates and demonstrates his oneness with the universe, or at least the potential for that unity. Maximus often ascribes certain capacities to all men, but he also makes it clear that not all men choose to exercise these capabilities.
Olson was not likely thinking of the Vitruvian Man when writing Letter 14, but Olson’s mention of Adam “show[ing] any of us / the center of a circle / our fingers / and our toes describe” corresponds perfectly to Da Vinci’s drawing. The Vitruvian man’s belly button is at the center of the circle. Not everyone’s body will fit this model, but our belly buttons can still be considered the center of our beings, as that is from where our nourishment and sustenance was first obtained.
The chart and model of man is held in contrast with the movable man, the man who knows “how to stand in crowds,” the sexualized man concerned with the female form and her “buttocks.” Maximus refers to this man as “another Adam, a nether / man” (65). The understanding of their form and its capacity for movement, Maximus comments, was knowledge summoned after having seen the female form. The idea of man as having a quintessential form was not discarded entirely in the nether men’s wanting to use their bodies, as even these men search for an understanding akin to Euclid’s (65).
Our focus on our bodies may deviate from a pure understanding of our bodies’ relation to the universe, but even our base desires are rooted in the geometry and models of Euclid. That might be the case either because that is the only physical system of appreciation we have or because we ACTUALLY always work in tandem with the universe and its movements.
Entry 3: Page 63-90
IAN LOUIS MINTZ (Sep 12, 2009 6:54 PM)
I’ll start with less-interesting detail first: “It goes to show you. It was not the ‘Eppie Sawyer’. It was the ship
‘Putnam'” (71). This is an example of the correspondence between each letter in The Maximus Poems. “Eppie Sawyer” appears on page 11, and on page 71, Maximus corrects his mistake.
Now, I’d like to focus on The Twist: “Or he and I distinguish / between chanting, / and letting the song lie / in the thing itself” (86). What illuminates this part for me is Kant’s “thing in itself,” which “refers to the existent as it exists independently of our knowledge” (Frederich Nietszche Beyond Good and Evil 181). When the song falls, as the tide falls, the song continues its silent tune (Charles Olson 86). In this excerpt, I believe that Maximus refers to a rhythm–a rising and falling–in life that exists independently of our knowledge. Between “chanting,” the silent song persists. It might be a law, and “the whole of it” is explained in a “pin-point”: a flower breaks off and dies, but the anther promises new life with its pollen (89). The “Bridge / where it goes out & in” is another symbol of exchange (89). People come and go–rise and fall–in their traversal of the bridge.
I can’t quite figure out the significance of cakes. Perhaps it is sexual: “the same man had fired a bullet / into her ho- ho” (88). A “ho-ho” is cream-filled, after all. Dobos torte, a famous Hungarian cake, is a “house,” which might contribute to the maternal/sexual quality of cakes in The Twist (88). Cakes come, or rise, into existence for the purpose of eating. This could be a kind of rising and falling–a generation and corruption–involved in the “life cycle” of cakes. Also, the door is “like an oven-door,” which is an obvious reference to the creation of cakes (88). Is this the womb?
Entry 3: Page 63-90
Laura (Sep 14, 2009 9:39 PM)
The stance in the stance (An inquiry into the stance of the text might be informed by Olson’s 6’8″ presence.)
The sense of vulgarity as separating me
after the passage-way of the toilets and the whores
(as that movie-house, Boston, you buy your ticket but you don’t enter, you find yourself in an alley-way
the whole city starlight, not even ceiling
as they used to have, glowing as of stars, by god, pricked out so that, in the bad grotto of the bad scripts, you had the firmament over your head
The fundament still your own [1. 59-60]
1532, “standing place, station,” probably from M.Fr. stance “resting place, harbor,” from It. stanza “stopping place, station,” from V.L. *stantia “place, abode,” from L. stans (gen. stantis), prp. of stare “to stand,” from PIE base *sta- “to stand” (see stet). Sense of “position of the feet” (in golf, etc.) is first recorded 1897; fig. sense of “point of view” is recorded from 1956.
I present this passage to explore stance, in and of itself (as resting place, as harbor), and stance as it is directed (in the case of Olson) away from/out/projectively, toward the event that is the process of ontology (I need to re-read Badiou). The selection presented from Maximus, to Gloucester is marked by the sense of artificiality of a made environment. “You” as Boston, the city, itself, not showing up for the show it’s already paid for, that is, the representation of itself. Then, Maximus is inside the theater, and the text comments on how there isn’t even a ceiling, as one is known, but a representation of the sky, the stars “pricked out” for an artificial light to shine through– a poor environment for a poor story, with a flat expanse overhead. This, a scene of heightened anxiety, repressed expansion, the scene the poet dreamt himself in.
The final lines of this dream sequence create a juxtaposition of firmament (expansion, stretching, making broad) with fundament (foundation/ land unaltered by humans/ theoretical basis (and, curiously, buttocks)).
This section is curious in it’s seeming enactment of “negative capability” with the voice stating it doesn’t even enter the theater, then, moving into the theater, setting the scene (ceiling) of it, and then moving to the internal “stance” of the speaker. Many places in the text operate in this wavering narrative, though, upon analyzing this passage, the first line appears increasingly relevant to the section. Indeed, “separating me” is exactly what the narrative does.
Within the book as a whole, there is the repetitive sense of a ceiling holding the voice of the speaker, which is a voice of ceaseless striving, of Maximus. One that feels his limits, ceilings, artificial. This sense of largeness of being parallels Olson’s actual physical presence. The next section reflects on Olson’s experiences as a youth, learning to accommodate for his size and stature in his own ithyphallic style.
Throughout the poem, the physical suggestions of stance of the speaker’s own body, where the “me” or “I” is divided/separated/challenged (both self-consciously and not), provides insight into the actual workings of the body in the text. The sense of limitations on the body, of ceilings, boxes, houses, etc., lends insight into the sense of anxiety of the speaker, and perhaps also, his misogyny.
Entry 3: Page 63-90
LOREN JAMES BRINDZE (Sep 16, 2009 11:38 PM)
One idea that came up in class was regarding Maximus/Olson’s view on religion and god in reference to Letter nineteen. The first part illustrates a kind man (who “inquired/ the baby was, had two cents/ for the weather…”) who approaches the speaker upon realizing he wasn’t acquainted with him (91). “How do you do”s are exchanged upon which Maximus is asked the question that, causes “the whole street, the town, the cities, the nation” to blink: “What church/do you belong to,/may I ask?“ (91). This hyperbolization of the weight of such a question puts tremendous stress both on the speaker’s answer as well insights into Olson’s opinion. Olson also qualifies the description with a comparison to a ”gun [being held at them] Maximus responds with two words “none,/sir.” The enjambment here helps emphasize the weight and space of every word exchanged. Yet in the next stanza Maximus requalifies his response as not needing “ to take a stance/ to a /loaded smile,” finally concedeing that he has
known the face of God.
And turned away,
as He did, his backside (92)
This moves the emphasis in Olson’s response (to the question of religion as a whole as opposed to maximus’ response in the story) from the object of a “church” to the process of “knowing God’s face.” While the man in the street looks for a similar process in the church, Maximus here achieves the end as a means in itself.
Entry 3: Page 63-90
BRITTNEY RENEE STANLEY (Sep 17, 2009 6:36 PM)
The Maximus Poems Reading Response 3 pg 63-90
“The Twist” p 86-90 After referencing “the twist,” or the nasturtium, throughout the beginning of the Maximus Poems, Olson directly names a poem “The Twist.” Opening with the twisting of trolley-cars through the streets, what Olson compares to “[his] inland waters,” the poem takes us along the trolley line to his wife and new baby. The poem then builds upon the already established themes of nesting and ownership. He plants flowers for his son “(xenia),” which in ancient Greek culture was the act of welcoming strangers into one’s home with hospitality and often gifts. He emphasizes this Greek value by saying that he is planting the flowers in “his [the child’s] house,” thus playing the hospitable host professing “mi casa e su casa,” but also mentioning the theme of ownership again. He concludes the first portion of the poem with a declaration of his ownership “my neap, my spring-tide, my waters.”
After this declaration, the trolley-cars wind “around the bend… down to the outer-land,” twisting the poem to another perspective, seemingly the perspective of Olson/Maximus as a child with his father, claiming “he and I seeming the only ones who know what we are doing, where we are going.” Olson, looking back on this scene, then describes a physical twist (fylfot) as “those couples did go to, at right angles from us, thus placing him and his father at the center of a fylfot.
The poem twists again to a later date “after she left me,” the she presumably being his wife. His tone remains relatively unchanged, as he discusses the men she may have been cheating on him with “a man in a bowler hat…the same man had fired a bullet into her ho-ho” or “Schwartz, the bookie, whose mother-in-law I’d have gladly gone to bed with,” thus implying an infidelity on his part as well. He then embodies these infidelities in the “St Valentine storm;” a storm also has the swirling shape of the fylfot. Again implying that he is at the center, this time with his wife, Olson puts himself in the eye of the storm, seeing the chaos “the air sea ground the same, tossed,” but remaining as quiet as the snow falling, “as quiet as the blizzard was,” lacking sound just as the white snow lacks color. By remaining in the center/eye of the storm, Olson is living in the middle of and seeing clearly his reality, even if it is being “tossed” and covered by a blizzard.
Entry 3: Page 63-90
3 – Joe Wolff (Oct 19, 2009 8:09 PM)
Letter 14: Olson discusses the explorer John Hawkins. We are thrust headlong into the age of colonialism. The Greek explorer Pytheus is mentioned. He was the first explorer to sail to Great Britain. As he went to the north, the “Ultima Thule”, he came upon a sludge where “the water, and the air and the sky/ all to be one…”mass that you could neither walk nor sail on. His description could also be likened to Olson’s verse, with its multiple layers of interpretation. We can view this quote in light of the Blackburn quote in the next letter.
Letter 15: has the Blackburn quote on page 72, “You twist…” I once read Robert Duncan telling of a similar situation between him and Olson. He even uses similar wording from the quote in the poem. This poem deals allot with Usuary, and Pound has his place here. According to Butterick Olson seems to error by depicting Pound as liking soap or silk stocking adds, the quote Butterick gives points to quite the opposite. But the poem brings up the question of how relevant poetry is in the age of Advertisements. Advertisements say things clearly to a large audience. Olson himself worked propaganda for FDR. But Olson rebels against the clarity of commercialism (Pound “with usura the line gets thicker”) by twisting, although he seems to say that this progression of our society is inevitable. “o Po-ets, you/ should getta/ job”
Letter 16: I found this poem as one of the more obtuse ones, harder for me to penetrate and make sense of. Olson goes into Higginson, who he seems to be against, although his exact reasons for disliking him I found hard trying to figure out. He quotes a whole letter by him on one page, followed with “the son of a bitch”. It seems Higgins manipulated something, but what I cannot see what.
On First Looking through Juan de la Cosa’s Eyes: There is an amazing image of men in the barroom drawing map’s in spelt and in beer spilled on the table, in contrast to Cosa’s “mappemunde”. This poem expands outward talking about all the early explorers of Newfoundland and America. We hear about their deaths at sea in search of land. Their voyages can be likened to the poet’s quest for knowledge. The title of this poem harkens back to a Keats line. In the end we have the image of the people of Gloucester throwing flowers in the water for their dead seamen. The last line of the poem, from Voltaire, can be translated as “One owes respect to the living; one owes the dead only the truth.”
The Twist: Here is an excellent poem. He begin with dream imagery, “Trolley- cars/ are my inland waters,” as good example of how Olson’s subconscious works. His wife with the new baby seems like a dream but it could also be real. The diction of this poem is beautiful and if I remember correctly this poem particularly attracted Robert Creeley’s eye. As the title implies this poem is a turn to a new style on Olson’s part. “The Twist” also refers to the twisting from Letter 15.