previous chapter
Charles Olson:Y & X
next chapter

Charles Olson:
Y & X

Y & X , by Charles Olson. Washington, D.C.: Black Sun Press, 1949.

Any movement poetry can now make beyond the achievement of Pound, Williams, et al., must make use of the fact of their work and, further, of what each has stressed as the main work now to be done. We can't discard either of these men by calling them 'experimentalists' or by thinking that however right their method may be for their own apprehension of form , we can now ignore its example in our own dilemmas. Unless we also can find for ourselves a method equal to our content, show some comprehension of the difficulties involved, we stay where we are.

A recent comment of Dr. Williams notes one of the headaches. "To me the battle lodges for us as poets in the poetic line, something has to be done with that line—it's got to be opened up. . . ." I cite this here, since a good many feel that it's just the opposite that should be done, that the line must be tightened, pulled in, fixed. We should by now have a clear idea as to what this kind of tightness implies. To begin with, it's an external tightness , having more to do with the poem's pattern than with the movement of its sense. And it's this same tightness which Stevens has damned by implication: "There is, however, a usage with respect to form as if form were a derivative of plastic shape."

The five poems in this present collection of Olson's work demonstrate a technique set squarely against this tightness . They mark the

Montevallo Review , Summer 1951.


alternatives. For Olson the line becomes a way to a movement beyond the single impact of the words which go to make it up, and brings to their logic a force of its own. Instead of the simple wagon which carries the load, he makes it that which drives too, to the common logic, the sense of the poem.

The first poem, "La Préface," is an illustration. Here the line is used to make the ground logic beyond the single 'senses' of the words. The poem can't be understood, lacking a comprehension of the work the line is doing here. What it does do, then, is give the base pattern which pulls the poem's juxtaposition of action and thing to a common center where the reader can get to bedrock. Meaning.

Put war away with time, come into space.
It was May, precise date, 1940. I had air my lungs could
He talked, via stones  a stick  sea rock  a hand of earth.
It is now, precise, repeat. I talk of Bigmans organs
he, look, the lines! are polytopes.
And among the DPs—deathhead
                                                            at the apex
                                                                                 of the pyramid.

The line is the means to focus, is that which says 'how' we are to weight the various things we are told. And as it is there, to do this work, so the words break through to their sense .

Perhaps enough to find this use of line in these poems, but Olson is a good deal more than a competent technician. There is a reach in these five poems, a range of subject and a depth of perception, that mark him exceptional. His language is exact, hangs tight to the move of his thought.

Shallows and miseries shadows from the cross,
ecco men and dull copernican sun.
Our attention is simpler
The salts and minerals of the earth return
The night has a love for throwing its shadows around a man
a bridge,  a horse,    the gun,   a grave.
("The K")

Again, if poetry is to get further, develop, it will depend on those who, like Olson, make use of its present gains, push these beyond. Olson's work is the first significant advance.


previous chapter
Charles Olson:Y & X
next chapter