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Introduction to Charles Olson:Selected Writings II
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When Williams first read "Projective Verse," his response was immediate:

I share your excitement, it is as if the whole area lifted. It's the sort of thing we are after and must have. . . . Everything in it leans on action, on the verb; one thing leads to another which is thereby activated . . .[6]

It was an excitement which many of us shared, because what confronted us in 1950 was a closed system indeed, poems patterned upon exterior and traditionally accepted models. The New Criticism of that period was dominant and would not admit the possibility of verse considered as an "open field."

But, thinking now of what else was clearly happening, that attitude was already losing ground. In Jackson Pollock's comments on his painting at that time, one finds the obvious parallel:

When I am in my painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It is only after a sort of "get acquainted" period that I see what I have been about. I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.[7]

A like situation was clear in the work of John Cage, which involved the introduction of "chance" factors and reconsidered the whole context of a "melodic" modality in music. And similar circumstances were very clear in the sciences as well. "Formal" order, taken as a sine qua non , could no longer be assumed as a necessary virtue.

How, then, manage its alternatives—in such a way that the result be not random but rather the most precise discrimination and attention of which the person writing is capable? Olson's premise is this:

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 . . .

("Projective Verse")


This means, very literally, that a poem is some thing , a structure possessed of its own organization in turn derived from the circumstances of its making. Thus far, it could, of course, be a sonnet—and under given circumstances well might be, supposing that the person writing discovered that possibility as it was, in fact, written. But what one is saying has intimate relation to how one is saying it—and/or the content, in this sense, is that which qualifies the possibilities of form. Valéry, in The Art of Poetry , qualifies as lyric that mode of poetry in which the content and the form are realized simultaneously. Neither one can precede the other as a possibility. It is this sense, then, which Olson extends to all occasions of writing in verse. It is hardly a careless procedure, in that no order more than that so recognized can be gained. Apropos the syllable, "the king and pin of versification," Olson writes:

It is by their syllables that words juxtapose in beauty, by these particles of sound as clearly as by the sense of the words which they compose. In any given instance, because there is a choice of words, the choice, if a man is in there, will be, spontaneously, the obedience of his ear to the syllables . . .

("Projective Verse")

The capabilities of that ear will have no other evidence to support them but that which they define. "Prosody," Pound said, "is the articulation of the total sound of a poem." In the note to which this serves as motto, so to speak, Olson says:

It's as though you were hearing for the first time—who knows what a poem ought to sound like? until it's thar? And how do you get it thar except as you do—you , and nobody else (who's a poet


a poem?

It ain't dreamt until it walks It talks It spreads its

green barrazza

Listen closely, folks, this poem comes to you by benefit of its own Irish green bazoo. You take it, from here.

("A Foot Is to Kick With")

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Introduction to Charles Olson:Selected Writings II
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