Preferred Citation: Creeley, Robert. The Collected Essays of Robert Creeley. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1989 1989.

Introduction to Charles Olson:Selected Writings II


Olson's approach was thus twice removed from the terms of any other critical intelligence of that period. He spoke of "geography" and that was clearly antiliterary. He proposed a sense of the literal nature of this country quite distinct from those critics influenced by European traditions. If he was involved with particular European evidences (as witness his translation of Rimbaud's last recorded poem, "Ô saisons, ô châteaux . . . ," in "Variations Done for Gerald van de Weile"), he so involved them that they became the American context equally:

I offer, in explanation, a quote:
si j'ai du goût, ce n'est guères
que pour la terre et les pierres . . .
("The Kingfishers")

If I have any taste, it is only for earth and stones  . . . Or to continue with Rimbaud's text from which this is also taken:

Je déjeune toujours d'air
De roc, de charbons, de fer.[3]

Daily I dine on air,
rock, coal, iron
 . . .

It is relevant, then, that Olson's particular nature should lead him in Yucatan[4] to just such exploration as he values in Parkman, or equally in Herodotus ("I would be an historian as Herodotus was, looking / for oneself for the evidence of / what is said . . . ," "Letter 23," The Maximus Poems ). In Mayan Letters we have unequivocal evidence of a kind of intelligence which cannot propose the assumption of content prior to its experience of that content, which looks , out of its own eyes. This does not mean that conjecture is to be absent, insofar as jacio means "throw" and con , "together"—however simply this point may note the actual process. It is a consistent

[3] "Faim," Délires II.

[4] Olson lived in Lerma from February to July 1951. Mayan Letters is a selection made from letters written to me at that time. In 1952 he was awarded a Wenner-Gren Foundation grant for further study of Mayan hieroglyphs.


fact with Olson that he does use his legs, and does depend on what his own instincts and intelligence can discover for him. In this way he throws together all he has come to possess.

But humanism, as a system of thought or ordering of persons in their relations to other things in the world, is distinctly absent. Even the most sympathetic ordering of human effects and intelligence leads to unavoidable assumptions and the test—which is the reality of one's quite literal being—denies any investment of reality prior to its fact.

There are no hierarchies, no infinite,
                                            no such many as mass, there are only
eyes in all heads,
to be looked out of
("Letter 6")

This commitment is further proposed and defined in "Human Universe," written, significantly, during that same period in Yucatan. We are not here involved with existentialism, despite the apparent closeness of sympathies at times. That is, Camus may speak of a world without appeal , but the system of discourse he makes use of is still demonstrably a closed one. What he seems most despairing about is that language cannot make sense of the world, that logic and classification do not lead to conclusions and value—but open only to the dilemma of experience itself. But L'Étranger is again a closed demonstration, a "fiction" proposed as example, and this, of course, is to stay within that universe of discourse which Olson distrusts.

 . . . such an analysis only accomplishes a description , does not come to grips with what really matters: that a thing, any thing, impinges on us by a more important fact, its self-existence, without reference to any other thing, in short, the very character of it which calls our attention to it, which wants us to know more about it, its particularity. This is what we are confronted by, not the thing's "class," any hierarchy, of quality or quantity, but the thing itself, and its relevance to ourselves who are the experience of it (whatever it may mean to someone else, or whatever other relations it may have).

("Human Universe")

Camus despairs of his inability to fit experience to possible orders of language, whereas Olson would insist that language be returned to its place in experience, neither more nor less than any other act.


Introduction to Charles Olson:Selected Writings II

Preferred Citation: Creeley, Robert. The Collected Essays of Robert Creeley. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1989 1989.