Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Typewriter Poets

Since I’m sick tonight (and I’m pretty certain you’ll appreciate my not being with you physically), I wanted to share a few thoughts and links on Olson (right) and Creeley in our virtual classroom.

Three themes really struck me about Olson and Creeley:

Musical analogies: Williams wanted his poetry to capture the musical rhythms of everyday speech, Zukofsky actually composed poetry as music, and with Olson, again, there’s a connection between the linear art of poetry and the rhythms and sounds the words make in our heads. I imagined reading his work to the accompaniment of a typewriter, with that lovely staccato sound – fast, slow, then fast again – that one makes when the typewriter and your thoughts become one. (Well, for me, it’s a keyboard, but I can remember a typewriter’s sounds.)

What made the most impact on me was to combine Olson’s thoughts on poetry as a musical form of composition and his belief that poetry transfers energy from the poet, through the poem, to the reader. Music is also a transfer of energy – the way you tap your foot or join the rhythms of a really great song. The set of poems that really exemplified this concept of poetry as both music and energy, to me, was the La Chute I, II, and III. To me, these seemed to be the music of Modernism. I saw the remains of Pound and H.D. in them (the bases of the trees that were felled), with wonderfully descriptive words that carry their own “sounds” to the reader’s ear – lusty, wrought, pulsations, lute, fallen. There was also just enough repetition for that, too, to create a musical quality to me.

We’ve shared lots of links to poets reading their own works, and I wanted to do likewise with Olson. Here are links to:

A variety of Olson’s recordings, mostly short files (sadly, nothing we read for class, but lots of Maximus!)
A Vancouver 1963 book reading by Olson (very long file – nearly 1.7 megs, or 90 minutes, if you’re interested to download)
Not a sound file, but another blog all about Olson

Post-modern life: The second theme that struck me was how integral the aftermath of World War II is to these two poets. Unlike H.D., who told a story of redemption and rebirth following the destruction of the war, Olson and Creeley seem to express the hopelessness, horror, and senselessness of this War, where America (and the Allies) were on the side of Right, but yet, there was – and we also caused – total and utter destruction. Kingfisher was especially moving to me, and while I’m not sure if my read of it is “right,” what I took away was this sense of post-WWII horror. The sense of having witnessed the absolute worst of humanity, knowing that the price of righteousness was more violence, and just … deep down in your bones … wondering if it was worth it.

with what violence benevolence is bought
what cost in gesture justice brings
what wrongs domestic rights involve
what stalks
this silence

Likewise, and with an altogether different tone but similar theme, Creeley in I Know A Man captures the wonderful societal desire in the 50s to simply cover up the horror that we collectively witnessed with a new Chevrolet. As if living a “normal” life and buying a new car will somehow erase the memories.

… the darkness su-
rrounds us …
… why not, buy a goddamn big car.
christ’s sake, look
out where yr going.

How beautifully put: Look out where you’re going. Very 50s, and it almost seems that this poem couldn’t have been written at any other time in history BUT the 50s.

The eternal now: Lastly, commenting on Olson and Creeley’s letters, it seemed to me that Olson was talking about breaking through the myth of time to the eternal “now.” That history teaches us, that it illuminates the present, and that, ultimately, time is just a fabric that folds back over itself – and there is no moment but now, with history co-existing at the same time.

Plus, I just love the mental picture of Ezra with a beak.

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