Contemporary Olson

David Herd
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As a poet, critic, theorist and teacher, Charles Olson extended the possibilities of modern writing. Conceived as both a re-assessment of Olson's place in recent poetic history, and also as a way into his work for those not already familiar with his writing, this book invited three kinds of contribution. First, there are contextualising chapters, discussions that situate Olson's thought and work. Second, there are chapters that have as their focus individual Olson poems, whether from Maximus or shorter lyrics. Third, there are chapters by writers for whom Olson has proved a crucial interlocutor. The different kinds of engagement with Olson are grouped according to key themes and preoccupations within his work. The chapters of the first section probe Olson's relation to knowledge, dwelling in particular on the way he looked to make poetry answerable to other ways of knowing. They underscore the degree to which Olson's work was founded in dialogue: with myth, with science, with poetic antecedents. The second section, on Poetics, brings the matter of dialogue to the fore. It provides a reading of the poets' often fraught relationship that shows clearly how questions of poetics crossed lines of affiliation. If the feminine emerges in Olson as a discernible absence, his concern with History is plain. Like Pound, he took the epic to be a poem containing history, a position he modified by the exploration of historical agency he characterized as istorin. The book concludes by considering the matter of relations within and across space.

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