Friday, April 13, 2007

On Olson

"Because breath allows all the speech-force of language back in (speech is the "solid" of verse, is the secret of a poem's energy), because, now, a poem has, by speech, solidity everything in it can now be treated as solids, objects, things; and, though insisting upon the absolute difference of the reality of verse from that other dispersed and distributed thing, yet each of these elements of a poem can be allowed to have the play of their separate energies and can be allowed, once the poem is well composed, to keep, as those other objects do, their proper confusions."

Okay, I'm not going to pretend that I know what he means, exactly, but I will try to figure it out. When I read this passage, I thought about whether poems really do derive all their power from speech. Do they? What about VisPo? What about something like Charles Bernstein's homophonic translation of Esteban Pujals' poems? Do they derive their energy from speech and treatment as solids, objects, and things?

To me, Olson's assertions allow much less flexibility than Shelley's. He says of the poem as a whole, "We now enter, actually, the large area of the whole poem, into the FIELD, if you like, where all syllables and all the lines must be managed in their relations to each other."

That all syllables and all the lines MUST be managed in their relations to each other seems to limit the poet. Though Olson does not describe the manner in which syllables and lines should be managed, I got a feeling that he thought there is A way to manage them.

I secretly hope that there is an Order to things, and poetry, which is a thing, has an Order.

Out of all of Olson's abstractions, I did like this: "What seems to me a more valid formulation for present use is "objectism," a word to be taken to stand for the relation of man to experience which a poet might state as the necessity of a line or a work to be as wood is, to be clean as wood is as it issues from the hand of nature, to be shaped as wood can be when a man has had his hand to it."


K. Silem Mohammad said...

Excellent questions and valid reservations, Bryan.

About "must": yes, it sounds oppressively prescriptive in a way. Although there is an appealingly impossible quality to the demand. It almost seems as though he knows it's impossible, and that it's honorable to attempt the impossible. McClure's requirement that all the words in a Personal Universe Deck "must sound good together" is maybe a kinder, gentler version of this dictum.

Ducky said...

I like your secret hope.