THE MAXIMUS POEMS: Vol. III by Charles Olson


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Olson's Maximus suite--rambling, blustery, meditative poems on the American past and present--often speaks best to the reader in the lyric sections. When Olson says, for instance, in ""Maximus, to Himself,"" that ""it is the undone business/ I speak of,"" or that ""I had to learn the simplest things/ last,"" or ""that we grow up many/ And the single/ is not easily/ known,"" he is encapsulating in fragmentary observations much of the emotional drive of his master plan. It is not only that the parts of Maximus are better than the whole, but also that the whole, taken as such, is continually eluding artistic definition, while the ""incidental,"" even fortuitous aspects of Olson's congeries really give us the heart of the man. Olson, who died in 1970, had great underground reclame during the '50s for his ""open"" structure or ""high-energy construct,"" a technique which both looked back to Pound and Williams and ahead to the Beats. Yet his myth of the Republic ""in gloom at Watchhouse Point"" is never as persuasive as Williams' similar effort in Patterson. Randall Jarrell says of the industrial swamp of Williams' northeastern New Jersey that ""in these poems the Nature of the edge of the American city--the weeds, clouds, and children of vacant lots--and its reflection in the minds of its inhabitants exist for good."" Olson, lacking Williams' blessed, pragmatic concreteness, was often given to blunt theorizing or fulminations against ""the Big False Humanism."" He was not the profound chronicler of the American adventure he took himself to be; he was, rather, a miniaturist of the populist spirit which is always veering toward some marine or pastoral solitude. Beneath his cantankerous persona there was a gentle soul.

Pub Date: Aug. 4th, 1975
Publisher: Grossman