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Though stony academics still write him off as the roaring guru of Black Mountain College, quondam spawning ground of the Beats, both the ideas and poetry of Charles Olson appear to be entering the cultural mainstream. Certainly the sampler which New Directions has prepared, edited by a well-known disciple, Robert Creeley, is a significant sign that Olson's iconoclasm, while still controversial, is also now amenable to respectable housing. The collection includes the poet's white paper, ""Projective Verse,"" a manifesto eager to establish the truth of ""field composition,"" the breath-by-breath movement of lines conveying ""a high-energy construct"" which liberates one from the deadening tradition of ""closed"" metrics, alternately widening and narrowing the shape of perceptions, catching the diffusion of natural speech as honestly as possible. The play of Olson's mind, non-linear and often garbled, manages in his major work, The Maximus Poems, (strongly indebted to Pound and Williams) something which is at once sprawling and particularized, meditative and oddly lyrical. Here the setting of Gloucester, his birthplace, becomes incarnated in the figure of the poet, and the lost humanism of New England, the abdication of the radical or free consciousness, is viewed against the trashy present, the commercial ""perjorocracy."" Olson has dignity and a Whitmanesque obsession with the prophetic, the moral epic of man, lordly values rarely encountered in the literature of today. One cherishes his intentions, but quantity changed quality, and sadly Olson's style, the rambling experimentation, offers ultimately only mighty fragments amidst much palaver.

Publisher: New Directions