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CHARLES OLSON

THE ALLEGORY OF A POET'S LIFE

Life of Charles Olson (1910-70), the ego-driven poet known as Maximum, who fathered ``projective'' verse and became the grand old man of Black Mountain College. Clark improves over his earlier bios (Jack Kerouac, 1984, The World of Damon Runyon), going all out with scholarship and research in this sympathetic retelling of the life of a poet who saw himself as ``metal hot from boiling water.'' A giant at six feet eight or nine inches, Olson was born in Worcester, Mass., and took the fishing village of Gloucester as the landscape for his free-verse epic effort The Maximus Poems. He early battened on Melville scholarship, and in his middle 30s brought out his first book, Call Me Ishmael, a gutsy but unfocused work whose critical failure shattered him and, in a way, helped reroute him toward his true goal as an epic poet. Maximus is the ``I'' or central figure of The Maximus Poems, a primitive force naming things anew in the freshness of the first morning-Olson called himself ``an archaeologist of morning.'' He was also a scholar of ancient civilizations, mainly Hittite and Mayan, and sw these civilizations as still existing in Gloucester and in him, Maximus, who was the totality of his family history, eruptive and overwhelming. As Clark shows, Olson's self-focus dried up his common-law marriages, may or may not have driven his younger second wife to suicide by automobile. While Olson's theories tried to wall him off from ego, and his poetry shows objects as archaic objects without the mediation of the poet's soul, his dependence of amphetamines, alcohol, and pot sent his ego billowing during his last decade and made much of his work diffuse and ragtag. Clark records all, accepts Olson's various self-estimates and solemn need for drugs, never suggests there might have been a better epic had Maximus had a rebirth beyond chemical ego. Told at a steady plod that takes Olson's ideas perhaps more seriously than warranted but that points steadily toward the writer's best work.

Pub Date: April 22, 1991

ISBN: 0-393-02958-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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