Object Lessons

“A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it . . . by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader.”

-Charles Olson, “Projective Verse”


D.H. Lawrence’s essay The Poetry of the Present is worth a look for anyone interested in a poetics of immediacy-in poems that might open us to the the wild space beyond language and thought.

The idea here is that the poem concerned with the past, or a poem preoccupied with the future, is different from a poem of the present:

It has no goal in either eternity. It has no finish. It has no satisfying stability, satisfying to those who like the immutable. None of this. It is the instant; the quick; the very jetting source of all will-be and has-been. The utterance is like a spasm, naked contact with all influences at once. It does not want to get anywhere. It just takes place.

Lawrence begins with Whitman: a practitioner of the poetry of the present. Here is how Lawrence describes what this kind of poem “must” do:

There must be mutation, swifter than iridescence, haste, not rest, come-and-go, not fixity, inconclusiveness, immediacy, the quality of life itself, without dénouement or close. There must be the rapid momentaneous association of things which meet and pass on the forever incalculable journey of creation: everything left in its own rapid, fluid relationship with the rest of things.

One of the interesting ideas that comes into play in twentieth-century poetics is the idea that a poem (the form of the poem) might be about process as opposed to a product. “The poem of mind in the act,” to borrow words from a poem by Wallace Stevens, or the mind moving with the self-organizing and wild energy of the world, or what Charles Olson will call a kind of “enactment” of mind and poetry and world.

In words from Olson’s Projective Verse, “the projective involves a stance toward reality outside a poem as well as a new stance towards the reality of a poem itself.” This is what Olson calls “Objectism,” among the many “isms” (imagism and objectivism and vorticism) that may be plotted like points along the curve of modernist poetics in the first half of the twentieth century. Here is Olson’s definition:

Objectism is the getting ride of the lyrical interference of the individual as ego, of the “subject” and his soul, that peculiar presumption by which western man has interposed himself between what he is as a creature of nature (with certain instructions to carry out) and those other creations of nature which we may, with no derogation, call objects. For a man is himself an object, whatever he may take to be his advantages, the more likely to recognize himself as such the greater his advantages, particularly at that moment that he achieves an humilitas sufficient to make him of use.

This is the moment in the essay that David Hinton uses to frame his reading of Olson’s poetics and that sets up his comment that Olson’s envisions a poetry “in which the mind moves with the same wild energies as the Cosmos” (91). The idea that a poem might “enact” this movement would require a mind that is free of the interpretive structures of language, knowledge and understanding, and cultural concepts that determine our ways of defining the self as inside of us (and the world outside of the so-called “self”).

In defining the poem as an embodied enactment of mind and world, of moving with, open form poetics move us to the source, for Olson the body and the breath. This radical vision of ecopoetics is summed by Hinton with preturnatural precision: “the human mind as a wild thing operating according to its own deepest nature as integral to the Cosmos” (94). Such an ecopoetics–organized around the spontaneous, the associative, and the improvisational–“driven by the oral rhythms of the body, the breath,” offers a direct through line to the poetic experiments of Snyder, McClure, and Ammons. Stay tuned.

If you are interested in reading more deeply in Olson there are places to go, and miles before you sleep. Go to the Poetry Foundation web site where you can read the complete text of Charles Olson’s Projective Verse. It is an amazing text. We also have copies of Charles Olson, Human Universe and Other Essays, edited by Donald Allen (Grove Press 1967), both in the open stacks and also in the KSC Special Collections.

 KSC/Main Collection  PS3529.L655 H8 1967  AVAILABLE

Human Universe and Other Essays may also be borrowed from the Internet Archive, and the Open Library, a book database and digital lending library that provides access to many public domain and out-of-print books, which can be read online.

Books in the Internet Archive collection may be borrowed by logged in patrons for a period of two weeks. You may read the books online in a browser, or download them into Adobe Digital Editions, a free piece of software used for managing loans. The books are available in BookReader, PDF, and ePub formats (and Daisy for the print disabled). BookReader editions may be read online immediately in your web browser. Readers of EPUBs may read by scrolling or flipping pages, modify text size, create bookmarks, highlight texts, or search a book by entering text in the top-right text box.

No special software is required. Other Internet Archive loans are managed through Adobe Digital Editions, which you may need to download to manage your library of borrowed books.

How do I get set up to borrow books through archive.org?

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The first time you open a protected book, ADE will ask you to authorize your computer. The best way to do this is to supply an Adobe ID or Vendor ID, associating the book with your ID. If you later open the book on another computer, you can simply supply the same ID to open the book. If you don’t have an Adobe ID, click the Create an Adobe ID link. After creating the ID on the Adobe website, you can close that browser window, return to ADE, and enter the newly-created Adobe ID. If you choose to authorize without an ID, ADE will enable reading of the book only on your computer. Some booksellers use a special form of protection where your book is locked to the bookseller’s ID. For example, Barnes & Noble uses this method. When you buy a book, download to your computer, and open in ADE, you’ll be asked to supply the username and unlock code you use on the bookseller’s web site (for example, for Barnes & Noble, the name and number of the credit card associated with your ebook purchase).

Photo credit: Mark C. Long

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