October 12, 2010

Charles Olson Centennial Celebration -- Thursday, October 7, 2010

There have been a number of celebrations of the American poet Charles Olson this year; December 27 is the 100th anniversary of his birth. But of all the festivals this was the one I had to be at, since Gloucester is the place where he defined himself as a poet of place, the Maximus of Gloucester. He was born in Worcester, MA where there was a festival earlier this year & some folks peripherally connected to his stint at Black Mountain College in North Carolina organized an event in Rochester, NY (?!), but this was the place to be, where many poets still writing today first met Olson, where he spent his final years as a poet, historian, mentor, walker of the streets & civic activist.

It was clearly a festival of "raw poetry" in spite of the presence of a number of academics throughout the weekend. More than one speaker drew a distinction between the "cooked poetry" of poets such as Robert Lowell & Sylvia Plath & the "raw poetry" of Gloucester poets Olson & Vincent Ferrini. It was a useful, if simplistic, distinction.

The Olson Study Group organized by The Charles Olson Society of Gloucester had been holding forth on Thursdays at Gloucester The Bookstore on Main St. since early September, & having readings since the beginning of October. I arrived for the Festival weekend on Thursday, caught the tail-end of the discussion, chaired by Peter Anastas & James Cook. But I was there for the reading by Gerrit Lansing & Chuck Stein.

Gerrit Lansing is a long-time Gloucester resident who has been a mentor to younger generations of poets & scholars, edited the early journal Set & was the proprietor of a used bookstore on Main St. Throughout the weekend one could see many younger poets greeting & paying respect to his gentle eminence. His reading included "Across Space and Time" (published in the Winter 1961-62 issues of Set). It was a nice mix of poems, including the connected love poems of "Hunting from the Rock," the amusing "Egg Breakfast" & the sexy "Tabernacles."

Chuck Stein is a scholar & poet, author of the Jungian study of Olson's work The Secret of the Black Chrysanthemum. I've often found that it is more interesting to hear him talk about his writing process than to hear the product. Tonight he read from "Money Has An Enemy," a perplexing narrative "code piece" involving "Wrench-Boy" & "Wrench-Girl," what he accurately described as a "peculiar opera or animated cartoon."

More to come.

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