September 27, 2016

Gloucester Writers Center, September 21

I had planned to spend a long weekend on Cape Ann, then saw that Don Byrd, former UAlbany professor, Olson scholar & poet, would be doing a reading on Wednesday night so I extended my stay (not a hard decision to make) so I would be here for his reading. The room in Vincent Ferrini’s old place was filled as usual, Gloucester being a very literate town.

Don was introduced by Gloucester poet Amanda Cook, then he went on with a casual talk among friends with some poems thrown in. He began by wondering what it means to be “a follower of Olson,” recalling his first visit to Gloucester in a snow storm in January 1971, after Charles Olson’s death. Of course Gloucester poet Gerrit Lansing was in the audience, relaxed on the couch, & Don paid tribute to him as a direct source of information about Olson, reading from Gerrit’s poem “The Burden of Set.”  Gerrit had once been the proprietor of a storied used bookstore on Main St.

Don said he had prepared a 3-hour lecture on the topic of the books on mathematics in Olson’s library, but there seemed to be little interest in the audience, but plenty of chuckles. Instead he read a poem he had written this week, “Poem to Be Read In Place of a Lecture on Olson & Mathematics.”

Don talked about being in Lawrence, KS in April 1970 during riots there, as in many places in America at that time, over racial injustice & the Vietnam War, read his poem about the 2 halves, then a poem “Call for a General Strike” from his book-length poem The Great Dimestore Centennial (Station Hill Press), the cover photo of-which is of the old Woolworth’s in Cohoes, NY.

From there he talked about reading Olson’s papers in the archives in the University of Connecticut in Storrs, particularly the chaotic stack of paper that George Butterick published after Olson’s death as Maximus III. This led to his own stack of papers, what he has been writing recently, & reach what he called “a terrible poem” from “a sequence neither beautiful or good,” then to a descriptive, ruminative poem about a large, brown book held together with tape (Maximus III?) & his morning, & the “The First Message” which he said was an old poem to his father on “befuddlement,” originally published as a broadside that he had to take take from his wall to type because he had no typed copy.

During the following questions & answers, he talked about Olson as “community,” & about the Ralph Maud library of books cited & referenced by Charles Olson, recently installed just down the road at 108 Main St. He also talked about the writing of his study Charles Olson’s Maximus (University of Illinois Press, 1980), his research & help from George Butterick who at that time had not yet published his authoritative A Guide to the Maximus Poems of Charle Olson.

It was a classic “Gloucester evening” which happens a lot now with the Gloucester Writers Center’s regular schedule of events. See their website & stop by sometime. Maybe I’ll be in town.

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