Echoes is a digital reading series featuring writers from around the country reciting their favorite poems, along with a recording of the poet themselves reading their work.
This week, poet Lily Duffy reads Charles Olson’s “Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld].”
“My first exposure to “Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld]” was the YouTube video of Charles Olson reading it—I was completely knocked out by his conversational-performative reading style, and remember loving the poem’s strange nostalgic language, the intensity and lawlessness of the druggist anecdote, and the line “I have this sense, / that I am one / with my skin.” Then, in fall 2013 (maybe a year or so after first watching the video), I was in Julie Carr’s graduate poetry workshop at CU Boulder, where we spent the first half of the semester reading and discussing The Maximus Poems—a brilliant, but extremely referential and difficult work. Much of our discussion revolved around Olson’s idea of “polis,” a concept I understood abstractly, but had a hard time fully grasping within the context of the book (which in some ways I felt was a good thing). It was only after coming upon “Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld],” roughly a third of the way through the book, that Olson’s vision of “polis” became more lucid to me—that (in the reductive version of my interpretation) the individual forms community through a oneness that roofs the multiplicity where it exists. It’s an affecting and beautiful poem that stands easily on its own, but also serves as an anchor in one of the most important poetic works of the twentieth century. No one will ever read it better than Charles Olson did, but I figure that’s an especially good reason for anyone else to record themselves reading it.”
Listen to Lily Duffy read “Maximus to Gloucester…”
Lily Duffy is a poet, teacher, and editor living in Denver while working on her MFA in poetry at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her writing has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Baltimore City Paper, Hot Metal Bridge, ILK journal, Cloud Rodeo, Bone Bouquet, NAP, inter|rupture, and elsewhere. With Rachel Levy she co-edits DREGINALD.
Listen to Charles Olson read “Maximus to Gloucester…”
Charles Olson has come to be recognized in the few years since his death as a major shaper of a postmodern American poetry, the chief successor to Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. He was a leading voice of the so-called Black Mountain Poets (which included Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Edward Dorn, and Joel Oppenheimer among others), named for the experimental college with which all were at one time or another associated. His place in literary history seems assured by such achievements as his epic series, The Maximus Poems (1953-1975), the theoretical manifesto “Projective Verse” (1950), essays such as “Human Universe” (1951), his deeply felt study of Herman Melville, myth and America, Call Me Ishmael (1947), his energetic letters, as well as his acknowledged influence on an entire generation of poets. Indeed, one critic—Warren Tallman in his preface to The Poetics of the New American Poetry (1973)—speaks of “Olson’s generation” the way Hugh Kenner has referred to “the Pound Era.” (source)