Tuesday, June 8, 2010
CHARLES OLSON CENTENARY CONFERENCE
Back from the Olson Conference held June 4-6, 2010 at Simon Fraser University's Segel Graduate School of Business in Vancouver, British Columbia. I was surprised at how comfortable I felt with the people and the surroundings. I have to think they found a way to a great success for this conference where the participants did not seem to need to create conflict inorder to be noticed; but strived to communicate instead. There were great differences of opinion but also careful conduct expressed in willingness to entertain ideas for their own sake. Course that is just my opinion. Who knows what dark underpinning of antithetical representation appeared when I was not looking? None I hope.
My comment the first day to the first of two roundtables on The Future of Olson Studies followed me around a bit for the rest of the conference. There was talk about the complexity of Olson and the necessity to study and understand his systems and antecedents (which wouldn't hurt, you understand) before reading his poetry. I just said, "Well, you don't have to. You can go ahead and read, enter the text. Bring whatever you have with you. Look around and bring out what you find, what is useful to you." Oh yes, 'negative capability' someone in the audience said. Probably because they were thinking the same thing themselves, a bunch of people came up to me and said they were glad I made those comments. Whoever said 'negative capability' really had it right. Those who know me know I am not a champion of ignorance. The anti-intellectualism of American culture is one of my country's biggest failings. Studying Olson has its own reward. The collection and archives at the University of Connecticut is suppost to be filled with material from a poet who wrote on all available materials with great profusion. Those who have visited these archives recommended them to the assembled as an almost necessary stop. You have to have "certain" credentials to be admitted, however. I'll have to try some time to see if I can get in.
One of the most interesting presentations for me was by Jonathan Skinner. He showed a photograph of Charles Olson standing next to his research collection of notes, diagrams and map overlays of the Gloucestor, MA area, stuck on probably the biggest wall area available in Olson's Fort Square apartment. A continual work in progress for Olson. The partly disassembled map survives in the archive. This got me thinking about the levels of thinking interfacing the unknown and familiar. You have the map. You have the interior mental map and then you have walking the place mapped. Plus the rest like mythic, chronological and knowledge of prior events all brought to cognitive structure and perception
Having Ralph Maud present was invigorating. His life and sharp mind are what I want when I am 82 years-old as he is. Those of us still at the conference late Sunday got to hear his presentation of a dramatic reading of Olson's play Apollonius of Tyana. When I first met him on Friday afternoon, I wanted to ask him about one of the points of the larger dialog our panel members had been having in preparing for our presentation (one I have returned to more than once). The specific of it is that Tom Clark in his biography of Olson refers to the poem Cole's Island as an example of allegory. I do not find allegory as I place this poem's poetic work in the mythological present. I said to Ralph Maud in the poem Olson meets with the Death not some distant reference of. He said he met someone there. Which reminded me that the poem never identifies the stranger as Death absolutely, "it was not one thing more than that he was Death instantly that he came into sight." We talked some more about his biography of Charles Olson. How he felt he needed to write it as for all of his work showing inaccuracies in Tom Clark's biography of Charles Olson, Tom Clark went and published a second printing without making any changes.
Of use was Kim Minkus talking about ways of reading a page, new technology and "the high energy construct" of Olson's Projective Verse being available and generated by performance using internet tools. I should say Minkus's Presentation was on Rachel Zolf's work which no doubt limited her talk. She did trace the investigative form of poetry to Charles Olson and made a nice point about the poet's use of space being invaded by digital space.
Jeanne Heuving gets my award for HOW COULD YOU LEAVE THAT OUT? Her presentation "Whose Projective Poetics?" shared ground with Jacqueline Turner's, who went just before her. The published letters between Frances Boldereff and Charles Olson showed he had a deep debt to Boldereff in regards to the ideas that shaped Projective Verse and other works. It was when she talked of "other energy sources" and even "stealing projective away from Olson" looking at contemporaries that followed in the decade of the 1950s without mentioning a prime energy source Jack Kerouac. Kerouac even said he invented "projective verse". Look at Mexico City Blues, the pages themselves how he broke open form and used space
Continued on Saturday morning by attending presentations on Projective Geometry and Dance. The three panels found under this topic were diverse and all very well done. Lisa Siraganian "Administering the Poem" As a propagandist and "artist/bureaucrat" Charles Olson had a life of qualitative success before he choose the life of a poet. What Siraganian intuited was the Idealized Admininistrator where an administrator must be a method expert and methods triumph over specialized knowledge. Interesting Olson life history in World of Ideas. He did a publication "projection of America directive" and progressive pro-labor circulating multi-media. How much carry over and carry on are the questions to fulfill. I can see forward, onward, projective as thematically similar but find the whole question less interesting then one good Olson poem. People have heard me say this before, the work is in the poetry itself. If the poem is not any good then the rest of it doesn't really matter. There are lots of words that if you are not sure of your originality you would be afraid to touch. macro and micro social norms also come into play. It is already fading but can anyone remember the word you were not allowed to say at this Conference (prophetic)
Kate Markoski brought us the dancing of Merce Cunningham. Mindscape picture of large Charles taking Cunningham's class at Black Mountain College and dancing with great particularity. Cunningham brought vision of dance being always individual, dancers own center the focus with position not oriented towards center front of stage. In Letters for Origin (letter of May 8, 1951) there is a passage on dance. "an investigation of the body as instrument" and the movement Olson was seeing in the glyphs he was studying, "the graphic of drama." He states as dictum: any player is (has to be) 1st dancer. I can report on the weekend's big mystery. Unless there is another description somewhere? Martin Duberman quotes Merce Cunningham on Olson as a dancer. "I enjoyed him... he was something like a light walrus." Looks like "walrus" wins and "elephant" loses.
I wondered if David Herd's presentation was on Secrets. I don't think it actually was. This was a case (and not the only one) where the presenter needed either more time or a less intellectually stacked setting. Herd's presentation required concentration which I apologize for not having enough at the time. Herd's title was From him only will the old state-secret come. I would like to read the whole paper if the opportunity comes my way. He pointed out how Charles Olson searched for sources on whaling used by Melville, however conceptualized deeper and gathered additional data which revealed more of the underlying social-economic structure. I could be off on this, but perhaps Herd then brought his own perspective to the source material as well as both Melville's and Olson's use of it. I did think; "Hey there are other poetic uses of that material" when Herd equated Capitalism with image of:
eight skeletons in a cave
by a whale stoving in
Answering my question, he cleared up that he was referring to the eight men themselves. How their own choices had put them in a death trap. The reference to Capitalism put me more immediately in mind of the distant owners.
I went to the Panel: Olson and/or Apocalypse. This was a last moment choice. I was aimed at first at the panel that was going to discuss "the Archive" since Rootdrinker Institute has an archive which is growing but not as yet organizing. But after earlier discussion of "the Archive" I was not sure I could even get past the gatekeepers there. Now the gatekeepers to the Apocalypse that is a different story. There I have a seat saved. Peter O'Leary was the only announced presenter in town. Stephen Collis contributed a poem impression which was a imperative pleasure for me. What if they went to an Olson Conference and poetry broke out! Peter O'Leary's talk was titled "Fire against Wisdom:Olson and Synchronicity" Peter's own energy was pouring out like the sun. I enjoyed his style and conviction completely until later when talking with Jonathan Skinner, we discussed that topic (indirectly). There can be a bit of the zealous in presentation speech but it is a tough line because of the easy dismissal of the overzealous. I don't think Peter was overzealous except for maybe just a tiny tone. No problem, really, but for myself it was a reminder to keep questioning. The content of Peter's talk was along pathways I have traveled. Jung writes in his Forward to the I Ching a certain moment, not of time as in hours and calendars, but as "an indicator of the essential situation prevailing in the moment of its origin." O'Leary spoke of acausal connective, not causal, meaning full of cross connective. Here are a couple of Casline bumper stickers: THERE IS ORDER IN RANDOMNESS (which is how I organically design my vegetable gardens) and CHANCE DOES NOT HAPPEN BY CHANCE.
The Panel I came to Vancouver to be a part of was the last panel on the last day of the Conference. called A Curriculum of the Soul: from Buffalo Out. It is like reviewing a friend's poetry book or even worst reviewing your own poetry book to comment on the panel you yourself are on. I think I'll take a clue from the proceedings and say a bit about the development and hoped for impact and let others give feedback and critiques on the panel itself. John Roche, who I met after seeing and then publishing his poem Joe the Poet in Rootdrinker, was able to swap information and stories about Charles Olson's Buffalo days and The Institute of Further Studies. I remember asking him if he thought Charles Olson would be remembered as a poet or if he would be assigned to "the dust bin of history" (cliche). Ken Warren and House Organ became known to me through multiple vectors. Michael Boughn and Shuffaloff, I believe I found on my own even though I first read his work in the CofS fascicle Mind. I unconnectedly found a website when on a search through the innersphere and remember showing a copy to Dennis Sullivan in Smitty's Tavern and saying this is a guy we should meet. Hoa Nguyen also became interesting after I read an interview in which she discussed her personal take on teaching Olson's work. I had heard of Skanky Possum through Albert Glover. Glover I first met on campus at St. Lawrence University. He was carrying his medicine pouch and had a carved staff decorated with feathers and was pointed out to me as the poetry teacher which looked about right. The lead up to the panel presentation in Vancouver involved some long e-mail streams; Hoa's Buffalo reading when I met her and Ken for the first time; compressed research into the letters between Jack Clarke and Albert Glover regarding CofS and other matters and distribution of From Buffalo Out poem packet. We had shared and individual goals for what we wanted to accomplish in Vancouver. Sharing the stage as a panel and helping to create space for Albert Glover to expound and share insights on the "great project" brought to culmination in the form of a book A Curriculum of the Soul was one of the ones our gang prized.
Whatever wave of the event I was riding put me next to Renee Rodin and other poets from local Vancouver at the concluding poetry bash at W2-Storyeum. A great cave of a place with about seventy people there to hear poets from out of town and from the Olson Conference read. Stephen Collis happy to introduce me as from the Normanskill Watershed and not Albany, New York. Nice to leave their city with such bright and affectionate support as I return to the local, something like water seeping from a hill. Each poet dependent on their own time situation. Our application of poetry depending on who we are (who I am) with the variation always fitted to the individual's moment, though the fundamental lines of direction are of course the same.