Notes made after visiting Charles Olson on Saturday 6 June 1969

By Ralph Maud

Published in Serious Iron (1971) and reprinted in Minutes of the Charles Olson Society #47/48 (November 2002).

Arrived Glos about 6 p.m. Looked through Olson’s window to find him sitting at the table writing and mouthing what he later told me were notes on CANADIAN (!) history — Parkman — with Webster’s Second open and operating, and Whitehead on the floor beside the kitchen table open at the index of Topics.

There was this double wave: I knew I was interrupting something but I knew that I had to. I got pleasure from being there. Olson too in that same double, of course.

in her diaries after her death Olson found that his wife read Process and Reality for pleasure — this when I asked if he dug the whole of that book. I had been looking at Lucian Price and was worried, so I asked if he had met Whitehead and he began to tell of the party he was invited to in Louisburg Square — but he said that the social Whitehead was not the MASTER of that one book P&R (Charles Hochthuth or something in Chicago Review on Whitehead led him in — important)

Much on my wife and son, since that last call of 2, 3, 4 Jan.

I should say that Olson looked older and sick, the place was a mess, and he was coming out through holes in his pants — but his clothes were clean AND THERE WAS NO DIMINUTION IN VITALITY — though I believe, and I knew what I was doing, that I got him at one of the “up” hours of the day, and that he has few in which he gets that intensity. He said he worked for 2 mths of the year — spring, April, and June — and that his daily working time was curtailed to about that in proportion.

He was mad at Robt Kelly’s review (in Lillibulero?) of Pleistocene Man — said his door was barred forever to him, though he was a pig of his own sow — (and I only now get the reference to Capt. John Smith).

We spoke of Jack Clarke as mimetic (my word for his growing the “carbuncle” on the left shoulder).

Re. Canada. He said Canada would be part of America and that America wasn’t finished yet: all the left side was to get ascendancy (not the “new left”) — the poets as opposed to the masculine dictators, though they too are more powerful than ever. But there will be a beautiful age of those who “obey and write” (Avicenna)

Re. Institute of Further Studies. He said I was mestizo, the fifth wheel of the outfit. The moon — which was his picture of me, the first person he saw in Buffalo as I was driving my open Morris down Main Street with my Panama hat on!

also use “moon” in relation to John Weiners, who he said was another planet in creation now, a lunar body.

Jack Clarke was football star till knocked down by polio. Had packed his bundle and was on his way out of the house, until his mother came downstairs and said, like, “Where are you going?” Olson said that Jack will have to get his life off the stage (or words to that effect).

The Berkeley tape was not confession, which was why he could allow it in print. Jack wrote a letter, a blast against the Causal Mythology transcription publication: but Olson, I got him to agree, does believe that his poetry etc is valuable to reasonably intelligent people who can come to it at a certain depth and should be helped to reach that depth. This was of course my purpose in being there at this time. I asked him: “You don’t mind your poetry being written about, do you?” He said he was waiting to see which of his people would do the first review of Maximus IV, V, VI (just one out, in TLS — a bad one). I told him I would write it as soon as I got up to it.

(Right now: I’m thinking of the Institute of Pre-Confederate Canada)

Difficulty of time: he even refused Don Allen, who wanted to come to discuss the Complete Poems. Creeley is there (in Annisquam), and there is the weight of a projected Collected Correspondence of Olson to Creeley. Olson’s toast was not to the Future but to the Present — he also toasted us, and also my son.

Review by Peter Anastas, Jr. in Gloucester Times — destroyed his anonymity in the city, which had been so valuable to him. Hadn’t been out of Gloucester for a year (sick in hospital this winter) until yesterday, when he went to his daughter’s graduation. (He’s got a tow!!) Admired his daughter’s ass as she walked away. Had seen his daughter’s mother from the rear the first time he ever saw her — she was predicted by Cagli and the Tarot, who described her before they met —

and he wrote that first poem, which doesn’t exist in print (but he thinks it’s in the house somewhere), which is reflected in The Twist — the cut of the dress — BEFORE he met the subject of it.

More on “left” side — moon flew out of the left side (Weiners — “westward drifting continent” — West is left. . .)

Coming back, I got lost. I couldn’t get into Boston, I tried three times, and drove in a circle round Somerville. I wept as I lay for a moment on Janet’s bed. I wept because I can’t help but anticipate in my mind the loss in love and power that is coming from Olson’s approaching old age and death. I tried to tell him this. I said, “It’s very sad.” He replied, “No, it isn’t.” I said, after three hours and feeling the imposition, “Shall I go now?” He replied kindly and he had been nothing but kind, “If you like — it’s up to you.” I feel, in a sense, I might have seen the last of it. But that’s my melodramatic mind at work. “I will hate to leave this terrestrial paradise”: he said he was proud to have written that — and before Pound said it in his recently published prospectus (?) for the completion of the Cantos, where he uses paradiso terra or something.

Aia: was the earth for those people, and if you weren’t from there, you’re a foreigner. Lowell used mestizos, talking about raw and cooked. M. L. Rosenthal (Olson said) made a valuable distinction, giving Olson a section away from the “confessional” poets.

His old pale-green refrigerator just stuck in the back garden (not near the blue Virgin) — like Mexico (or I add, Gaspé, where they live with their old cars.)

“Why not do a short 2000 word quick job on Quetzalcoatl (i.e. to finish your report for the Wenner-Gren)?” “Yes, I’ve never had a grant since, but it isn’t worth $2500 to take the time.” HE HAS A BONE a thigh bone of the actual man (Brainwood said it had been pierced and held on a pole in sacred use — he had told him where and how he had found it, and Brainwood said it was the right time and place) a piece of the actual man Quetzalcoatl in the Bank!

“Very glad to find you as you were. It took me five days in Boston and two hours driving (hesitating, trying it one way and then the other) to get to you. I don’t think I did too badly: I was listening.” I told him I felt guilty not bringing the others as I had promised. He said that we should write to him. He would reply to letters, but he said, “My breath is my own.”

I did hit the practical problems: (1) How maybe a “flip flop” like Ann Charters’s book is more valuable now than a tight “right-handed” job. Correct explanations are arresting. “You are a living poet,” I said. “But I do enjoy explaining poetry.” He replied: “Do what you really want to do, It can only be either on, or wrong. . .” and we laughed!

(2) How much help should one get? He said: “We never continued that run on the Maximus.” I said I didn’t want to be so advantaged — and yet, the other side, is that everything one does pick up from the horse’s mouth is useful and illuminating, e.g. I did confirm that “In Cold Hell” was a divorce or pre-divorce poem. But, by the way, he only looked puzzled when I mentioned his remark in the Calypso section of the Berkeley reading where he said, “I wish she was here — and I don’t mean the — I mean, the alive,” which I took to be Connie, since Bet was dead.

He laughs every time he goes past that one thing in Gloucester that Butterick didn’t manage to find out about.

Major poets of the left wondering how to deal with their celebrity and the establishment etc.

Towns in Nova Scotia — “I am Acadian.”

primordial (where eternal event

                              coincides with

                                       an eternal event


Story of the murderer and his son. . .

[I have resisted the temptation to rewrite the above piece. It has appeared before, in Serious Iron (1971), and we can do without variants.

But I would like to clear up Olson’s remark about Robert Kelly’s review of Pleistocene Man: it was actually in Caterpillar #7, and I reproduce it here for the reader to imagine Olson’s reaction to it. However, I do not think for one minute that his kitchen door would have been “barred forever.”

                                                                                    — Ralph Maud]