The Ralph Maud collection of Charles Olson’s books

Published in Minutes of the Charles Olson Society #17 (November 1996), with 22 pages of listings and photocopies of Olson’s inscriptions, not reproduced here.



n August 1989, after a summer of work on Olson’s source books at the Charles Olson Archive, University of Connecticut Library, Storrs, I decided I would finally have to do something about all the titles in George Butterick’s “Olson’s Reading: A Preliminary Report” which he had annotated: “In possession of Mr. and Mrs. W. Radoslovich.”

I knew that Mrs. Radoslovich was Olson’s sister-in-law, Bet’s sister. Greg Gibson of the Ten Pound Island Book Company in Gloucester gave me her telephone number in Camden, Maine, where she was now living as Jean Kaiser (having reverted to her maiden name). I phoned.

“Do you still have all those books that Charles left with you?” I asked. The answer was “Yes.”

I drove up to Camden, and there they were, in boxes, and around the house. These were enormously interesting gift copies, working volumes, the poet’s own signed works, and so on. Most of them had been deposited with Jean and her husband, who were already living in the area, when Olson and Bet and Charles Peter arrived in Gloucester in 1957.

I was just in time; for her own needs were forcing Jean to think of selling them to any rare book dealer who would come up to get them. I could do more than a dealer. I could promise to keep the books together as a collection, and work to establish an Olson Research Center at a hospitable university some time in the future, with the Jean Kaiser Collection as the foundation stone. On that basis I became the purchaser of the fifty-three books described in the body of this catalogue. (Jean, for personal reasons, has kept in her possession one of the listed books, #20.)

Second to the massive library that Olson had at 28 Fort Square, which went to Storrs at the poet’s death, the present collection is a vital research tool for the study of Olson’s sources, especially the Emily Dickinson items, the Dostoevsky, the Cervantes, and the William Prescott. The latter volume, History of the Conquest of Mexico, is especially valuable, as it enables us to push back to 1941 Olson’s earliest research into the origins of American civilization, which gained him a Guggenheim in 1947, and which was then compressed poetically into “The Kingfishers.” For some reason, this book was not in the batch that George Butterick looked at when he visited Jean Kaiser in the seventies. Its appearance now, with its extensive annotations, will fuel much new scholarship on a key poem.

These fifty-three volumes have joined on my shelves the approximately 4000 volumes and pamphlets and periodicals which represent two decades of an attempt to replicate Charles Olson’s library. About 85% of Butterick’s list has now been acquired from the secondhand bookshops and catalogues of the world. I have gone further, collecting the works of Olson’s contemporaries omitted from the “preliminary report.” Moreover, although Butterick was excellent in deducing Olson’s use of certain books from allusions in his poems and essays, I have been able to add to these conjectures in significant ways. Thus, the Storrs collection, limited to what Olson had retained at the time of his death, is not as comprehensive as what is attempted here. The Appendix [on pp. 7-29 of Minutes #17] gives some idea of the scope of the Ralph Maud Collection, but only the highlights, the rarer volumes. The addition of the Jean Kaiser Collection has been a formidable push toward completion, providing a further dimension of scholarly significance.

— Ralph Maud


UPDATE — June 2010

Foreword to Catalogue of the Ralph Maud Collection of Charles Olson’s Books, published as Minutes of the Charles Olson Society # 64/65/66 in conjunction with The Charles Olson Centenary Conference, Simon Fraser University, 4-6 June 2010. (It should be noted that as of January 2013 the collection has not actually been housed at Simon Fraser University.)


his special collection is the bequest of Ralph Maud, professor in the Simon Fraser University Department of English from the charter year 1965 to his retirement in 1994 and the founder of the library’s Contemporary Literature Collection, which has Charles Olson (1910-1970) as the pivotal literary figure.

Charles Olson was a man of letters in the sense that his wide productivity in poetry, drama and essays was almost always a result of reading and research, and becomes more valuable to us as we do the appropriate reading and research. Therefore, to know what Charles Olson’s source books were, and to have them in a single location, is of great benefit to readers and scholars who might come to Simon Fraser University for precisely that convenience.

Olson’s own library from his home at 28 Fort Square, Gloucester, Massachusetts, was purchased by the University of Connecticut Library, and was catalogued by the curator, George Butterick. In his “Preliminary List” he was able to add many titles known and used by Olson, though not in his library. Ralph Maud’s Charles Olson’s Reading: A Biography (Southern Illinois University Press, 1996) carried this investigative process forward and The Ralph Maud Collection of Charles Olson’s Books, acquired throughout decades from bookstores and rare book dealers and, in the end, the internet, was a natural consequence. What the several thousand volumes of this collection comprise, therefore, is a replica of the library from 28 Fort Square, plus all the other books that we know Olson used in some way.

The shelves containing this collection display Olson’s main interests: his devotion to Herman Melville, then the history of the founding of New England, especially Gloucester itself, the landmark of the Maximus epic. He felt it important to explore outside Western thought, with intense delving into the Mayan and Sumerian, and later certain Chinese and Ismaili texts. It is a wide range, and its idiosyncrasy is such that even the great established libraries of the world do not contain all the items.

A further stamp of uniqueness lies in Charles Olson’s marginalia, which Ralph Maud transferred from the Connecticut copies to his own, on many research visits through the years. So we have, in the more important cases, not only the book but a replication of Olson’s use of the book in marginal notes.

Last but not least, The Ralph Maud Collection of Charles Olson’s Books includes a few score of volumes that Olson actually owned, obtained by Ralph Maud from three sources: (I) from Jean Kaiser, Olson’s sister-in-law, who received from the poet very valuable annotated copies through the years; (II) from the poet’s daughter, Kate Olson, on her death, via Charles Peter Olson and Ken Stuart; and (III) from the basement of 28 Fort Square, books authenticated by Olson’s landlord, Paul Cardone.


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