Saturday, June 04, 2005

Olson again

I've been reading Olson's Projective Verse essay properly this time, and in many ways it's a great thing, despite the preacherman's CAPITAL LETTERS in parts. He talks about how perceptions should follow on from one another, not in some kind of logical argument sense, but instantly and without all the paraphernalia of explanation or rhetoric and a lot of that makes sense. And it's the first time I've begun to understand the thing about space in poetry, having been made possible by the typewriter: the space bar. Also, the use of different forms of punctuation like / . Though I suspect my own poetry will continue down the side of the page, mostly.

I wouldn't want people, therefore, to get the idea that I'm anti-Olson; on the whole, I like a lot of the things he made possible, probably more than I like his own poems. If I don't like the tone sometimes, it's because of that somewhat Actor-ish voice. I'd still rather read a poem by Olson than one by Larkin; or by the hundreds of Larkin-imitators around. Olson's influence has been largely benign: without him we wouldn't have great poems by Denise Levertov, Robert Creeley, Lee Harwood, probably not even Roy Fisher or Ken Smith. And O'Hara and Ashbery, however much they differ in tone and technique, would not I suspect have discovered their thing without being provoked into it by Olson.

I started off my poetic journey with Larkin, though; and I've been shaking off his shadow ever since. His are the kind of poems you know exactly where they're going from the first line. You might not get the same little insight into human life each time, but you know one's coming. Life's too long but death is worse. People are shits or sad on the whole. That kind of stuff.

It's the not quite knowing what to expect aspect of the Olsonian tradition that is so valuable. Because a poem doesn't have to fit into a neat little box already set out for it, it can go anywhere, be any shape it wants to be. Form follows function: or form follows the things of the world.

Though, thinking of that, what's missing is the way that form can actually be a box of magical things in itself. I'm thinking of the Oulipo poets, or Muldoon's distortions of the sonnet; or the Sestina, or the open-ended ghazal. That thought will have to wait though.

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