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Friday, January 7, 2011

Charles Olson - Mayan Letters

Mayan letters; (Cape editions, 17)Mayan letters; by Charles Olson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a fantastic little volume. What an amazing undertaking--to try to wed correspondence, poetry, history and archaeology in one push! What stands out for me (as in The Maximus Poems) are Olson's gestations on the idea (his words) of "destroying historical time", and how he sees the successes and failures of that charge in Pound's Cantos and WC Williams' Paterson. It comes as no surprise that Olson cites the assertion of Pound's ego in The Cantos as being crucial to its success: "...of the Cantos, viz, a space-field where, by inversion, though the material is all time material, he has driven through it so sharply by the beak of his ego, that, he has turned time into what we must now have, space & its live air..." He goes on to draw the distinction in the operations of Williams' Paterson thus: "the primary contrast, for our purposes is, BILL: his Pat is exact opposite of Ez's, that is, Bill HAS an emotional system which is capable of extensions & comprehensions the ego-system (the Old Deal, Ez as Cento Man, here dates) is not. Yet by making his substance historical of one city (the Joyce deal), Bill completely licks himself, lets time roll him under as Ez does not..."

Fun, as always, to wade through Olson's prose, stuttering as it may sometimes, be, with all those, commas. What is with that? In his poetry he uses it to his advantage, as the diligent pausing, retreating, retreading, and reforging of a probing intellect, but in his prose it can just be laborious. Doesn't stop me from giving it five stars, though!

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