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Ars Poetica #7: Charles Olson’s PROJECTIVE VERSE

December 20, 2011

I have to say, reading and re-reading this recently made me lose my breath a little. It is equally exciting and awful to read a statement of poetics that you agree with. Exciting, because, well, it is; and awful because someone has gotten there before you. As always with a statements like this, grand manifestos and the like, what is perhaps most interesting is how easy it is to agree with the principles yet how various your own poems might be from the orator proclaiming.

I am not a Black Mountain poet. Well, who is these days? They are movements and movements have temporal issues.

Yet, as a statement of poetics, Olson gets some things very right. You can read PROJECTIVE VERSE in full at The Poetry Foundation. Olson originally wrote it as a pamphlet in 1950.

To get to ‘open form’ as opposed to the ‘closed verse’ that Olson sees as being dominant in Anglophone poetry, some things need to happen:

The line is gone– what needs to be reinstated is the breath. And smaller than that, the minimum element of language– the syllable.

Gone too, is the ego. (Well maybe, I don’t know how well this is actually achieved. Olson rejects the Romantic self/ego, but how well is this ever achieved in poems?).

Not in its place, but at the centre of the poem, is an insistence on FORWARD. The poem must keep moving– don’t stay static! Each perception onto another perception and onwards and onwards. The energy, the kinetic energy in the poem is a means of transferring energy from the poet through the poem to the reader. (I really, really like this idea– as opposed to the poem purely communicating ‘meaning’)

Also, grammar is not such a big deal. Which, for me, is always a plus.

I like this manifesto, I like it a lot. (But it might be difficult for me to rid myself of the ‘I’, sigh)



One Comment leave one →
  1. December 21, 2011 1:29 pm

    No way! I sought this out myself not long ago, and found it, yes, exactly, at the Poetry Foundation. Loved it and thought that, what you say, too (re exciting and awful, and the “I.” :)

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