Monday, November 29, 2010


Ralph Maud's vital recent book Charles Olson at the Harbor (available here) is billed on its cover as "A Biography." The book's truer nature comes clear in Maud's Introduction, where he describes it as a "reactive biography" and expresses the hope that this volume might "stand as the full-length biography that [he] once intended to write." The book is in fact a full-length correction to Tom Clark's earlier Charles Olson: The Allegory of a Poet's Life. I always appreciated the grammatical ambiguity of Clark's title, preferring to read it as an allegory in the place of a biography, hoping that a more reliable life would soon appear in print. You could almost construct that better bio by reading Clark's book with Maud's later volume in hand, and that may be the best we can do for some time. Clark was much in need of correction, and while Maud may on occasion stretch a point a bit far (it is probably not accurate to describe Olson as "the first literary figure to use the term" postmodern, for one instance), in sum his is the more accurate rendering, something you'd think important for the life of a scholar poet.

It is a humbling realization for all of us scholars that our own correctives are instantly themselves in need of correction, and I'm sure Maud will forgive my startled amusement as I read the following:

"In Miscellaneous file #147 at Storrs there is the following note to Flossie Williams, wife of William Carlos Williams and, in March of 1936, newly a widow."

Rumors of Williams's death in 1936 are, of course, severely premature.

But typos aside, Maud has done a great service to Olson's legacy and to the scholarship of American poetry more generally. (And the photos are great fun, too.)

A valuable addition to the Olson files.

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