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.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Brathwaite's elegguas

New from Wesleyan University Press is this latest volume of poetry by Kamau Brathwaite.

The book is structured around letters to his late wife which first appeared in different form in the book The Zea Mexican Diary (published by Wisconsin in '93). Those letters begin and end the new book, and there is one about a third of the way into the text. This is a fitting structure for a book of elegies that also summons the Yoruba Eleggua, generally encountered in doorways and at crossroads.

The poems are presented in Brathwaite's Sycorax video text and all the usual wordplay is on display. So, for example:

Let me hear it one more time


in summer
hot almost too simmer to sip. sop sit out on the stoep
with old men. cymbell children

cries rising like these northern egrets
above the railway tracks
where Sonny Greer come walk
ing down the sidewalk clickin sticks


Tuesday, November 09, 2010


The legendary Manuel Brito, publisher of Zasterle Editions in Tenerife, has recently published Means Matter, the product of his many years of careful reading and his research trips to the United States. His critical examination of publishing and circulating practices among innovative poetry communities makes extensive use of manuscript materials and so will reward even readers who are intimately familiar with the published record. For more information on this book, click here.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


Some time ago I heard from Catherine A. Lee, a poet I had not known of before, who, as it turns out, had been close to Percy Johnston and other artists I've been researching over the years. While I still have not met Catherine, I am grateful for her generosity. She has shared a number of important Johnston-related materials which have much added to my understanding of his life and work.

And then she sent me this beautiful . . . well, what to call it. It's sort of a chapbook, sort of an accordion artist's book. Not to say a book by an accordionist, but a booklet that unfolds and refolds, making its own kind of verbal music. Catherine, after many years in the Boston area, is now in San Antonio. Keep an eye out for her performances.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Don't Forget to buy AMNESIAC

This is just to say, the incomparable Duriel Harris has published a new book of unforgettable poems.