cover image Selected Poems

Selected Poems

Charles Olson. University of California Press, $35 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-520-07528-3

This judicious selection of Olson's poems will, one hopes, make him known to a wider audience. Poet Creeley's introduction aligns Olson's Maximus Poems with Pound's Cantos and Williams's Paterson , works which also, by their diverse forms and materials, prove too daunting for some. Creeley stresses Olson's political impulse, but the scale of Olson's poems seems more historical, if not cosmic. Raised in Worcester and Gloucester, Mass., here Olson looks back not only to the era of childhood and his parents' lives, but to the explorations of Captain John Smith, and the silent prehistory of the continent itself. The aim of this autobiographical-historical venture is not personal, Olson insists: ``The only interesting thing / is if one can be / an image / of man.'' However, he recognizes that the effort to achieve a synthesis of the American consciousness and experience is forever displaced by a nation ``which never / lets anyone / come to / shore,'' especially in an age when humans are ``merely /something to be wrought, to be shaped, to be carved, for use, for / others.'' What is left is the severe beauty of memory and Olson's elegiac praise of life, ``the precessions / of me, the generation of those facts / which are my words, it is coming / from all that I no longer am, yet am, / the slow westward motion of / more than I am.'' (Mar . )