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This article is taken from PN Review 241, Volume 44 Number 5, May - June 2018.

on Charles Olson

If the Means are Equal
Charles Olson’s Reciprocal Exchange
Duncan MacKay
EVEN A CURSORY GLANCE through the PN Review archive using the excellent search engine tool on the home page points up clearly how significant to other poets was the American poet Charles Olson, in spite of ‘his thought and writing slipping from critical view in the decades following his death in 1970’. The collection of essays under the title Contemporary Olson published in 2015 (reviewed in PN Review 231, Vol. 43 No. 1, September­­­–October 2016), edited by David Herd, has quickly become a potent reference for contemporary Olson studies, having its international list of contributors. Herd set the agenda as directed to ‘where Olson criticism should be looking next’.In a rapidly changing global reality of political and social turbulence, Herd suggested that ‘questions of shared vocabularies, of the definition and re-definition of political space, and of individual and collective agency, are firmly back with us’. As a result, Olson’s ‘thought seems once more a necessary intellectual resource […] the suppleness and scale with which he is able to figure the complexity of inter-relations (whether between people, between people and the world, or between areas of knowledge) makes him necessary reading in our own politically and economically conflicted moment’. Herd has continued to explore aspects of current social and political turmoil in detail himself through his poetry (All Just and Through, published by Carcanet in 2012 and 2016 respectively) and in his most recent critical writing, such as his essay ‘Valediction Forbidden Mourning: Poetry in the Age of Deportation’ in a recent PN Review (PN Review 235, Volume ...


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