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This review is taken from PN Review 104, Volume 21 Number 6, July - August 1995.

MAKING SPACE STEPHEN FREDMAN, The Grounding of American Poetry: Charles Olson and the Emersonian Tradition (Cambridge University Press)

In his new book, Stephen Fredman argues that for European poets tradition is (or until recently has been) a 'given', while American poets, without the authorizing context of tradition, have had to find something upon which to ground themselves, or, in Robert Creeley's words, 'to realize the world anew'. Hence the anxiety about the possibility of poetry of poets 'within the Emersonian lineage'; hence their inventiveness and adventurous spirit in their efforts to find 'the basis of tradition'. True to this lineage, Fredman himself is an explorer, and his explorations undermine certain assumptions. For example, he begins with a chapter which compares T.S. Eliot's idea of tradition with William Carlos Williams's construction of a tradition for himself from historical materials in In the Allzerican Grain, and subverts the notion that Eliot and Williams are polar opposites. It is through pairing authors in subsequent chapters -Charles Olson with Thoreau, Robert Duncan with Emerson, and Creeley with Whitman -that Fredman delineates. common ground (or common efforts at grounding) between projectivists and transcendentalists. In 'placing' both, groups in relation to each other within an American tradition, he thus reveals significant connections between areas that are sometimes presented as fields held by mutually ignorant or hostile partisans. He also, inddentally, throws light on the situation of poetry in Europe.

Charles Olson is at the centre of Fredman's concerns. He persuasively relates Olson to Thoreau, mainly through their passion to get at the 'facts', and their grounding in nature. Both seek to ...


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