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This article is taken from PN Review 175, Volume 33 Number 5, May - June 2007.

Holiday Reading: Charles Olson John Hartley Williams

The blockbustery paperbacks laid out on the vacated recliners round the pool reveal no poems. It's fiction all the way. After all, what is a holiday for? Reading poetry won't induce self-forgetfulness; reading novels will. There are still a few who might classify poetry as a branch of the entertainment industry - albeit the superior sort - but most would regard it, I suppose, as hard work.

So what have I brought? Yes, a novel. A book of essays by Guy Davenport. And then - the hurried decision, standing in front of my bookshelf with suitcase open - Charles Olson: Archaeologist of Morning, the 1974 Grossman paperback (a wilfully designed edition without page numbers or index). And which am I reading? Ah, yes. Incorrigible. The Olson. Does it stand up? Yes, it does. Some of the poems seem a little faded perhaps, too much of their time, but disregarding Olson's remarks on the characteristics of the typewriter implementing poetic form (some of the poems remind me of the typographical excesses of e.e. cummings), also disregarding the fact that Olson, typist or not, carefully emended his poems in ink, and the fact that Archaeologist of Morning, as a title, strikes me as rather twee, it's certainly possible to find poems to amaze, excite and baffle. The response to an Olson poem is not: 'O that was nice', close the book and head for the pool, but: 'Where is the library? I need ...


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