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This review is taken from PN Review 78, Volume 17 Number 4, March - April 1991.

GRACELESS EXCHANGES Charles Olson & Robert Creeley: The Complete Correspondence, Volume 9, edited by Richard Blevins, introduction by George F. Butterick (Black Sparrow Press) $25, $15 pb

Robert Creeley is pleased that he writes in English: 'What makes us so damn lucky to be writing the tongue we got by birth, etc. It is miracles, etc. That luck.' The clumsiness of that tribute is typical of the writing in these letters. 'Damn' is a favourite Creeley word, occurring a dozen times in a two-page letter, whilst 'etc' creeps out of the letters and into his poetry, a fretful irritant. Olson's mannerism is an excess of commas, so that his sentences bump along like a line of trucks hit by a shunting engine. When Creeley, as the junior partner, starts to imitate Olson's hesitations, the combined effect of contrived uncertainty is little short of maddening.

This volume of the correspondence covers the four months from January to April 1952, and finds Creeley in Provence and Olson at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Both are unhappy: Creeley wants to get away, and Olson invites him to Black Mountain just as he is arranging his own departure from there. Creeley writes one or two poems that will be published in For Love in 1962, and comments on the long incoherent essays on history and culture sent him by Olson. Olson himself tries to rescue the painter Robert Rauschenberg from a pond, and is investigated by the FBI.

But these are mostly letters about writing poetry. As 'postmoderns' (Olson's must be an early use of the term), they are trying to remake American poetry by ...


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