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This article is taken from PN Review 231, Volume 43 Number 1, September - October 2016.

Spaces and Places for Contemporary Olson Joseph Shafer
‘The house is not described in detail but it must be large enough to allow those kingfishers out of their cage – it surprises me they can survive in one – to let them loose in a room.’

Elaine Feinstein, 'A Fresh Look At Olson'


IN 1950, CHARLES OLSON expressed his position to his publisher Cid Corman, ‘I am the wandering scholar, you dope,’1 and the epithet is not without warrant. Olson disdained ‘not scholars, but academics’, and was one of the first to finish PhD coursework in American Studies under F. O. Matthiessen at Harvard but never graduated. Later he moved to politics, and became Assistant Chief of the Foreign Language Division in the Office of War Information before transferring to the Democratic National Convention under Roosevelt during World War II. Disillusioned, however, by the war, Olson renounced politics to write a history of western literature, yet published the definitive book on Melville in 1947 instead, Call Me Ishmael, which was composed from the Melville archive Olson personally established during his two Guggenheim Fellowships. He soon published poems and essays emblematic for a countercultural movement of the fifties and sixties, as featured in Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry: 1945–1960, and was the first to use the term ‘post-modern’ in North America. Before long, Olson was promoted to rector of the experimental Black Mountain College, where some of the generation’s top artists gathered, such as Josef Albers, John Cage and Robert Duncan, before it closed in 1956. Performing ...


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