Tag Archives: Charles Olson

The Librarian, March 1966, by Charles Olson

The Librarian
By Charles Olson

The landscape (the landscape!) again: Gloucester,
the shore one of me is (duplicates), and from which
(from offshore, I, Maximus) am removed, observe.

In this night I moved on the territory with combinations
(new mixtures) of old and known personages: the leader,
my father, in an old guise, here selling books and manuscripts.

My thought was, as I looked in the window of his shop,
there should be materials here for Maximus, when, then,
I saw he was the young musician has been there (been before me)

before. It turned out it wasn’t a shop, it was a loft (wharf-
house) in which, as he walked me around, a year ago
came back (I had been there before, with my wife and son,

I didn’t remember, he presented me insinuations via
himself and his girl) both of whom I had known for years.
But never in Gloucester. I had moved them in, to my country.

His previous appearance had been in my parents’ bedroom where I
found him intimate with my former wife: this boy
was now the Librarian of Gloucester, Massachusetts!

Black space,
old fish-house.
of ghosts.
his steps.
(not my father,
by name himself
with his face
at birth)
possessed of knowledge
giving me
what in the instant
I knew better of.

But the somber
place, the flooring
crude like a wharf’s
and a barn’s

I was struck by the fact I was in Gloucester, and that my daughter
was there—that I would see her! She was over the Cut. I
hadn’t even connected her with my being there, that she was

here. That she was there (in the Promised Land—the Cut!
But there was this business, of poets, that all my Jews
were in the fish-house too, that the Librarian had made a party

I was to read. They were. There were many of them, slumped
around. It was not for me. I was outside. It was the Fort.
The Fort was in East Gloucester—old Gorton’s Wharf, where the Library

was. It was a region of coal houses, bins. In one a gang
was beating someone to death, in a corner of the labyrinth
of fences. I could see their arms and shoulders whacking

down. But not the victim. I got out of there. But cops
tailed me along the Fort beach toward the Tavern

The places still
half-dark, mud,
coal dust.

There is no light
of the Bridge

Only on the headland
toward the harbor
from Cressy’s

have I seen it (once
when my daughter ran
out on a spit of sand

isn’t even there.) Where
is Bristow? when does I-A
get me home? I am caught

in Gloucester. (What’s buried
behind Lufkin’s
Diner? Who is

Frank Moore?


  • Charles Olson, “The Librarian,” from The Collected Poems of Charles Olson: Excluding the Maximus Poems. Copyright © 1987 by Charles Olson. Reprinted by permission of University of California Press.
  • Text: Poetry Foundation: The Collected Poems of Charles Olson: Excluding the Maximus Poems (University of California Press, 1987)
  • Video: Net Film

Covers story: The Black Mountain Review

Black Mountain Review -- all seven issues / covers

Covers of all seven issues of The Black Mountain Review, 1954-1957. Click to enlarge.

Jed Birmingham wrote a great article a couple years ago, Black Mountain Review: Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker, about William S. Burroughs and his appearance in The Black Mountain Review in the late 1950s. The Review was the art and literary journal of Black Mountain College, the experimental liberal arts college that existed in North Carolina from 1933–1957. Here is Birmingham’s description:

Founded by progressive educator John Rice in 1933 near Asheville, North Carolina, by the late 1940s, Black Mountain College attracted key figures (or soon to be) in the experimental arts: John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Josef and Anni Albers, David Tudor, Clement Greenberg, Charles Olson, Robert Rauschenberg, Franz Kline, and Buckminster Fuller. By 1954, the College was on its last legs. In fact, the winter of 1953/1954 was arguably the lowest point in the College’s history. Out of this winter of discontent grew the idea of a literary magazine. Olson had turned Black Mountain into his own classroom and writers like Ed Dorn, Michael Rumaker, John Wieners, and Fielding Dawson attended the college. Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley along with Olson would teach at the College in its closing years.

There were only seven issues of The Black Mountain Review published, as seen in the seven cover images above. I love these covers, and how the publishers began with the idea of a consistent design template with minimal differentiation, perhaps to create an identifiable “brand,” but by issue five their own artistic and experimental inclinations took over, obviously under the influence of John Cage and Franz Kline, and overthrew the rigid structure. It like a visual representation of a mind expanding. Beautiful.

For large version of each Review cover, and more, see Black Mountain Review: Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker.

“In Cold Hell, in Thicket” by Charles Olson

From the YouTube description: “Charles Olson reading ‘In Cold Hell, in Thicket’ (1950) sometime in the mid-60s in Gloucester, MA—late night, recorded for Robert Creeley. Audio courtesy Ron Silliman and PennSound audio archive.” This great video uses found footage from Britton, South Dakota, 1938-39.

In Cold Hell, in Thicket

In cold hell, in thicket, how
abstract (as high mind, as not lust, as love is) how
strong (as strut or wing, as polytope, as things are
constellated) how
strung, how cold
can a man stay (can men) confronted

All things are made bitter, words even
are made to taste like paper, wars get tossed up
like lead soldiers used to be
(in a child’s attic) lined up
to be knocked down, as I am,
by firings from a spit-hardened fort, fronted
as we are, here, from where we must go

God, that man, as his acts must, as there is always
a thing he can do, he can raise himself, he raises
on a reed he raises his

Or, if it is me, what
he has to say »»»

“Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld]” by Charles Olson

Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld]
By Charles Olson

I come back to the geography of it,
the land falling off to the left
where my father shot his scabby golf
and the rest of us played baseball
into the summer darkness until no flies
could be seen and we came home
to our various piazzas where the women

To the left the land fell to the city,
to the right, it fell to the sea

I was so young my first memory
is of a tent spread to feed lobsters
to Rexall conventioneers, and my father,
a man for kicks, came out of the tent roaring
with a bread-knife in his teeth to take care of
the druggist they’d told him had made a pass at
my mother, she laughing, so sure, as round
as her face, Hines pink and apple,
under one of those frame hats women then

This, is no bare incoming
of novel abstract form, this

is no welter or the forms
of those events, this,

Greeks, is the stopping
of the battle

It is the imposing
of all those antecedent predecessions, the precessions

of me, the generation of those facts
which are my words, it is coming

from all that I no longer am,
yet am, the slow westward motion of

more than I am

There is no strict personal order

for my inheritance.

No Greek will be able

to discriminate my body.

An American

is a complex of occasions,

themselves a geometry

of spatial nature.

I have this sense,

that I am one

with my skin

Plus this—plus this:

that forever the geography

which leans in

on me I compell

backwards I compell Gloucester

to yield, to



is this

Source: The Poetry Foundation & The Maximus Poems (University of California Press, 1985) Charles Olson, “Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld]” from The Maximus Poems. Copyright © 1968 by Charles Olson. Reprinted by permission of the Estate of Charles Olson.