Charles Olson

Charles Olson concisely and politely articulates the frustration I sought to express in Fucking Frustration (2009) with his quote: I’m trying to climb up both walls at once.”

Please find a comprehensive biography on Charles Olson by The Poetry Foundation at the following link:

The thing that struck me most about Charles Olson was his insistence that breath is the only rhythm, the only real meter that matters in poetry. That poetry is not about technique, about syntax, about logic but is rather about being true to one’s breath, one’s ear, one’s raw perceptions. For how else can you really express your soul as etched by your scars and souvenirs? Your deepest feelings don’t follow a predefined route in an orderly fashion but rather like birds they race, whirr, dip, dive, glide, soar, and drift in the sunny grey skies of our lives.

It is therefore no surprise that some like Rosenthal describe Charles Olson’s poetry as having “the power of hammering conviction…with…brutal insistence behind it. It is a dogmatic, irritable, passionate voice, of the sort that the modern world, to its sorrow very often, is forever seeking out; it is not a clear voice, but one troubled by its own confusions which it carries into the attack.” 

“One troubled by its own confusions. I suspect most of us read that sentence with a smirk on our faces, for who hasn’t been confused by the wanderings of their own mind, their own soul? And Rosenthal’s description of Olson’s poetry highlights just how boldly, how viscerally Olsen managed to voice his inner truth. 

And to me that’s what being a poet, a writer, an artist is all about – it’s about exposing one’s inner truth, brazenly, in whatever way you feel renders it best, rather than attempting to create a work of art by following the rules and techniques of the haute écoles who determine what “real poetry” or “real literature” looks like. Because it is only by baring the personal in its truest form (truest form to you) that as a poet and writer you can hope to uncover a small speck of the universal buried in all hearts. 

Ultimately, as Robert Frost once wrote, “to be a poet is a condition, not a profession”. Charles Olson and his repudiation of strict structures suggest he would have subscribed to that view. 

Back to Poets & Writers