Charles Olson Lectures and Interviews

Revised Second Edition

Edited by Ralph Maud

Vancouver, BC: Talonbooks, 2010

494 pp.

This new edition of Muthologos reiterates the intensity of attention that Olson brought to his final six years in the public performance of his immense poetic archaeology. These talks and interviews document the processual nature and intellectual hunger that situate his poetic imagination not only in the poem but in the range of perception that can be talked about “with some life.” When I heard him talk about his poem “Place; & Names” at UBC in 1963, the poem as discourse for place and history provided a crucial tap for my own sense of poetry’s possibility. His Beloit lectures on “The Dogmatic Nature of Experience” in 1968 coalesce and amplify his most singular pedagogy, “Projective Verse,” as the cultural shape shifter it has been. By re-inserting, and supplementing, the tape-recorded era of Olson’s poetic life, Ralph Maud continues to sustain this material as consequential and amazing.

Fred Wah

Introduction to the second edition, 2010

George Butterick did not divulge in print why he chose Muthologos as the title for this volume. I think it was because Olson once deřned the word muthologos as “what is said about what is said,” which has a breadth that would recommend it for a volume that stands as the range of where the poet’s mind went in a lifetime’s intent to go places. The three volumes of Athenaeus’s Banquet were among Olson’s favorite books; Muthologos is like the expansive table-talk of the deipnosophists, those called to the feast of the learned. The poems are allowed in as part of the banquet, but the totality is in the life, which was chieŖy talk. It is in this compilation of transcribed tapes that we get what is preserved of Olson’s life of talk; hence the claim, as close as it gets, to totality.

This second edition of Muthologos, coming some thirty years after the řrst, is able to add several new items: “At Goddard College, April 1962”; a second Vancouver 1963 discussion, “Duende, Muse, and Angel”; a short addition to the “BBC Interview”; “On Black Mountain (II)”; and a further hour of the conversation with Herb Kenny.

All the available tapes have been listened to again. Many of the problems have been cleared up, as explained in the Textual Notes, which also give the provenance of the tapes and the particular way in which each transcription was handled.

Another procedural difference is that the řrst edition separated the footnotes from the text, putting them at the back of the volume, and giving as much information as possible to supplement Olson’s points. Butterick wanted to set us at ease by showing that Olson knew what he was talking about. This second edition assumes that we have acquired some faith in Olson’s erratic brilliance and that we would prefer to be left more or less in the same position as Olson would expect his audience at that moment to be in, reasonably aware of things but not too prepared ahead of time. One does not usually stop a conversation (or the Ŗow of a tape) to ask for a reference or to look something up. Sometimes, however, one is inclined not to let a puzzling thing go by, and the notes at the foot of the page of this edition are a recognition of such occasions. An annotated index will be found useful for remaining difřculties.

The two simple devices used to communicate the stop and Ŗow of Olson’s speaking manner are (1) the dash (—), where Olson interrupts his own sentence while continuing the thought with new syntax; and (2) ellipses (...), which do not indicate words omitted editorially but are reserved for when an incomplete sentence trails off or is interrupted by an interlocutor. Overall, it has been the chief duty of the editor of these transcriptions to use punctuation as skilfully as possible to recreate on the page the brilliant timing with which Olson almost always puts out his meaning when intellectually aroused.

Ralph Maud

Textual Notes

6. Reading at Berkeley

I řrst heard the tape of this Berkeley Reading of 23 July 1965 at Jack Clarke’s house in Buffalo exactly a year later. It was a year after that that Zoe Brown’s transcription, Reading at Berkeley, was published by Oyez, and the commitment I had made at the time of řrst listening became a call to action. I had missed the event itself; I was now determined to recreate it on paper. I obtained the tape from Berkeley and began annotating corrections in the Oyez edition, which turned out to be full of errors and omissions. In the summer of 1968 and spring of 1969 I had students in my Simon Fraser University classes follow the tape and help decipher some of the cruxes in sound and meaning. Many ears and much library research were involved in producing the typescript which I was able to drop off with Olson in Gloucester on 6 June 1969. I sent a copy to George Butterick, and he and Olson talked about it over the telephone. “Charles equally and especially pleased with it,” Butterick wrote to me on 11 July 1969, “though he did wax somewhat and grow dark about your ‘accuracy’ to the point of including every ‘er’ and other such stutters, noting the wastefulness of same, how boring and distracting.” And Butterick added, “I must completely agree.” I didn’t myself completely agree, and left in a good many “ers” when I retyped the text with footnotes in what I called a “triptite” edition—voice, text, and annotations—for use in English 414 in the Spring semester of 1970 at Simon Fraser. (This hand-out Butterick digniřed with a bibliographical entry in a list of Olson posthumous publications in OLSON 7, p. 43.) By the time this triptite edition reached Olson he was in Connecticut and became terminally ill before he could write to me. However, he did have Linda Parker pass on the message that he was happy with it, especially the index, “one of the most successful evidences of the lecture itself.”

Olson did not mention the remaining “ers,” but when I came to prepare the text for inclusion in Muthologos I remembered Butterick’s opinion and tempered my enthusiasm for such stutterings. Having become resigned to the comparative smoothness of the Muthologos version, I have had no inclination to return to a choppier sailing. Neither has there been much need for changes, the only notable one being the word Olson uses to describe Creeley: “unco,” as in Robert Burns’s “unco guid,” which I restore over Butterick’s veto (see the Minutes of the Charles Olson Society 39, p. 5).

There are several aids to understanding and appreciating this extraordinary speech-event, the top billing at the Berkeley Poetry Conference of July 1965. Of the series of “Backgrounds  to Berkeley” in the Minutes of the Charles Olson Society, the following are of particular use. In Minutes 4, “The Re-enactment,” a reprint of Robin Eichele’s diary of the conference as a whole, along with a “Log of Olson’s Berkeley Reading 23 July.” In Minutes 6 “Documents in American Civilization,” the written exchanges between Suzanne Mowat and Ed Sanders during Olson’s reading, followed in Minutes 7 by “The Suzanne Mowat-Charles Olson Correspondence.” Also in that issue is “Zoe Brown’s Transcription,” letters revealing the history behind the Coyote edition of Reading at Berkeley (1966). In Minutes 16 there is an examination of Tom Clark’s account of the reading, and a discussion of proposed emendations to the Muthologos text.

15. The Paris Review Interview

It was very gratifying to be able to get a proper version of this interview, or kitchen discussion, into print in Muthologos. The original attempt published in the Paris Review 40 (1970) was totally unsatisfactory (there is nothing at all to recommend it). Unfortunately, that version with all its Ŗaws has been included in the Paris Review omnibus volume, Beat Writers at Work (Modern Library, 1999), extending to a new readership this old defamation of the poet.

The Muthologos version was made possible by my receiving four tapes through the good ofřces of Jeremy Prynne. Two of the participants, Harvey Brown and Gerrit Lansing, listened through the tapes with me and elucidated many difřculties. Many remained, and the Muthologos version chose to pass them silently by rather than burden the reader with too many uncertainties. More digging has been done since then over the years, so the present transcription is much augmented. In addition, in 1992, Charles Watts of the Simon Fraser University Contemporary Literation Collection became alerted to the fact that a řfth tape had been deposited by Malanga at Texas; he made a trip there and transcribed the tape for the Minutes of the Charles Olson Society 2 (June 1993). His text appears here edited to conform to the format of the rest of the volume.

Addendum: The CBC Interview

The following text became available after the body of this second edition of Muthologos was set in print, and is here presented as an addendum. Robert McTavish in the process of making his documentary řlm The Line Has Been Shattered, concerning the 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference, retrieved from the CBC Archives a stenographer’s transcription of an interview Olson had with the Canadian poet Phyllis Webb at the time of the conference, August 1963. The many Ŗaws in the stenographer’s typescript are understandable for someone not versed in Olson’s idiom, but remedial attention can extract a readable version.

We have been aided by an audiotape (received from Library and Archives Canada), in which Phyllis Webb culls from interviews with řve poets—Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov, as well as Olson—an hour-long program called “Five Poets,” due to be broadcast 19 January 1964, but apparently canceled. From these extracts made by Phyllis Webb in preparing the edited broadcast, we have been able to conřrm portions of Olson’s interview as transcribed by the CBC stenographer.