Chronology of Charles Olson's life and work

Part 2



March: Call Me Ishmael is published.

June: Visiting Gloucester, Olson dines with Cape Ann Historical Society president Alfred Mansfield Brooks; the inspiration for the Maximus poems can be traced to the meeting.

July 2: Charles and Connie leave for the West Coast, sharing a ride via Yellowstone Park.

August 8: He lectures on poetry at the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference at the University of Washington, Seattle.

They travel to Sacramento and the Bancroft Library, Berkeley; Olson researches Sutter-Marshall and Donner Party material. He meets the poet Robert Duncan, geographer Carl Sauer and, in Los Angeles, author Robert Payne. (The Olson-Payne correspondence is in Minutes #14/15.)

October: Connie returns to Washington, while Charles stays on to research Gold Rush manuscripts at Berkeley and in Sacramento, till January 1948.

December 29: Olson’s first letter to Frances Boldereff in reply to hers in appreciation of Call Me Ishmael.


February: Olson returns from California to Washington, D.C. by train.

He makes two final visits to Ezra Pound; writes “GrandPa, Goodbye” (published 1975).

The Sutter-Marshall Lease is published by the Book Club of California, with Olson’s introduction (in Collected Prose).

He writes three stories about his father: “Stocking Cap” (published in Montevallo Review 2, 1951), “Mr. Meyer” and “The Post Office” (the three are published in The Post Office, 1975, and in Collected Prose).

He is awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for “Red, White and Black,” a study of early society in the American West (the proposal and other materials published in OLSON #5).

April-May: He writes “The Fiery Hunt,” a dance-play based on Moby-Dick (published with other plays, 1975).

May: Writes “Notes for the Proposition: Man is Prospective” (delivered as a lecture at Black Mountain College; published in boundary 2, II: 1/2, 1973).

July: In Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention, supporting the campaign of Florida Sen. Claude Pepper — Olson’s last fling in politics.

October 12-16: Olson’s first appointment as a visiting lecturer at Black Mountain College, North Carolina; followed by seven more one-week visits during the academic year.


February 1: y & x, Olson’s first book of verse in six 9-inch x 12-inch panels, accordion-bound, with line drawings by Corrado Cagli, is published by Caresse Crosby’s Black Sun Press, 100 collector and 400 limited copies. (Black Sun publishes a second, photo-offset edition, at about half size, stapled, in 1950.)

February-May: Olson begins working on probably his best-known poem, “The Kingfishers,” first published in Montevallo Review #1 (1950).

May: Frances Boldereff sends Olson S.N. Kramer’s monograph “The Epic of Gilgameš and Its Sumerian Sources;” over the next 16 months they exchange several hundred letters; their “interpenetration” on many levels is crucial to his search for archaic energies, as against “logic and classification,” and she (quoting his letter of March 17, 1950) “called up the nature of this man, made possible the patterns which his life has moved toward making.” Their correspondence to September 7, 1950 is collected in Charles Olson and Frances Boldereff: A Modern Correspondence, 1999.

June: In Gloucester Olson introduces himself to Vincent Ferrini after reading his poem “This House” in the magazine Imagi.

July-August: Olson teaches “Verse and the Theatre” at Black Mountain.

November: Olson’s first meeting with Boldereff, at the New York Public Library and thereafter, in Tarrytown, NY; a second follows in December, at her home in Woodward, Pennsylvania.

December 15: Olson lectures and reads “The Kingfishers” and “The Praises” at the opening of an exhibit of Cagli’s work, “Drawings in the 4th Dimension,” at the Watkins Gallery, American University, Washington.


January 10: Olson writes “These Days” and sends a copy January 12 to William Carlos Williams, who forwards it to the editor of Imagi, where it is published.

April 21: While developing the essay “Projective Verse,” and on the suggestion of Williams, Olson writes to Robert Creeley, 23, a poet and aspiring literary editor. (The Olson-Creeley correspondence totals some 1,000 pieces to 1969; publication in ten volumes, 1980-96, extends to July 12, 1952.)

May: Olson writes “I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You” as a letter to Vincent Ferrini (see “The First Maximus Poem”).

May 23-4: Olson writes “In Cold Hell, in Thicket.”

October 1: In a letter to Creeley, he sketches a response to D.H. Lawrence’s last novel The Escaped Cock (The Man Who Died): “the clue: open, stay OPEN, hear it, really HEAR it. And you are IN” (as published in Origin #2, 1951).

October 18: Olson responds to Cid Corman’s suggestion he contribute to Origin, Corman’s forthcoming literary journal. (Their complete correspondence to 1964 is published in two volumes, 1987 and 1991.)

“Projective Verse” is published in Poetry New York 3. William Carlos Williams includes excerpts in his 1951 Autobiography, heralding Olson’s poetic of composition by field “an advance of estimable proportions.”

December 25: Mary Olson dies in Worcester.


January: Charles and Connie depart for the Yucatán Peninsula; they are based in Lerma, Campeche for five months. (An account, “Following Charles Olson in the Yucatan,” is in Minutes #36/37.)

April: The first issue of Origin features Olson’s poems, prose and letters — notably “The Gate and the Center,” stating the postmodern challenge: “for man, that participant thing, to take up, straight, nature’s, live nature’s force.”

June 17: Olson submits to Corman a first draft of “Human Universe” (published in Origin #4), wherein he seeks to “restate man” in a way that will “repossess him of his dynamic.”

July: Olson is persuaded to return to Black Mountain College, with Connie. He teaches there until 1956; one of his most productive periods. (Much material on the Black Mountain years is in OLSON #2 and #8; Muthologos; Minutes #25 and #26.)

Summer: He writes “Apollonius of Tyana,” a dance-play (published at Black Mountain).

July-August: He composes “Letter for Melville 1951” denouncing the Melville Society’s “one-hundredth birthday party” for Moby-Dick, prints it at Black Mountain and sends it to the gathering at Williams College, Pittsfield, Mass. (The poem is explicated in Minutes #21.)

October 23: Charles’s and Connie’s daughter Katherine Mary (Kate) is born.


Spring: Olson receives a grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research to study Maya glyphs.

He visits Boldereff in New York (and again in the summer).

May: He starts planning the Institute of the New Sciences of Man, inviting Carl Sauer to lead; Sauer declines. (Their correspondence is published in New World Journal I:4, 1979.)

Summer: Composer John Cage’s Theater Piece No. 1 involves Olson and other Black Mountain faculty — artist Franz Kline, dancer Merce Cunningham, poet M.C. Richards — and Robert Rauschenberg, then a student, in unscripted interactions — the first-ever “Happening.”

October-November: On a leave of absence from Black Mountain, Olson returns to the Washington home to write; Connie remains at Black Mountain in a first trial separation.

Olson begins a serious study of Carl Jung’s psychology. See Charles Olson’s Reading.

November 4: Olson writes the autobiographical “The Present is Prologue,” concluding:

I am an archeologist of morning. And the writing and acts which I find bear on the present job are (I) from Homer back, not forward; and (II) from Melville on, particularly himself, Dostoevsky, Rimbaud, and Lawrence. These were the modern men who projected what we are and what we are in, who broke the spell. They put men forward into the post-modern, the post-humanist, the post-historic, the going live present, the ‘Beautiful Thing.’

Published in 1955, the essay’s use of the term “postmodern” is the first to link “an aesthetic theory” with “a prophetic history” (Anderson, The Origins of Postmodernity, 1998) for an explicitly revolutionary purpose. (See “Charles Olsons Archaic Postmodern.”)


March 7-28: The Institute of the New Sciences of Man at Black Mountain (Olson’s background lectures are in OLSON #10).

Olson’s second collection of poems, In Cold Hell, In Thicket, is published in Mallorca by Creeley as Origin #8.

April: Vincent Ferrini’s magazine Four Winds, #2/3, publishes the Maximus “Letter 3.”

Olson’s “Letter 5,” slagging Four Winds and its editor, comes to Ferrini via Corman and sours relations between Olson and Ferrini for a time.

November: Maximus Poems / 1–10 is published by Jonathan Williams in Stuttgart, Germany.

Olson’s manifesto “The Resistance, for Jean Riboud” is published in Four Winds #4. (Riboud, French Résistance fighter in World War II, survived Buchenwald concentration camp; Olson was best man at his wedding in 1949.) Olson’s Selected Writings (1966) begins with “The Resistance” — “This is eternity. This now. This foreshortened span.”


January: Mayan Letters, edited and introduced by Creeley, is published in Mallorca.

March: The Olsons are evicted from the Washington, D.C. house. Olson is appointed rector of Black Mountain College. Creeley arrives to teach for two months and, after four years of correspondence, they meet.

The first issue of Black Mountain Review, edited by Creeley, is published (there are seven issues until its demise in 1957).

Spring: Olson becomes romantically involved with Elizabeth (Betty) Kaiser, a 28-year-old student at Black Mountain.

September 11: In Boston to read at the Charles Street Meeting House, Olson meets John Wieners, 20, who later attends Black Mountain College and becomes a poet whose work is closely associated with Olson.

In Gloucester the next day Olson gives a reading at Vincent Ferrini’s home.

November: Olson writes a book on Shakespeare (still unpublished).

December: Betty Kaiser, pregnant, moves to New York City.


January: In “A Bibliography on America for Ed Dorn” (published 1965, and in Collected Prose), Olson first mentions Alfred North Whitehead’s Process and Reality: An Essay on Cosmology, a work central to Olson’s mature thinking; in “Filming in Gloucester” he refers to Whitehead as “my great master and the companion of my poems.” Ed Dorn, a student at Black Mountain College, a principal poet of the Black Mountain School, is author of “What I see in The Maximus Poems,” 1960.

May 12: Charles Peter Olson is born to Betty in New York.

Summer: Creeley returns to Black Mountain to teach, to January 1956.

The poem “Anecdotes of the Late War” published as Jargon Broadside no. 1 in Highlands, North Carolina.


January: Poet William Bronk of Hudson Falls, NY writes to Olson for advice on travel in Yucatan; 19 pieces of correspondence to 1967 published in Minutes #22 and on the Otoliths weblog.

February: Connie and Kate return to Massachusetts to live.

March: Olson brings Betty and Charles Peter to Black Mountain College.

Robert Duncan arrives at Black Mountain to teach writing.

Spring: Olson writes “The chain of memory is resurrection . . .” (in Collected Poems)

April-May: Olson writes “The Lordly and Isolate Satyrs,” “As the Dead Prey Upon Us” and “Variations Done for Gerald Van De Wiele.”

May: Olson lectures on “The Special View of History” over ten days (notes published in book form, 1970).

October: Black Mountain College closes; Olson remains there with Betty and Charles Peter, preparing the property for sale.

Fall: Maximus Poems / 1122 is published by Jonathan Williams.



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