Chronology of Charles Olson's life and work

Part 3





January: Olson writes “The Librarian.” (He refers to it as “the best poem I ever wrote” in 1966; see “Filming in Gloucester.”)

February: Olson travels with Betty and Charles Peter by train to San Francisco; he presents “The Special View of History” and reads at the Poetry Center, San Francisco State College (see Robert Duncan’s introduction).

March: The Olson family returns east via Albuquerque, New Mexico to visit Creeley.

August: They move from North Carolina to Fort Point, Gloucester; the flat they rent at 28 Fort Square becomes Olson’s permanent address.

Robin Blaser meets Olson in Gloucester (see “Quicks and Strings,” with Olson’s early correspondence; their later correspondence is in Minutes #49).

September: Olson begins writing “a Plantation a beginning,” first of the third “run” of Maximus poems, four years after completing those published in 1953 and 1956; the three published as The Maximus Poems in 1960. (A number of Maximus poems written in the interval but set aside are published in OLSON #6.)


February: Call Me Ishmael is reissued by Grove Press through the agency of Donald Allen, who publishes “The Lordly and Isolate Satyrs” in Evergreen Review and many of Olson’s later works. (Their correspondence is collected in Poet to Publisher, 2003.)

Olson takes an extended vacation in Provincetown, Mass.

O’Ryan 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, a book of Olson's poems, is published by White Rabbit Press, San Francisco.

Summer: Olson’s book review “Equal, That Is, to the Real Itself,” published in Chicago Review 12:2, asserts Herman Melville’s “breakthrough of man’s thought” in grasping “the absolute condition of present things” (quoting an 1851 letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne) “and his insistence there, to get God in the street. . .”


March: Olson writes “Letter # 41 [broken off],” the first poem in the cycle that becomes Maximus Poems IV, V, VI. (Guide 237)

Olson meets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso at a reading in Boston.

May: Olson’s letter of April 28 in response to a query from English poet Elaine Feinstein is published in a pamphlet, Projective Verse, by LeRoi Jones’s Totem Press.

November: Olson receives Gloucester visitors Michael McClure, Philip Whalen, LeRoi Jones, Donald Allen and David Cummings, tours the Dogtown area of Gloucester, then writes “Maximus from Dogtown—I;” it is published in 1961 by the Auerhahn Society, San Francisco.


Spring: Olson’s notative essay “Proprioception,” first of a series of nine sketches of the evolution of consciousness of “process as reality,” is published in LeRoi Jones’s Kulchur #1; the others are published in Kulchur, Yugen and Floating Bear under Jones’s editorial direction, to 1962; the series published by Four Seasons Foundation in 1965 (and in Collected Prose).

April 19: Olson reads at the Wesleyan Spring Poetry Festival — his first collegiate reading. Others (beside those noted below): Cornell University, St. Lawrence U, Brown U, Tufts.

April 30: He reads at the Isaacs Gallery, Toronto. (Kenneth McRobbie’s memoir and Olson’s correspondence, including poems not elsewhere published, are in Minutes #6.)

May: Olson’s poems figure prominently in The New American Poetry, 1945-1960, edited by Donald Allen, published by Grove Press.

September 3: Olson reads at Hammond’s Castle, Gloucester.

November: Publication of The Maximus Poems (Jargon/Corinth) and The Distances (Grove Press), selected non-Maximus poems.

December (and February 1961): Olson ingests synthetic psilocybin with Timothy Leary (recounted in a taped 1963 discussion, transcribed and published as "Under the Mushroom: the Gratwick Highlands Tape" in OLSON #3; reprinted in Muthologos; streaming audio at PennSound).


November: The English poet and scholar Jeremy Prynne begins corresponding with Olson (Guide 670). Prynne becomes a source of research material and an advocate in the search for a publisher of Maximus Poems IV, V, VI (Guide xliii).

Olson receives a Longview Foundation award for The Maximus Poems.


February: Olson gives the Morris Gray reading at Harvard University. (One account is in “Charles Olson: a memoir”; another in Minutes #3.)

March: He reads at Brandeis University.

April: Reads at Dartmouth College.

April 12/14: Talks and readings at Goddard College (in Muthologos 2nd edition; streaming audio at PennSound).

Summer: in New York for six weeks, visiting LeRoi Jones and Edward Dorn.

December 15: Olson writes to the editor of the Gloucester Daily Times to “beef” about “boring local patriotism” over a postage stamp commemorating a Winslow Homer painting made in Gloucester. This and sixteen subsequent letters are collected in Maximus to Gloucester (1992).


May: Filmmaker Stan Brakhage visits Olson in Gloucester (letter to Jane Brakhage, May 17, 1963, in his Metaphors on Vision).

June: Olson writes the final poems of Maximus VI and then writes “having descried the nation…” — the “epigraph” of the third cycle of the Maximus (Poetry and Truth, 1968).

July 29-August 16: Olson participates in the Vancouver Poetry Conference, a summer course at the University of B.C. designed by Warren Tallman and Robert Creeley; he reads all the recently-completed Maximus Poems IV, V, VI. (See the Links page for readings and discussions in streaming audio; transcriptions, notes, interviews, correspondence published in OLSON #4, Muthologos 2nd edition, Minutes #1 and 30.)

(Poems from the period 1959-1963 not included in Maximus IV, V, VI are published in OLSON  #9.)

September: Appointed Visiting Professor of English, State University of New York at Buffalo, Olson teaches courses in “Modern Poetry” and “Myth and Literature;” he commutes from a rented country home near Wyoming, N.Y., 40 miles southeast of Buffalo. (English department chair Albert Cook’s memoir of Olson in Minutes #27, part 1.)


March: Olson sends Prynne the ms. of Maximus IV, V, VI via Jonathan Williams.

March 28: Betty Olson is killed in an automobile accident on an icy road in Wyoming, N.Y.

April-May: Prynne prepares a fair typescript of Maximus IV, V, VI (Guide xliii).

Summer: Olson returns to Gloucester with Charles Peter after organizing summer teaching for LeRoi Jones, Edward Dorn and Robert Kelly at SUNY Buffalo.

September: Olson returns to Buffalo to teach. (See Albert Glover’s memoir on this site; originally published with 15 pages of letters from Olson 1965-69, in Minutes #19.)

Harvey Brown audits Olson’s courses at Buffalo, establishes Frontier Press and Niagara Frontier Review, publishing new work by Olson and his circle. (An account of these projects and those of the Institute of Further Studies, with publication checklists, in “Olson’s Buffalo” by Michael Boughn, Minutes #38.)


February: Olson sends Maximus IV, V, VI in a new ms. and some of Prynne’s typescript to Jargon/Corinth; he was “dismayed” at the typesetting (Guide xliii) and ultimately abandoned the project.

June 26-July 2: Olson reads at the Festival of the Two Worlds, Spoleto, Italy, and meets Ezra Pound, the guest of honor, after 17 years.

Olson travels to Bled, Yugoslavia to attend a PEN conference.

July 20-23. Olson causes a sensation at the Berkeley Poetry Conference with his lecture, “The Causal Mythology” (transcribed and published in 1969), and his reading (published in 1966 as Reading at Berkeley); both are in Muthologos; streaming audio at PennSound; the event and its aftermath documented in Minutes #s 3, 4, 7, 9, 16, 20, 21 and 54).

August: Human Universe and Other Essays is published in San Francisco by Auerhahn, later in paperback by Grove Press.

Olson is awarded Poetry magazine’s Oscar Blumenthal-Charles Leviton Prize.

September: Olson returns to teach at Buffalo but after two weeks returns to Gloucester, leaving John Clarke in charge of his seminars. Thereafter, Harvey Brown provides Olson with an annual stipend.

John Clarke, Fred Wah, Al Glover and George Butterick publish the first issue of The Magazine of Further Studies in Buffalo (six issues to 1969).

October: In letters to Clarke, Olson recapitulates his understanding of inter-glacial cultures (published in 1968 as Pleistocene Man).


January: Selected Writings, edited by Creeley, is published by New Directions.

March: Richard Moore and a TV crew tape Olson in Gloucester for a segment of the National Educational Television network’s “U.S.A.: Poetry,” broadcast on September 4. (See “Filming in Gloucester” on this site.)

August: Olson’s ‘West’ published as an eight-page letterpress pamphlet by The Goliard Press, edited by the poet Tom Raworth.

October: Olson leaves for Liverpool and London with Panna Grady.

December: He travels to Berlin for a reading organized by his German translator, Klaus Reichert.


February: Call Me Ishmael is reissued by City Lights Books.

Olson leaves London on a five-week trip to Dorchester, Dorset to research the origins of early settlers of Gloucester among the Weymouth Port Books.

July 12: After returning to the U.S., he flies back to London to read at the International Poetry Festival.

October 20-22: Addresses the State University of New York Convocation in the Arts, Cortland, N.Y. (partial transcript in Minutes #4).

December: Cape Goliard Press in England takes on publication of Maximus Poems IV, V, VI; several of Olson's letters to publisher Barry Hall, with Gerald Burns's analysis in Minutes #20.


January: George Butterick visits Gloucester while working on a Ph.D. dissertation (it becomes A Guide to The Maximus Poems, published 1978).

Olson develops “A Plan for a Curriculum of the Soul” (published in The Magazine of Further Studies 5; Olson’s schema is in Minutes #19; Pleistocene Man is the first “fascicle” of 29; the whole published 2010 by the Institute of Further Studies).

March 25-29: Olson presents a series of lectures at Beloit College, Wisconsin; published in part 1971 as Poetry and Truth — “a major statement, the ultimate statement of the archaic postmodern position” (Maud, Minutes #39, p. 7) and reprinted in Muthologos, with the addition of the March 26 talk, "On Black Mountain."

April: He makes a last visit to San Francisco, returning via Tucson as the guest of Drummond Hadley.

June: Olson is hospitalized for two weeks.

Ann Charters visits Gloucester to research her book Olson/Melville: A Study in Affinity, published the same year.

July 27: Alasdair Clayre interviews Olson in Gloucester for the B.B.C.’s Third Programme (published in Muthologos 2nd edition).

August: Inga Lovén, a visitor from Sweden, interviews Olson (published in Muthologos).

Jack Kerouac visits Olson in Gloucester (and again in October).

November 28: Cape Goliard Press, London, publishes Maximus Poems IV, V, VI; the American edition appears in 1969.


January: Barry Miles tapes Olson reading at his home for Apple Records, London; released in 1975 as a Folkways LP. (Miles’s liner notes are on this site; for copies of the recording, see the Links page.)

April 15: Gerard Malanga visits Olson in Gloucester for a Paris Review interview (transcript in Muthologos; an analysis, “The Flawed Paris Review Interview,” in Minutes #45; and a near-complete transcript in Minutes #47/48.)

April: Andrew S. Leinoff interviews Olson on the Black Mountain College years (transcript in OLSON #8 and in Muthologos 2nd edition).

August: Boston Globe book review editor Herbert Kenny interviews Olson (partial transcript in OLSON #1; fuller transcript in Muthologos 2nd edition; a brief excerpt on this site).

September: Olson arranges to meet Charles Boer, a former student, now teaching at the University of Connecticut, Storrs; Boer drives him from Cambridge to his home, where Olson stays for several weeks (recorded in Boer’s Charles Olson in Connecticut, 1975).

October: Olson is offered the post of Visiting Professor at the University of Connecticut, Storrs and teaches a graduate seminar for eight weeks (three students’ notes collated and published in Charles Olson in Connecticut: Last Lectures, 1974).

December 1: Olson is admitted to Memorial Hospital, Manchester, Conn.; the diagnosis is cancer of the liver.

Olson names Boer his literary executor.

December 15: Olson’s last writing is “The Secret of the Black Chrysanthemum” (published in OLSON #3).

December 18: Olson, in great pain, is driven to New York Hospital, New York City.

Harvey Brown organizes and funds the last visits of many of Olson’s friends and associates.

On his death-bed, Olson gives George Butterick instructions for the unpublished Maximus poems and specifies the concluding poem to Charles Boer; assembled and edited by Butterick and Boer, they were published in 1975 as The Maximus Poems Volume Three.


January 10: Charles Olson dies in New York Hospital.

January 13: Following a memorial service, Olson is buried beside Betty in Beechbrook Cemetery, Gloucester.


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