The Duncan/Olson dichotomy

A review of two volumes

Photos of Robert Duncan (left) and Charles Olson (right) by Jonathan Williams, from the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection. Used with permission of Thomas Meyer.

Here are two elusive pieces of the context of midcentury American poetics. The Robert Duncan/Charles Olson letters have been available, until now, only in the brief reviews of each other that the poets extracted from them (“near-far Mister Olson” and “Against Wisdom as Such”), passages quoted by scholars who have been able to visit the archive at Storrs, and handfuls in Sulfur, Poetry, and Olson’s Selected Letters.

Witness my own

Forget gadget

What is a prosodic device?

In 1970, Hannah Weiner exhibited a telegram in Oberlin College’s conceptual art survey Art in the Mind. After the “mail strike,” her letter to Virginian Dwan was delivered to the gallerist (page one and page two). In it Weiner complains that Vito Acconci’s telegram-piece should be exhibited in Language IV along with Walter DeMaria’s telegram, arguing that the medium was immaterial, and that the artwork, in either case, consists in its sphere of reference. So that there could be no redundancy involved. She cites her piece at Oberlin.

But she might have also claimed more significance for the telegram. A primitive speech-to-text technology, it is a phonic ticker, defamiliarizing the otherwise imperceptible but crucial transfiguration that takes place between sound-image and thought.

Geomantic riposte: 'The Invisible Library'

Paul Wilson was born in Lacombe, Alberta and in addition to his five collections of poetry, has contributed to his city of Regina, Saskatchewan and beyond as a key cultural worker, editor, and publisher.

Material criticism

Peter Minter on the exclusion of modern Aboriginal poetry

Anthology endpapers
Anthology endpapers

At a recent Australian Poetry symposium, Peter Minter showed the importance of a different kind of close reading, the material reading. A video of his talk can be seen below.

Minter points out the numerous Indigenous poets excluded from Australian Poetry Since 1788, a recent anthology (as well as pointing to some other exclusions). He frames the anthology itself as an editors' folly (the editors being Geoffrey Lehmann and Robert Gray, who have made anthologies together before) and as kitsch. But while such terms are subjective, and arguments about the exclusions from anthologies - thought objective facts - seem to boil down to the subjective in the end: it is the ends, finally, that Minter takes issue with. Minter's presentation was a model criticism, in terms of disarming those in the audience who were included in the anthology (assuming any needed to be disarmed) — but the kicker is Minter's discovery that the endpapers (shown as the image for this post, above) are actually fauxboriginal themselves, a folly of settler curtainmaking from the 1950s: they are, if anything is, kitsch. They suggest an Aboriginal design, but merely serve to give a frisson of nativism to a settlement verse project.

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