Selected Letters

Selected Letters

Selected Letters

Selected Letters


"Rarely have letters been so crucial in a poet's life, and no selection of them has ever made such a fact more evident than does Ralph Maud's remarkable edition. The ranging, perceptive, various, and engaging nature of Olson's letters is in itself a wonder. Here Ralph Maud has composed them to make clear a life in all the reach of its encounters, in all the particulars of its company, and in the place determined as its own."--Robert Creeley

"Superbly edited, this collection of selected letters by Charles Olson provides a marvelously informative historical resource while also constituting a literary event of considerable magnitude." --Charles F. Altieri

"An important book assembled with great intelligence, tact, taste, and professionalism. It should have much value for anyone interested in Olson's life and work and in the development of what is called postmodern writing in the USA."--Donald Allen


Charles Olson believed in letter writing. It was honest communication. He believed in it as a true political act that might create a polis, if anything could. It was a means of establishing polity, of registering what he believed the postmodern (as he defined it) should give us: a sense of belonging. For Olson letter writing was an everyday thing; it made the world more of a home.

The Maximus poems were, he always insisted, literally letters. the model available to him was Maximus of Tyre, a philosopher of the second century A. D., who traveled to centers of learning and sent disquisitions back to his home town. At the outset Olson wrote the poem-letters to his friend Vincent Ferrini in Gloucester from Washington, D. C., Yucatan, and Black Mountain College. Later, himself in Gloucester, he wrote from there to the world at large and at times to his fellow citizens. He once called these poems his “dailies. ”

The title essay and several others in the Human Universe volume began as letters and retain that informality. “I believe a man talks best straight and going out to another, ” Olson wrote to Robert Creeley on 5 July 1950, when he had the problem of revising his formal essay “Projective Verse” for publication (letter at Stanford). “I sort of imagine some of the things I put to you recently on breath and line and the backwards of same, are worth all this crap I see in front of me this morning that I wrote once, when, who was that dope?” He rewrote “Projective Verse” utilizing a great deal from his correspondence with Creeley. When some years later he wanted to add to “Projective Verse, ” he did it with a letter, “Letter to Elaine Feinstein, ” published in Selected Writings of Charles Olson.

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