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Charles Olson

The Allegory of a Poet's Life


Tom Clark (View Bio)
Hardcover: W. W. Norton & Co., 1991; Paperback: North Atlantic Books, 2000.

"An incandescent biography of the inventor of 'projective' verse, this comprehensive portrait distinguishes the convivial, bluff public figure from the tormented inner man. A lapsed Catholic, Olson (1910-1970) turned to Sumerian myths, Mayan legends and Islamic mysticism for cosmic insights that would inform poems of cyclic sweep. Torn by contradictory feelings toward his proud, stern father—a Swedish immigrant postman in Worcester, Mass.—the poet found a father-figure in mentor Edward Dahlberg and later in Ezra Pound. Reclusive self-absorption sapped his two common-law marriages; he harbored enormous guilt over his neglect of his two children and over second wife Betty Kaiser's death (in a car accident), which may have been self-inflicted during a severe depression. Clark, author of books on Kerouac, Celine and Ted Berrigan, reveals that Olson grappled with homosexual impulses, took hallucinogens and dominated those around him, seeking periodic release from inner demons in frenzied floods of images." — Publishers Weekly

"Tom Clark, with extraordinary compassion and sharp-eyed intelligence, has given us a moving, lucid portrait of this great American original." — Bradford Morrow, Washington Post Book World

"Best known for his innovative poetic theory and the famous 'Maximus' poems, Olson served as a mentor to an entire generation of poets, among them Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley. In this critical biography, Clark provides new insight into the conflicts and struggles of Olson's life and the influence they had on his work. Clark draws from his own acquaintance with Olson, the poet's journals and poetry, as well as correspondence with many who were close to him, to make sense of this man's life as a parable. This is an admirable biography, for Clark accomplishes the difficult task of combining the continuous story of Olson's life with an understandable account of his poetic development and explications of many poems." — Library Journal

"Highly recommended." — Booklist

"A balefully fascinating account of both the man and the milieu he did so much to form." — Los Angeles Times Book Review

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