…Tom Clark’s biography of Charles Olson.
Lately, I’ve been letting randomness influence my reading selections by picking the Best Available out of the Free Little Library boxes that have sprung up around my neighborhood, and this was the first I finished. It was instructive enough that some of my thoughts influenced and were incorporated into a piece I just submitted for publication, but here is where they began.
Olson was a terrible husband, and awful father, and not much of a friend. He had a good stint with the OWI, as a civil servant during WW II, but he flopped as an academic, and while attracting a small swarm of acolytes, his stint as an administrator at Black Mountain College led, through his whacky ideas, to its demise. He doesn’t even seem to have had it together enough for social welfare benefits, preferring to leech off those he knew for support in his final years.
I know Olson is considered a great poet, but I couldn’t make heads or tails out of the selections Clark presented, nor of the prose which is highly regarded (esp. by other poets I don’t read). Clark never makes clear, either by his own words analysis or the words of others, what is important about Olson’s work, so I was left absorbed by the calamity of his life.
The man was unable to find help for himself and he didn’t exist within a community which could find it for him. That was more compelling to me than his work.