Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Some More on Olson "Maximus"

That moment when you read a poem, and you GET it! Somehow, the energy--that Olson wrote about in Projective Verse--hits you, and you feel it! And you KNOW what it is, because you feel it. You're not unsure if that's what the poet actually meant, because you've read it, you've engaged in the text, you've thought about it, and you've done the digging. Like Bonilla said, you have to trust that you got the meaning. I was waiting for that moment when I would get "I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You", and I almost did! During today's lecture, when Professor Bonilla shared her reading of Olson's epic poem, I almost caught the energy, but I think I have some more things to figure out and some more digging to do.

The part that holds my epiphany is in Part 3, here is a section of it:
"the underpart is, though stemmed, uncertain
is, as sex is, as moneys are, facts!
facts, to be dealt with, as the sea is, the demand
that they be played by, that they only can be, that they must
be played by, said he, coldly, the

By ear, he sd.
But that which matters, that which insists, that which will last,
that! o my people, where shall you find it, how, where, where shall you listen
when all is become billboards, when, all, even silence, is spray-gunned?

when even our bird, my roofs,
cannot be heard"
The underpart--although you can't see it, is there, "it's fact!". You have to trust that it's there. There's no other option. Just like love, sex, and money--you don't really have a physical proof of love, it only exists in faith. Sure you can say "I love you" all you want, but that doesn't mean it's the truth. With love, you just trust. Sex and Money are imaginary ideological constructions--it's not really real, it's created in the mind--everyone is under the same illusion--and even though it's not real, the effects are real. The underpart of the nest is a fact, because it supports the nest. It is the most important part--even though it's not readily apparent. Yes, the nest is shaped in a circular form--but this is not empty. The "underpart" IS the nest, because without it, there would be no nest, and it is NOT the nest, because it is the underpart--completely separate.

I think Olson is saying that, yes "love is the form", the circular movement, but it's not empty, even though it is in the shape of an O. He ends the verse with "o sea city)", almost like it is a secret: It's tucked away, it's humble. It's not the "O" of grandiose and tragic emptiness, it's the o of infinity. It's the non-physical idea that is true because of faith and because of words and breath.

Poetry needs to be understood "by ear"-which is out loud, which is performed, which is communicated with others (because language is impersonal). In accordance to saying things aloud, they must be listened to. Because when we lose the energy between the poet and the reader, there is a lack of breath, a lack of connection. Nothing can be communicated--the thing that makes poetry come alive is dead. "When all is become billboards" is the day we lose our soul, because we cannot hear anything anymore. We can't even hear the birds anymore!

His grievances and diagnosis of the dismal future of American contemporaneity listed in Part 3 are answered at the end of Part 4, with his violent threat to the "billboard-ization", the "Fordization"--he is Beowulf slaying Grendel in his own epic poem--"o kill kill kill kill kill/those/who advertise you/out)" (2161). Maximus is not going to take it lying down, he is going to fight against that which mechanizes us, that which tries to sell us out.

I also have a theory that the reason Olson writes in such a confusing way, i.e. a way that the meaning is not available on the surface level--one has to "engage" in it and understand the metaphors and meanings and form married with the content--is because Olson doesn't want just anybody off the street to get the meaning, like the regular mainstream American Joe. He wants the one who understands it to be worthy of understanding it--because according to "I, Maximus", he's worthy. It's an epic poem for an accordingly epic and elevated audience--and who is that audience in contemporary America? Not the juggernaut corporate boss with all the money and power, not the WalMart-shopping, American Idol-watching, McDonald's-eating, mainstream consumer and subscriber to lowest-common-denominator ideology, complete with mechanical imaginations. Olson is addressing the educated elite who take time to read, engage, and dissect poetry, those who are interested like he was, in diagnosing the problems of American contemporaneity. He's telling the truth, but he's telling it slant.

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