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Charles Olson measured 6’8″ tall and like many mammals of large appetite he died young, at 59. His life revolved around the history of the small coastal town of Gloucester, Massachusetts, and its present, where he was born and lived until his liver failed. Vulcan was a god of fire in its destructive and beneficial iterations. Apollo was a god of fire too, but his fire was the sun that gives light and life. Or so I gather.

What I love in reading Charles Olson has never been the grasp of history evidenced by the Maximus poems and ‘on which his reputation rests.’ Rather it’s the scraps and asides George Butterick ordered chronologically in the 600+-page Collected. Lines like the plaintive ‘Letsuzstayawayfromparades’ from “O’Ryan 11-15” pretty much nail it down: C.O. adrift along the streets along the edge and under the night, subject to emotions and what they have in store (as W.C.W. rumbled There is a world subject to my incursions…).

There are some wonderful clips of Olson on YouTube, I’m not sure who filmed them. But this 30-second aside gets at the total nutty self-possession of the man. Watch him Vulcan. Watch him Apollo. Listen to the foghorn turn. Watch him chuck that spent cigarette package into the ocean and bring the match’s sulfur head to flame!

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Arlo Haskell is the author of Joker, publisher of Sand Paper Press, and media director for the Key West Literary Seminar. He lives in Key West, and is working on a study of Charles Olson's time in that city, among other projects.

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  • Stuart Krimko February 15, 2010, 5:38 pm

    I was going to post the one of him doing the Librarian:

  • Stuart Krimko February 15, 2010, 5:39 pm

    hm, well, I thought I’d embedded it, seems that’s not possible, stay tuned then

  • Adam Fitzgerald February 15, 2010, 7:16 pm

    Not possible!

  • Stuart Krimko February 17, 2010, 12:54 am

    pasted the embed copy into the comment text… not sure what went wrong… well, I’m glad someone was on it

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