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Maximus Poems

(From A Guide to the Maximus Poems of Charles Olson, George F. Butterick)

"The [Maximus Poems] are generally regarded as Charles Olson's major work, despite the more immediate popularity and influence of his theoretical essay, "Projective Verse." They were written over a period of almost twenty years, nearly the entire length of time that Olson was active as a poet. There are more than 300 poems in the series, varying in length from a single line to ten pages. Some stand independently, others depend for their meaning on their context within the series. They were begun as a succession of "letters" (the designation is used throughout the first volume, but only occasionally thereafter) to poet Vincent Ferrini in Gloucester, where Olson had grown up, and through Ferrini to the city itself. As such, they provide a vehicle, a "great White Cadillac" (II, 43), for the public voice known as Maximus of the private individual Charles Olson, although eventually the distinction between public and private, Olson and Maximus, becomes inconsequential as the integration of person and place, man and his earth, is achieved. It is a series in the tradition of the long poem encouraged by Olson's immediate predecessors ("inferior predecessors," he once called them in an outburst), Ezra Pound in his Cantos and William Carlos Williams in Paterson, although it has its roots deep in its own supportive soil."




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