Dear Charles Olson:
Bob Creeley has suggested that I get in touch with you; I think youve seen CONTACT and would probably agree that it had a long way to go before it could call itself what it proclaims: an international magazine of poetry.
You can help us try to attain that by sending us some of your work, by any critical comments, short articles, blasts on poetry that you feel like getting off your chest. CONTACT readers have already had a taste of your work in I, Maximus,1 and by their reactions want and need more of it. Although our circulation is small, we are growing every day, and our readers include nearly all the good poets writing in Canada (and we have some) and a number of poets and critics in the States and abroad. Through our CONTACT PRESS poetry series, one number of which has appeared and two more nearing publication, we are bringing to public at tention poets who might not otherwise get publication. 2 Right now we are confined to Canadian poets, but in a year or so hope to broaden our field, possibly with a CONTACT ANTHOLOGY, open to poets in all countries. 3
A copy of CONTACT FOUR, out July 15th, will reach you shortly. CONTACT does not intend to fold up easily. We can exist on a budget of $100 a year. And we mean to be a force for better poetry. But to be that force we need more and better contributions. That is why I am writing you today.
We should appreciate hearing from you, and would welcome any suggestions, names of possible contributors to contact, etc. Creeley has given me some good leads to follow up in Europe, so we hope for some interesting translations. Cid Corman and Vine Ferrini4 are helping in other ways. Its all very heartening when you can get international co-operation like that.
If you get a chance to go to N.Y.C. look Louis Dudek at 258 West 22 st, Apt 2G. Hes an advisory editor of CONTACT and one of our best boosters, besides being a damn fine poet. I know hed be happy to meet you. 5
Pardon the long-windedness, but there were a few things to be said . . . . . .
Thanks for your letter and two poems6. . . . will let you know how the poems made out later . . . as I told Creeley we have trouble with your stuff because youre both not writing run-of-the-mill material, but were doing our best with the equipment we have.
Have read the chapter on Projective Verse in Williams autobio, and its made me curious to read the whole thing. Any idea where I could get a copy of the mag it appeared in, which I think has since folded up?7 Ive never been much of a theory man, but yours I want to follow through with, as I think you have some meat in it for a lot of people.
CONTACT is a hodge podge, but will improve as we can get our hands on better work. . . . or so we hope. This damn country right now is deader than ever as far as creative work goes, and yours doesnt look too healthy either, England a dead loss pretty well: but maybe we can start a few balls rolling.
Any good new people you could give us as line on would be much appreciated.
Saw two of your things in Ferrinis FOUR WINDS, nice stuff, along with Cids poem the solid things for me in the issue. Cids poem was the best Ive seen of his. 8
Like to see any prose you care to send, the only stipulation that it deal with or have relation to poetry. And it shouldnt go too long, as you know how little space we have per issue.
If things go well with our PRESS, may possibly have CONTACT ANTHOLOGY next year, with international contribs. Though right now, to sell at all, weve got to limit ourselves to Canadian poets.
I suppose youre doing some kind of teaching chore at Black Mountain. . . . hope it leaves you lots of time for creative work. I work in a bank myself, do most work on weekends, which isnt too bad, now that we have a five-day week.
Best of luck, and send along whatever you wish. Salud,
Dear Charles Olson:
Weve reached a decision on the poems like THE LEADER much more than IDLE IDLE, and want it for #5 out November. Also would like to use the short things These Days if its o. k. with you. 9
Glad to see more poetry any time, and any prose connected with poetry.
Dear Charles Olson:
Cid Corman has been up in this neck of the woods the past couple of weeks, and one of the things he brought along with him was the fine broadsheet from Black Mountain of yours, THIS. 10 It was read by him one night before a small group of poets here and made quite an impression I would judge.
Anyway, it struck me as especially fine, and I asked Cid if he thought I might be able to reprint it in the coming September issue of CONTACT. He said he thought you would give me the go sign on it, so Im writing now to get your official permission. Id also like to reprint MERCE OF EGYPT from IN COLD HELL along with itch.11 You will of course get full credits for both poems as well as the presses.
I thought it would be very appropriate having these poems in the coming issue on account of the interest in your work raised by Cids visit. Also, leaflets from both the Divers Press and JARGON 12 will go out with that issue, and having what I consider two fine samples of your work right in the issue should do your cause some good.
There is one difficulty in mimeographing THIS, owing to the two different types used in the poem which I can only reproduce on the typewriter by using capitals for the larger of the two types where these parts of the poem occur, and ordinary letters for the rest. Id like any comments or suggestions you might have on this.
I know that Black Mountain is far, far from Canada, but if you and your wife ever get the chance to come up this way, the warmest of welcomes await you. Poetry in Canada has been in a state of paralysis for some time now, and your work, together with that of Pound and your other contemporary, Bob Creeley, seem to point a way onward.
Best of luck in your present and future work.
Good to have a word or two from you. 13
You and Bob are certainly to be congratulated for a fine first image of the REVIEW. 14 Ten copies were sent along here to me I cant sell em, but I have mailed them to the best people I know, and Im sure youll get a few subs out of the lot, which is something, I suppose. Incidentally, I could use 6 copies of the MAYAN LETTERS 15 here, no copies having arrived yet and people have ordered them. So do what you can.
I was very sorry to let CONTACT go, but too many things crowded together up here, and something had to give-so it was the magpie 16 Anyway, I figured 10 issues wasnt too bad an effort. I think it goosed a few people up here when things were at a low ebb and we were all feeling sorry for ourselves. And it did forment a little international spirit, which has had some nice results to date. And will go on, I hope.
You asked about how I make a living-for better or for worse its the king business, has been since I was 18 except for a four year hitch in the R.C.A.F. And not as deadly as you might think if nothing else one meets a lot of people and people are my top interest.
Im very much interested in your work as you know but most of my acquaintances are merely puzzled (probably because they havent read you well enough or extensively): and the review Dudek gave you in CIV/n17 made me regret the day I sent along my copy [in margin: ie. of MAX!] for them to read over. Lou is certainly welcome to his own opinion, but it certainly [is] disappointing to me when he fails to see the lines along which youre working, the new breadth that seems to emerge from your best things. I dont pretend to follow your meaning all the time, but theres always enough else to keep me along with you. I think in the not-too-distant future you should reformulate your theories of poetry as you did a few years ago in POETRY NEW YORK, and this time try to find some publication which will reach more people. The REVIEW might be the ideal spot, or ORIGIN.
What we up here need to get in our poetry more than anything else right now is the clean American use of the language as distinct from the English, the same old chestnut that Williams has tried to hammer into us for so long. That is why I feel Thomas is particularly a dead end, why Canadians have to learn from you below us rather than from England. Which unfortunately isnt yet taking place. To our certain loss.
Hope to have a large group of work to show you before long. 18 Right now, I send one on the reverse, not much Im afraid, but I suppose typical stuff right now, not really making it.
Lets hear from you again. Salud,
NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT AND IT GETS YOU IF YOU TRY
Learn through a roundabout way from Gaelic 19 that the College has folded and that youre staying on to wind things up. 20 So if its at all possible send me the following, for which Ill pay for on receipt:
Blackburn The Dissolving Fabrics 21
Am starting a small thing to be called COMBUSTION next month, which will aim to publicize the little press books, to kick a few people in the pants, and to show off whatever off beat, experimental material comes to light Hope you have something for us.
I suppose this means the end of the Review. 22 Ive just been reading through the issues tonight and now see what a hell of a fine thing its been perhaps more than I realized before. Well, we learn slowly. the important thing is to learn, I suppose.
Best of the New Year in every useful sense.
P. S. If youre writing Bob 23 you might mention COMBUSTION.
Hope COMBUSTION ONE isnt too much of a let-down glad to have your poem in it. 24
Got your MAYAN and THE DISSOLVING-many, many thanks. Will them both in next BUST.
Can use any names of the promising young already have Ginsberg, MacClure etc. set with poems. 25
Irvings BINOCULARS 26 running into trouble here publisher who signed to distribute it backed down Irv getting plenty of publicity in newspapers however. . . .
Best of luck with the Frisco readings 27 hope to have you do them up here before too long. . . . .
Really great to hear from you-like a familiar voice out of the fog,28
And happy that COMBUSTION gives you some kind of a charge. Granted it hasnt turned out all that Id hoped it would a vehicle for the beat generation but these things rarely do, so you do the best you can with the materials at hand. Id be certainly grateful if you would goose anyone you think would fit in it
Which brings me around to the proposition-would you be interested in hitting this here neck of the woods sometime around the middle of January? The enclosed leaflet pretty well explains the purpose or part of it. Weve had four readings so far three local people and Irving up from Montreal. So I thought it would be nice to start the New Year off with something different and with you as close as youll ever be to Canada I thought it was now or never. 29
The financial picture isnt too rosy-but not impossible. Im afraid youd have to use the bus though. Single fare from Boston is $15. 90 plus tax. So $20. 00 should get you here. I can give you $30. 00 for the Gallery reading (Gallery only seats 50 but is a lovely set-up, modern etc). Then I hope to maybe get you a reading at the University of Toronto. A TV interview is not out of the question (Irving appeared when he was up here the National network). 30 Then if you had some books you could bring along to sell at the reading that would add a few bucks to the pot. When you get tired of Toronto I propose to ship you off to Montreal, where the boys down there can probably set you up with a reading etc. And of course eating and sleeping is no problem-you can stay with us here in Toronto (my mother-in-law is an excellent Italian cook) and Irving will put you up in Montreal. Cid did this same circuit a few years back and enjoyed it besides giving us a real push poetry-wise you would have an even more important effect, Im sure.
So think it over and let me know as soon as possible, so I can start-making the arrangements. Of course Ill understand if it isnt in the cards, but sure hope you can swing it. If you havent been to Canada much, this could be an eye-opener for you, as the place is really moving.
Thats all for now. Lets hear from you fairly soon. Salud,
Thanks for your note of Jan 17th and for letting me have a look at AND NOW: THE WORLD! I think this is the first poem you ever sent me that I didnt feel like using. I like the way if flows along, but after the third stanza you left me completely. Not that thats so bloody much, I get lost with a lot of poems and use em where I feel maybe the reader has the proper clews but I dont feel that with this one.
All of which gets me around to hoping youll be mad enough at getting this sent back that youll send me a half dozen others Id sure like to feature you in a group . .
Still wish you could have made the local scene, for that reading. We need someone like you to jar us loose from a lot of pretty ideas of what makes a poem.
Very pleased to get a chunk of MAX to use in Combustion. 31 It seems a long way back now to the time I reprinted the first MAX poem in CONTACT. This slice has all the vigour that was in that first piece for my dough.
May I throw out the suggestion that a short note of say three or four lines accompany it to fill the reader in on the situation in the poem or do you think my idea so much shit? Only reason I have is that you have a very local situation here. But Im quite happy to print it without. 32
Sending you my latest mimeo effort under separate cover. 33Its a mixed bag of odds and ends I wanted to collect together before somebody throws out the scribblers they were written in.
All the best in the New Year. And its good to hear from you again.
From the Land of the Maple Leaf a very belated thanks for ORyan which my emissary brought back from his very great visit with you 34
Thanks to the trip, I now have pasted in the front of each volume of Max a coloured shot of yours truly in the native haunts, which have almost become as familiar to me as my own stamping grounds here in the Queen City.
Youll note from the enclosed that Ken has you down to do a reading next April at the Gallery, although he tells me that at the moment its nothing more than a hope. However, I sincerely hope that if you and the Missus can see your way clear at all to make the trip that youll do it. For one, it would be a shame not to take advantage of the fact that the Canada Council would foot your expenses and pay you a reading fee: but most important, the charge that you could give to the poetic scene here, most of the younger members of which have turned their back on contemporary matters and retreated back into the sixteenth century. You could well make them see that the local can be truly turned into the universal if the love and the care is there.
Best to all your present work. Send me a poem for Combustion sometime-it can be used elsewhere without any trouble, it just wouldnt die in my pages.
My heads still in a whirl from your visit. Ken says hell never be the same again. I think 1960 will go down in the history of Canadian poetry as the year Charles Olson invaded Canada with a fighting column of poetry. . . . .
The enclosed appeared in one of the local rags yesterday. 35 You may or may not like it. Ken will probably be sending you another copy just in case paper runs out some morning. . . .
Believe me, it was the greatest weekend.
Leroi Jones was good enough to bring me a copy of the Collect MAX when he came up here in October to kick off this years Contact readings. He got here October 18th and that same day I got the word your tape from the Gallery from April would be on the C. B. C. that night. So we took our pocket transitor radio along with us when we went out pub crawling that evening with Leroi. And at 10:30 sitting in the Westover Basin Street Room with Mike Whites Imperial Jazz Band roaring in our ears we tuned in on the C. B. C. and Charles Olson reading at the Greenwich, but all I ever heard (I swear it) was the sound of pages being turned over. Honestly, though, I heard since that it was a great broadcast and did you proud.
You asking about Combustion is like asking how does the corpse stink that has been buried a couple of months. When I got up around issue 13 I knew it was near the end, the stuff I was getting didnt swing any more, and I knew I had to get out of it while the going was good. #14, and Im sorry you didnt get one, was an edition of 50 copies only, as that was all the remains of a 1000 sheets I had left, and all went to the contributors. I have no regrets over it, we had a good run, and I think it did a little good.
From the enclosed youll see we have these readings in a new location this year bigger room, room for more people, and a little better publicity. 36 These people have in mind something horrible [in margin: next year] like a writers workshop and all that garbage: a good idea maybe if you were left alone and could do what you want, but these people always have their hand in the pie and it tries my patience sometimes. But were having Zukofsky up and Cid and Ted Enslin later and Leroi was a ball, so its not all a dead loss. Maybe youll come up again next year if the thing is still going? By that time we should be able to manage a better fee (weve got it up to 50 bucks this year). And Toronto opens up a little more all the time.
Dont hear very much from Ken, but I sent your letter along and I know hes back in London from behind the Iron Veil or whatever they call it. Where writers live like kings in former palaces and all they have to pay for it is their guts. By guts I mean poetry like Max-and this last section of it a delight, the 1st Letter on Georges, Max to Gloucester, July 19th, but all of it great, and that it should finally get out in a two buck edition the best poetry news in a decade. 37 If you dont get whatever prizes are going for this, Mr Olson, you should spite them all and run for next President (and speaking of Presidents, I see by the papers you had the bars open election day (to get the bad taste of it out of the mouth, I suppose).
Got a new book, a good one, I hope, out soon, 38 and will lay one by you, at my peril, I suppose. But throw the good high hard fast ones at me, as long as you keep out there pitching. Salud,
28 Mayfield Ave,
Im at this business again of lining up poets for our 1961-62 reading series, and damned if these here locals dont want back a real herring-choker named Olson back here to give them the real gospel.
Seriously, though, many people have asked for you back, and I want you back, and if the Canada Council comes through well be able to have you back. How would Feb. 24th suit you?
McRobbie should be back from Limeyland by then (he says by Xmas) and a fresh boatload is expected (of Cutty Sark) in Toronto harbour about that date, so how about it? Reading in the new enlarged Gallery, a poets dream. 39
Have a new book on the way for the past six months, hope to lay one on you one of these months. Saw your new one-great to have all the old ones under one roof.
Lets hear from you soon. Salud,
P. S. Money deal the same, or more if we can chisel it. . . .
October 3, 1985.
Dear Charles Olson:
Pardon the card, but am in haste, and I want only to say that youll accept my invitation to contribute something in the poetry line to a special Anniversary issue of Combustion which Vic Coleman is doing at the end of the year, offset printing job, with those contributing including Zukofsky, Turnbull, Corman, Niedecker, Avison, Enslin etc. 40 Can give you up to 10 pages if you feel that ambitious. Only catch, no payment. Would like to have it by November 15th: if youre not interested Id appreciate a line, otherwise Ill be holding space for you. Hope all goes passably, or however it passes in Buffalo.
Notes to the Letters
The first Contact Press book was Cerberus (Toronto: Contact Press, 1952), which, incidentally, contains (in Sousters preface to his section of the book) what is probably the first mention of Olsons name in print in Canada. [back]
Such an anthology was never published. [back]
Cid Corman was the editor of Origin. Vincent Ferrini was a Gloucester, Massachusetts poet and editor of the magazine Four Winds. Olsons Letter 5 of The Maximus Poems (New York: Jargon/Corinth, 1960) is a diatribe against Ferrini and his magazine. [back]
Dudek was at this time a student at Columbia University. [back]
Olsons letters to Souster are now in the Library of Lakehead University. The earliest one present, however, is dated October 8, 1955. The two poems are named in the following letter. [back]
Olsons Projective Verse was first published in Poetry New York #3 (1950), pp. 13-22. A portion of it was included in William Carlos Williams The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams (New York: Random House, 1951), pp. 329-32. [back]
Charles Olson, I, Maximus (Letter No. 2), Four Winds #1 (Summer 1952), pp. 40-42, and HE, WHO IN HIS ABANDONED INFANCY . . . , ibid. , p. 43. Cid Corman, Commerce ibid, pp. 30-31. [back]
Charles Olson, The Leader, Contact 2, 1 (November-January 1952/1953), p. 7; These Days, ibid. , p. 6. [back]
Charles Olson, This (Black Mountain: Black Mountain College Graphics Workshop, 1952), reprinted in Contact #8 (September-December 1953), pp. 18-19. [back]
"Merce of Egypt was first published in the Montevallo Review 1, 4 (Summer 1953), Hip. 20-21. It was collected in In Cold Hell, In Thicket (Mallorca: Divers Press, 1953), pp. 62-3 (this book constituted the eighth issue of Origin), and reprinted in Contact #8 (September-December 1953), pp. 1-2. [back]
The Divers Press was a small press in Mallorca with which Robert Creeley was associated. Jargon was the name under which Jonathan Williams (a student of Olsons at Black Mountain College) published books. [back]
The letter here referred to has apparently not survived. [back]
The first issue of the Black Mountain Review is dated Spring, 1954. It contained a review by Robert Creeley (pp. 51-4) of Cerberus, n Canadian Poems 1850-1952 (both Contact Press books), and Contact #4-8. [back]
Charles Olson, Mayan letters, ed. Robert Creeley (Mallorca: Divers Press, 1953). [back]
The tenth and last issue of Contact is dated March, 1954. [back]
CIV/n, the Montreal-based little magazine edited by Aileen Collins from 1953-54. Dudeks review of The Maximus Poems appeared in the fifth issue, pp. 26-7, and is reprinted in his Selected Essays and Criticism (Ottawa: The Tecumseh Press, 1978), p. 37. [back]
This most likely refers to For What Time Slays (Toronto: Contact Press, 1955). Olson acknowledges receipt of this book and comments extensively on it in his letter to Souster of October 8,1955, now in the library of Lakehead University. [back]
English poet Gael Turnbull. [back]
The decision to close Black Mountain College was made early in the fall of 1956. . . [though] Olson stayed on . . . for about six months to wind up its affairs. See Mar tin Duberman Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1972), pp. 411-12. [back]
Paul Blackburn, The Dissolving Fabric (Mallorca: The Divers Press, 1955). [back]
In his reply of January 6, 1957 (letter in the library of Lakehead University), Olson wrote:
(Quoted with the permission of the Estate of Charles Olson). The seventh issue of
the Black Mountain Review (Spring 1957) was, in fact, the last. [back]