Thursday, June 01, 2006

Silliman Takes On Olson


















Updated: Ron Silliman has another post up today on Charles Olson - specifically, on Olson's Projectivist poetics. His earlier posts are here and here. While there're issues to take (see below), etc., they're worth a read.

One quibble I have, for starters, is with his attribution to Olson of an error with regard to the smallest unit of sound in language (or, as Olson has it "the smallest particle of all"), the syllable, per Olson. Silliman attributes this error to Olson wading "clumsily" through "his homegrown linguistics", and points out that for actual linguists the smallest unit of sound is the phoneme; phonemes are what characters in a written alphabet are an attempt to transcribe. Even the simple English word "be", Ron notes, contains two phonemes.

For a poet, though, the syllable really is the smallest relevant unit of sound; we don't hear phonemes, just as we don't hear the two in Ron's simple word of choice. Poets work with audible units. And the dynamics of poetry, the somatic grounding of the poem, is the context for Olson's assertion.

Olson can be the most gnarly of writers, but even his apparently offhand parentheses can sometimes crackle with lightning bolts of insight. Ron's is the first attempt I think I've seen to give "Projective Verse" a close reading, and, if I were wearing a hat, I'd give it a tip in his direction for the light he does bring to bear on the Big O! If you're interested in Olson, do check out what the man has to say.

More, surely, later.

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Update: There's now a fourth part up here.


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The photo of Olson at a Black Mountain College meeting in the early 50s is by Hazel Larsen Archer. Her work is the focus of Hazel Larsen Archer: Black mountain College Photographer, recently published by the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center.

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