Thursday, May 14, 2009

Blog: Alexander Olson


Mr. Colbert’s interview with Elizabeth Alexander, although quite comical, was interesting because Alexander explained her views on different forms of poetry and her views on her poem, Praise Song for the Day, in a simplistic, but yet enlightening method. The interview also speaks upon the various ways in which a person can interpret a poem and the meanings behind everyone word and idea. If Charles Olson attended the interview or had the opportunity to respond to Alexander’s poem itself, he would draw ideas from the essential points of Project Verse by Charles Olson which are “the kinetics…, the principle…, and the process.” (Olson)

Many times during the interview, Colbert constantly inquired, what the difference is between a metaphor and a lie. He also asked, why don’t you just say what you mean? Alexander responded by saying a metaphor is a way of using language to show comparisons and how one thing relates to another. She also felt that metaphors are used to increase language. If Olson were to comment on Alexander’s response, he would agree with her in the sense that metaphors, along with other literary techniques are necessary in conveying a deeper meaning of the content. Olson would describe this as the use of process, one of the major ideas in Projective Verse, because various literary techniques, such as metaphors are used to “shape the energies that the form is accomplished.” (Olson) Olson believes, “one perception must immediately and directly lead to a further perception” (Olson) and by using metaphors, writers are able to compare objects and elaborate not only on their importance as individual objects, but on the significance they convey as a whole, which furthers the thought process and perception.

Colbert continued the interview by asking Alexander, what is an occasional poem? She responded by saying it is a poem written for a specific occasion and gave the example of her poem, Praise Song for the Day, as a poem written exclusively for the inauguration. Colbert gave an example of an occasional poem he knew of, but Alexander emphasized the importance of breaking traditional views of occasional poems, by incorporating words that will hold a greater significance to the readers after the event is over. Olson would again agree with Alexander because of his views on “…the principle…” (Olson). Olson entered a new era of writing when he broke “away from traditional lines and stanzas” (Olson). Olson and Alexander are similar in their desires to go beyond ordinary writing and introduce diverse aspects of writing.

If Olson were to respond to Alexander’s poem, he would find many ideas of her writing similar to his ideas. Alexander began her poem with, “each day we go about our business/ walking past each other, catching each other's/ eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.” (Alexander 1-3) Alexander immediately establishes the idea the people go about their day, consumed with their own thoughts and rarely pay attention to anything that does not concern them. The speaker of Olson’s poem, The Songs of Maximus, also notices this and takes a more subtle approach to his day, “this morning of the small snow/ I count the blessings, the leak in the faucet/ with makes the sink time.”(Olson) The speaker of The Songs of Maximus comments on how the sink becomes time as water leaks into it from the faucet and it appears as if the speaker realizes how quickly time can drain. Alexander and Olson both convey the importance in taking notice to the finer things life has to offer.

In the Projective Verse, Olson comments on straying away from traditional writing and he does so with the intricate ways he breaks up the lines in his poems and uses this to aid the readers in understanding where one needs to pause before continuing to read. This essentially allows the readers to better understand the full content of the poem. Olson says many contemporary writers have trouble with untraditional writing because they “…go lazy RIGHT HERE WHERE THE LINE IS BORN.” (Olson) The readers assume that Olson feels that just as a writer comments on situations that are prevalent issues in their society, he falls short. However, Olson would have responded to Alexander’s lines in Praise Song for the Day, “say it plain: that many have died for this day/ sing the names of the dead who brought us here” (Alexander 25-26) in a positive way. Alexander showed that she was not timid in addressing past difficult issues because she was confident in knowing that those issues were significantly impact the message she strongly desired to convey.

The overall ideas of Alexander’s poem connected with many of the points Olson introduced in Projective Verse and in Ferrini’s film because they both understand the importance of looking to the past for guidance in determining a brighter future. Olson would respond to Alexander’s poem as following his idea of kinetics, a poem that has energy “transferred from where the poet got it, by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader.” (Olson) Olson was consumed with the city of Gloucester and horrified by numerous changes, but in Ferrini’s film Olson noted that he only wanted to find a way to honor the past and still make the present as good as possible. Both Alexander and Olson take the passage of time, and history into account when writing poems and although they do not try to stop progression, they simply see the importance of noting their origin in order to prepare themselves for life altering changes.

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