Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The K” is about remaking oneself into a “tumescent I” by moving into a wider world of being and becoming, beyond the conventional boundaries of Western civilization and in harmony with nature’s lunar force.

Olson’s influential essay “Projective Verse” (1950) rejected the partitioning of reality separating the human from the natural world. Poetry is to assist readers in breaking down conventional boundaries and in experiencing the totality of things: “A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it,by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader. Okay. Then the poem itself must, at all points, be a high energy-construct and, at all points, an energy discharge.” Thus, the poem must go beyond the representation of meaning and seek a presentation of reality to end the estrangement between the socially conditioned self and the totality of the objective world of nature.

In another of Olson’s experimental essays, “Human Universe” (1965), there is an attack against Socrates for fathering the delimiting Western system of education: “We have lived long in a generalizing time, at least since 450 b.c.e. And it has had its effects on the best of men, on the best of things. Logos, or discourse, for example, has, in that time, so worked its abstractions into our concept and use of language that language’s other function, speech, seems so in need of restoration that several of us go back to hieroglyphs or to ideograms to right the balance. (The distinction here is between language as the act of the instant and language as the act of thought about the instant.)” Olson’s poetry, indulging in a regular use of ideograms influenced by Pound, aimed to retrieve language’s supposedly lost function of speech for a vivid communication of actuality (“the act of the instant”) transcending the cognitive detachment of abstraction and generalization. “Art does not seek to describe but to enact”: “The K” attempts to fulfill this artistic imperative.