Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: Poets and Poetry)

Parallel to his abandonment of syntax was Olson’s rejection of what he called flowing narrative, or stories which carry the reader along and allow an effortless merging with an apparently natural flow of events. “Experience,” he wrote,like matter, is discontinuous, and the act of writing is the act of object. It is an essential act, to align experience, and by words alone to create such space around the words that they become a thing as solid in the mind, or the ear, as a stone or cowslip in the hand.

Instead, he sought what he called a narrative of resistance, in which each poetic object stands separate from those around it, without being linked into some systematized narrative that creates a false hierarchy of events by forcing them to bend to the necessities of the narrative structure. Events should be presented with equal emphasis throughout, not highlighted or glossed over according to the whims of the story line; however, flowing narrative has such a strong hold on the imagination that it proves difficult to represent experience in its actual discontinuity.

Indeed, Olson realized that in the first volume of The Maximus Poems he had fallen into the trap. He had attempted to create a flowing narrative from the myriad events recorded of Gloucester’s history. The attempt to center the later development of Gloucester on a battle over a fishing stage discounted the innumerable hidden events, those that went unnoted in historical accounts but had as much influence upon Gloucester as the more notable events. One...

(The entire section is 634 words.)