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Since Olson’s poem is famously difficult and puzzling, and since I claim no great knowledge of the work, I thought it might be helpful to you if I simply reported what a few students of the poem have said about its language and visual design.
Charles Bernstein, for instance, writes that a
stirring, iconic voice rises up in this poem, one phrase tumbling upon the next, hectoring, charged, bursting through the dead silence and complacency often associated with [a] proto Cold War moment in U.S. history.
Bernstein thinks that the language of the poem challenges the conformist attitudes of the time. According to Bernstein,
The poem is a bracing test of nonlinear reading: because it quickly loses the reader trying diligently to “follow,”
so that its language demands multiple re-readings that never resolve into absolute clarity, at least in Bernstein’s view.
Thomas F. Merrill notes that the poem has been read both as a polemic (against the kind of poetry written by T. S. Eliot) and as a parody (also of Eliot’s verse), although Merrill himself suggests that both of these approaches to the language of the poem are inadequate. Merrill himself, however, offers such a very detailed reading of the poem that it would be difficult to summarize it here.
Daniel Belgrad, who considers “The Kingfishers” to be a “dialogic poem,” argues that the work is a
chain of associations that progresses into the past. The narrator thinks back after a moment of awakening from a troubled night.
Stephen Fredman notes that the poem
consists of many short poetic units, whose continuity with one another can be hard to detect. (http://tinyurl.com/3vvpsy4
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Meanwhile, Edward Halsey Foster suggests that the poem is indebted, in its shapes, both to ideograms and to the process of making collages,
which bring seemingly unrelated material into a new resolution. http://tinyurl.com/3hxwbhb
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