Concerning Exaggeration, or How, Properly, to Heap Up Themes

Charles Olson

Themes and Meanings

“Concerning Exaggeration, or How, Properly, to Heap Up” is about the full flowering of the ideal poet and human being through movement beyond delimiting social conditioning (literally, the exaggeration of the self in the form of a “heaping up”) into a whole universe of being and becoming.

Olson’s influential essay “Projective Verse” (1950) rejected the partitioning of reality separating the human from the natural world as well as the subjective from the objective realm of being. Poetry is to assist readers in breaking down conventional boundaries and in experiencing the totality of things by avoiding abstraction and logical deduction and by striving for a cumulative inductive barrage of disordered feelings and thoughts to humble the intellect into a reoriented perception of a whole universe of being and becoming. Poetry is, therefore, inherently an exaggeration because it reimagines the world, enabling readers to transcend socially conditioned boundaries and grasp at new possibilities of seeing and self-realization.

As Sherman Paul wrote in Olson’s Push: “Origin,” Black Mountain, and Recent American Poetry (1978), such self-actualization through projective verse is the ultimate end of the poet’s art and thought: “Felicity comes of obeying what [Ralph Waldo] Emerson called the soul’s emphasis.” In another of Olson’s experimental essays, published in Origin, there is an attack on Socrates for fathering the delimiting Western system of education: “his methodology still the RULE: ‘I’ll stick my logic up, and classify, boy, classify you right out of existence.’ ”

Olson’s “Concerning Exaggeration, or How, Properly, to Heap Up” is one of many experimental poems designed to dispel the conventional rule-mongering of his contemporaries and to extend the reach of the human psyche into the totality of reality. To achieve this end, the poem must not simply represent reality; it must also present and project a total reality to its readership through elaborate exaggeration.