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

Charles Olson

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Concerning Exaggeration, or How, Properly, to Heap Up” is a long poem of one hundred lines describing the ideal poet and the fully realized human being, both of whom reject conventional limitations for identification with the totality of reality through exaggeration (literally, from the Latin root, “to heap up”), requiring a movement of the self into a reimagined world of fulfilling possibilities.

Written in 1951, the poem first appeared in In Cold Hell, in Thicket, edited by a poetic disciple, Robert Creeley, in 1953. The volume was the only book of short poems to be completed when Charles Olson was rector of Black Mountain College, an experimental alternative to conventional colleges, located in North Carolina. Both Black Mountain College and this collection of poems were intended as antidotes to the status quo in modern Western literature and culture, and the poems established Olson as a new force in American poetry.

In part 1, the speaker advises circumspection (meaning both “caution” and “a fully rounded perspective”) regarding conventional notions of “blood” (restricted social perceptions of one’s inherited identity). The advice is that people must all take a revolutionary look at all their “economies” and conventional systems and assumptions. The speaker then makes a major affirmation; namely, that he is more than the restricted, detached, or conventional self conditioned by society; he is everything, feels and affects everything, and expresses (or poetically sings) everything, be it wild or indifferent (lines 1 through 9).

Part 2 focuses on “How, Properly, to Heap Up”—in other words, how the speaker and the reader can best create such oneness with the totality of...

(The entire section is 715 words.)