Charles Olsen: “The poet as pedagogue / Is the teacher”

“Charles Olson was a didactic poet, poetical pedagogue, a ‘poet-teacher’ par excellence. This inclination, however, must be understood as more than the mere juxtaposition or conjunction of two separate but equal vocations. For Olson, to be a poet was perforce to be a teacher and visa versa, the two inextricably entwined, the practices of one intending the principles of the other. Pedagogy necessitates a poetics, which I mean in both its narrowest sense—as the art, theory or study of any versified literary text—as well as more broadly—as the discursive formation of concepts. Olson believed tacitly that, since all communication is educative and poetry is the highest form of communication, poetry is naturally the preeminent means of educative communication. ‘The poet is the only pedagogue left, to be trusted’. Despite its total commitment to factual minutiae, its Olson’s verse does not at all aim to convey facts. In this sense, though an instrument of instruction, it would categorically fail to ‘teach the test’ (as they say). In fact, despite the much-quoted principle of ‘projective verse’, first published in Olson’s 1950 eponymous essay, that ‘form is never more than an extension of content’,  content is of no real practical concern to Olson’s pedagogical poetics. This seems counterintuitive given the degree to which his verse engages frequently in the direct presentation of somewhat raw and oftentimes obscure historical data seemingly at odds with what might be considered poetic structure as typically (or even unusually) understood. … While critics often debate the import of Creeley’s (quasi-dogmatic) phrase, rather less commonly do they observe the context in which it was first uttered, namely critical thinking about poetic structure and pedagogy. ‘Form has become so useless a term that I blush to use it’, Creeley wrote, before attacking ‘the analyzers, in poetry/ who are NOT the analyzers in poetry (…) the Poet as Pedagogue/ is the TEACHER’.  A more extreme example of Olson’s radical disinterest in conveyable content might be found in the two blank facing-pages at the end of the middle section of Maximum Poems IV, V, VI.  This is contentlessness as pure form. …”
Black Mountain Research
Plan for the Operation of Black Mountain College after 1956, Charles Olson, ca. 1954

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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