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Lecture

Commentary on the First Poem

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Department
English
Course
English 2060E
Professor
Prof
Semester
Fall

Description
In The Poetry of Charles Olson, Thomas F. Merrill writes, “From the point of view of one who considers the poet a ‘maker’ or craftsman of ‘discrete’ poems that thereupon become available for analysis, interpretation, and criticism, projective verse will inevitably seem perverse, for it rejects the overt manipulation of reality that such words as ‘craft’ and ‘art’ imply. Fealty to the real is the overriding criterion…. [T]he projective mode asks the poet to assume an attitude of passive obedience to the inner and outer experiences that he registers” (54). Due to the rejection of “craft,” the poem, as Merrill later suggests, is akin to conversation – with all its logical inconsistencies, pauses, hesitations, circumlocutions, and particularity. It lacks what crafted writing normally possesses: in that it is without a sense of one meaning or purpose. Marlatt follows Olson. She is influenced by his injunctions as well as his poems such as the Maximus poems. Recorded (and unedited!) conversations would resemble Marlatt’s poetry in Steveston – even with its incomplete brackets—as the speaker/walker/poet gets sidetracked by words’ multiple meanings in addition to their colloquial usages. Take a look at the first poem, “imagine: a town” Imagine a town running (smoothly? NOW, stop and think about the connection that Marlatt has just made, the levels she works through in those two lines. What usually runs? A river? We begin with the river in connection with the town, but that word “running” brings other associations to mind. What runs smoothly? A business? A car? Given the corporatization of Steveston the village at the time, what associations might the use of the word “running” and/or smoothly bring to mind? Back to the poem with the line “a town running before a fire” – again, can a town run? Now the motivation for running – away – becomes clearer. But how does the image work poetically for you? What runs together and what images become more distinct? “Canneries burning” – here’s one of the historical moments from Steveston’s past brought into movement and the speaker’s present, her attempt to bring the reader into that moment with the initial word/command of the poem “imagine”. The next lines inquire as to the power of our imaginations and suggests, again, the associations of the speaker’s mind. We’re carried by lines of association, conversation, not logic or conventional narrative patterns of beginning, middle, end. Often, the brackets offer commentary on the previous statement as you can see a few lines down: He said they were playing cards in the Chinese mess hall, he said it was dark (a hall? a shack. – the mess hall is not a cafeteria as we might imagine at first, so the speaker needs to clarify the image we may have called to mind – it’s a shack. We need to revisualize. Throughout the poem, Marlatt moves forward only to move back to clarify images, meaning on a minor level, if not th
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