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
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
“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