Wednesday, June 07, 2006

thinking with a small "t": or the small "t" of missed opportunities

Reading through an old copy of Line, the excellent journal out of SFU (is it still running??), in preparation for a post on Daphne Marlatt I find a series of letters from Charles Olson to Irving Layton of all people... This I found fascinating. Olson and Layton? Who knew. And it made me wonder how Canadian poetry might have developed had Layton been able to get Olson up to lecture at Concordia as early as 1954? What small thinking led to this oversite? Such a missed opportunity. Here is Olson's reply to Layton:
Black Mountain N.C. {end of March 1954}

God damn it. I'm sore. And just becoz I'd set my heart on this thing.

Look: fer chris sake (1) do you have to give it up so easily? & (2) why didn't you damn well let me know at any time previous that (a) it was a Lit Society, & (b) that you were having such other guests as Campbell, Auden & the shit Viereck? [How much do they cost???]
and later:
how come you find the till empty just now???
how come the money got spent on
Auden (Eng)
Campbell (Eng)
Viereck (Eng)
By God, Layton. Come on. Come up to it. Or don't, for Christ sake, dangle somebody like me 45 months or more....
Geeesh. How much about the development of Anglo-Canadian poetry does that tell us? But love this opening letter from Olson to Layton:
Mt. Sept 28 53

My dear Layton:

i take you as a sign. The sophistication of yr verse contradicts yr own cry that, there, sd poet is in exile.
(1) That he is, anywhere, conspicuously in the Northern American states;
&(2), that at a
certain point of time (end of Renaissance, atleast) this position
makes him leader of any citizen: all are exiled, from a usable earth

And so a point of connection did not blossom and extend to a larger body of poets/establish roots there in Montreal. All because Louis Dudek "did not like" Olson's verse! Damn the infernal ties with the most conservative strands of British poetry! (Isn't this still the case in Montreal??) Damn small thinking of all kinds. And so a whole other decade before the Vancouver conference! But what riches we have all inherited from that...thank God the west coast said Yes. Say yes, damn it! Just say yes!

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