Administering Poetic Breath for the People

Lisa Siraganian

in Modernism’s Other Work

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780199796557
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932542 | DOI:
Administering Poetic Breath for the People

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This chapter explores Charles Olson’s and Amiri Baraka’s various ways of letting the body into their writing. Olson’s Maximus (1960-1970), for example, equates fidelity to a viewer’s particular perception and body with fidelity to meaning, privileging American immigrant experiences in the process. He imagines that the puff of air he breathes (when speaking a word) can be an element of that world—like a piece of newspaper—captured by the poet. Drawing on archival sources, we see how Olson injects his pluralist poetics with the administrative ideology he developed in the 1940s at the US Office of War Information. Such a relationship between perception, politics, breath, and meaning also characterizes Amiri Baraka’s early writing (as LeRoi Jones), when he identifies Olson’s influence on his work in “How You Sound??” (1960). Although Baraka’s Black Nationalist poetry of the 1960s and early 1970s explicitly rejects white American poetry, his adoption of Olson’s poetics of identity emphasizes racial qualities of voice over the meaning of words.

Keywords: Olson, Charles; The Maximus Poems (1960-1970); projective verse; Baraka, Amiri [LeRoi Jones]; US Office of War Information (OWI); political administration; immigrant; perspective; Black Nationalism; mapping

Chapter.  13334 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)

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