Worcester County Poetry Association
Established 1971
Worcester County Poetry Association / PO Box 804, Worcester, MA 01613 / 508-797-4770 / wcpaboard@yahoo.com

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The Charles Olson Centenary
Worcester, Massachusetts

That’s all. I said. I promise to witness.
Charles Olson, Interview, 1970

To build out of sound the walls of the city
And display in one flower the wunderworld so that
By such means the unique stand forth
Clear itself shall be made known.
Charles Olson, Unpublished Fragment

Charles Olson’s inventiveness as a poet and scholar, as well as his engagement in community and national politics, have rendered him an American poet who continues to be an originating influence in our times. 
Please join us as we mark the centenary with a challenging few days of poetics, friendship, and exploration.

We welcome the participation of poets, presenters, scholars and participants. Contact the WCPA or Olson Centenary Chair Mark Wagner at markgwagner@charter.net for additional information.


Charles Olson photo courtesy of Charles Olson Papers,
Archives & Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.
A Brief Biography

Charles Olson was born in Worcester, December 27, 1910, the son of working-class parents, a Swedish immigrant father and an Irish Catholic mother. They lived on Mitchell Street, moving in 1912 to 6 Norman Avenue. In 1914 his family settled in a third-floor apartment at 4 Norman Avenue, where he was raised. Throughout his youth and into his years at Classical High School Olson struggled to overcome his consciousness of his size and height. He went to Wesleyan College in 1928.

Olson has strong association with two places other than Worcester: Black Mountain College, North Carolina, where in the 1950s Olson was a teacher, rector, advancing alternative ways of thought and verse; and Gloucester, Massachusetts, a north shore fishing community where he spent his childhood summers and a place that would provide the major background for his epic work, The Maximus Poems, which are rich in myth, full of geography, history, architecture, and personal reflections. Though his poetry may not be focused heavily on Worcester, in 1965 at a public reading in Berkeley, California, after reading a poem titled “An Ode on Nativity,” a poem set in Worcester, Olson blurted out, “Gee, I’m moved. Wow, I never write about Gloucester like this. Do you think? I’ve been wrong all this time… My subject is Worcester.” Though these words may have been spoken in jest, some of Olson’s finest moments are Worcester ones. Three stories about his boyhood in Worcester are “Stocking Cap,” “Mr. Meyer” and “The Post Office,” each a loving tribute to a father who took his young son berrying in the summer, gathering walnuts and wild grapes in the fall, and fishing through the ice on Worcester’s lakes in the winter. In “The Post Office,” Olson describes his father’s mail route in Worcester:

It stretched along the lake which bounds the city on the east.
Originally the route ran on both sides of the lake south from the
bridge which carried the road to Boston. The bridge alone, and the
other wooded side (where nothing much was but the city’s amusement
park and some summer camps) were enough to make the route what
my father would like. Just to cross the bridge a winter morning…
or to be a part of the boating around in the summer and the fall,
gave his workday a freedom

Before Olson left Worcester in 1928 to attend Wesleyan, as Classical High School’s star speaker he had won a summer-long trip to Europe, top prize in a national oratory contest. He received a BA at Wesleyan and stayed on to earn an MA in 1933, writing his thesis on Herman Melville. Olson returned to Worcester to teach at Clark University. He was a favorite among the freshmen students he taught and proctored. He received two Guggenheim fellowships and a grant from the Gren Foundation to study Mayan hieroglyphics.

During WWII, Olson worked in the Office of War Information, then in Roosevelt’s 1944 re-election campaign. Finding no place for an artist in such pursuits, Olson left politics and began writing poetry seriously in the period during which he served as informal secretary to Ezra Pound at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, DC. In 1950 he stepped out of the footsteps of Pound and began the development of post-modern free-verse with Robert Creeley.

In 1957, Olson retreated to Gloucester to concentrate on his own poetry, emerging occasionally, the leader of anew poetic counterculture. He taught briefly in Buffalo and at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. He died in 1970 at the New York Hospital and is buried in Beechwood Cemetery, West Gloucester. Charles Olson was an extremely influential poet. His stature did not lie merely in his physical size but in the mythic dimension of his work.

Olson on Film

Polis Is This:
Charles Olson and the Persistence of Place

A film by Henry Ferrini

Link to Ferrini Productions

The following events are FREE & Open to the Public
1989 Charles Olson Anniversary Issue
Order from The Worcester Review

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

3:00pm - Discussion
Activism & Poetry
with poet
Anne Waldman

Higgins Labs, Room 116

7:00pm - Poetry Reading
Anne Waldman
Salisbury Labs, Room 115

Worcester State College Fuller Theater


Film Short
Kim Spurlock: In Cold Hell In Thicket

Apollonius of Tyana
Directed by Sarah Silfer

Music by
Bob Jordan, Mark Wagner, Adam Zelny

Ed Sanders
Sings and Talks and Plays

Clark University - Dana Commons

Registration and Morning Reception
9:00am - 10:00am

Opening Remarks
John Bassett, President, Clark University

Opening Discussion
Moderator: Mark Wagner

Fred Dewey
Ammiel Alcalay
Olson as Public / Political Firgure

Olson and Politics of Place
Moderator: Ken Gibbs

Jim Fay
Olson in Worcester, In Pictures

Laura Jehn Menides
Charles Olson and The Blackstone Canal

Peter Anastas
Charles Olson's Call to Activism

Lunch Break
1:00pm - 2:00pm

Photographs of Denny Moers

Olson as Educator
2:00pm - 4:00pm
Moderator: James Cook

Jim Cocola
Olson as Educator

Bernard Horn
Olson's Last Class at UConn

Edmund Schofield
Anna Shaughnessy, Teacher to Stanley Kunitz,
Charles Olson and Donald Baker

Poetry Polis
Moderators: Rodger Martin and Eve Rifkah

Sasha Steensen, Pierre Jris, Bill Trembley,
Don Wellman, Dan Lewis, Robert Cronin,
Anne Waldman, Jonathan Blake, Charles Stein,
and others

Centenary Dinner
Clark University Dana Commons

Clark University - Dana Commons

Registration and Morning Reception
9:00am - 10:00am

Olson in Gloucester
Charles Olson Society of Gloucester
Polis Is This: Charles Olson
and the Persistence of Place
Film Presentation
Q & A with filmmakers Henry Ferrini and Ken Riaf

The Body and the Personal
Moderated by Stephen Gilson

Ammiel Alcalay and Kate Tarlow Morgan
The Body is a House

Donald Wellman
Olson and Autobiography

Roy Skodnick
Olson, Language and Gesture

Lunch Break
1:00pm - 2:00pm

Olson's Influence of Anxiety
Moderator: Jonathan Blake

Richard Owens
The Practical Limits of Daylights:
Charles Olson and Cambridge Poetry

Pierre Joris and Richard Owens
Olson's Influence on Contemporary European Poetics

Kenneth Warren
Charles Olson's Grail of Intuition

Sasha Steensen
Great Mother, Cow or Whore:  Charles Olson's Unlikely Influence on Contemporary Female Poets

Influences on Olson
Moderator: Jina Ortiz

Don Byrd

Carla Billiteri
Olson's Politics/Poetics of Transnational Utopia

John Woznicki
Myth, Magic and Movement in the work of Charles Olson

Chuck Stein
The Secret of the Black Chrysanthemum:
Olson and Jung

Thanks to the generosity of sponsors, this conference is FREE & Open to the Public.

Clark University
Jefferson Hall, Room 218


Project Verse
Readings by Worcester Area
College Students

Facilitated by
Susan Richmond
Ian Williams

Thanks to the generosity of the sponsors, this conference is
Free & Open to the Public
Anne Waldman performs at WPI
on Thursday night as part of the Olson Centenary.
Clark University President John Bassett
welcomes Olson scholars.
City Council member Barbara Haller reads the proclamation, signed by Mayor Joseph O'Brien, designating March 26 "Charles Olson Day" in the City of Worcester.
The program began with a lively discussion of Charles Olson's interpretation of polis.
Photos and other documents (from Jim Fay's collection) relating to the Worcester of Olson's youth were passed around as panelists discussed "Olson and the Politics of Place."
Ed Schofield, Bernard Horn, Jim Cocola and moderator James Cook discuss "Olson as Educator"
(Below) Kate Tarlow Morgan led some audience members in an exercise to illustrate the concept of proprioception.
Among those taking part in the "Poetry Polis", Chuck Stein and Anne Waldman read poems by Olson and their own work under the gaze of a portrait of Charles Olson by Doherty High School student Keenan Cassidy. 
Richard Ardizzone leads faculty and student members of the Joy of Music Program Jazz Ensemble during the Friday evening dinner.
Olson Centenary Scrapbook
Mural celebrating the friendship between
Vincent Ferrini and Charles Olson.
Visit artist Erik Lomen's website.

A blog on the poetry and poetics of Charles Olson edited by Michael Kelleher and Ammiel Alcalay

Denny Moers, "Gloucester 1"
(for forthcoming book on Charles Olson)

Go to Denny Moers' website.
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