Burt Kimmelman

The William Bronk-Charles Olson Correspondence
(Originally published as Issue 22 of the Minutes of the Charles Olson Society, January 1998, reproduced here with the kind permission of Ralph Maud)


         By the time William Bronk first ventured a letter to Charles Olson, at the beginning of 1956, these two poets and essayists, both publishing in Origin and The Black Mountain Review, had already been reading one another's work for quite a while.1 Their subsequent exchanges of letters grow cautiously though progressively warmer over a period of more than twelve years. They attempted to get together on three occasions, but the casual nature of their efforts in this regard, coupled with bad timing, kept them physically apart. In 1962, Olson tried Bronk at home, in Hudson Falls; he was out of town. Similarly, in 1956, Bronk had missed Olson at his apartment in the East Village. Later, turning up one morning at Black Mountain College, hoping to see both Olson and Robert Creeley, Bronk was received by Robert Duncan who pronounced that Olson did not see anyone until after noon. Bronk chose not to wait until then. Creeley seemed not to be around. (Bronk recalled this incident to me recently.)
         The correspondence between Bronk and Olson is symmetrical, ending with a letter from Olson, in late 1967, which discloses a degree of intimacy and gentleness achieved apart from any personal contact (e.g., "I am luxuriating, even before making any breakfast, saying these things to you"). The apparent nonchalance of their attempts to meet—perhaps a kind of dancing, one around the other—does not at all mirror what goes on in the letters where both participants are focused, intense, often passionate, at times funny. Throughout these letters, indeed, each writer reveals an ever increasing respect as well as enthusiasm for his reader, despite the fact that each recognizes how different the other's style is, at least on the surface. Their expressions of pleasure at one another grow richer as they are informed by a growing familiarity.
         The subject matter of the correspondence ranges rather widely. Neither man is shy about discussing other poets, to disparage or applaud them, or about taking up the issue of the "po biz." They also talk about contemporary ideas residing outside of what might usually be considered poetic territory. What first brings Bronk and Olson together, and then serves as the central thread of their progressive dialogue, is the significance of pre-Columbian civilizations; in fact, it was this interest that provided the pretext for Bronk's first letter. Having heard back from Olson, Bronk began a series of expeditions to Mexico and Central America, in 1956, to study the ruins of the Mayan civilization. Not much earlier, he had been to Peru, to the Incan sites. What he found in these, now mostly lost, cultures greatly fueled his poetico-philosophical vision. Olson had supplied him with necessary contacts, the names of guides and the like, which he would use in getting to the Mayan remains in Yucatan and elsewhere, and in gaining access to various artifacts in Mexican museums.
         The richness of what Bronk came upon in Latin America caused a shift in the epicenter of his thinking and writing, a change that can be usefully described as one of orientation. Bronk had developed a sense of psychological and philosophical otherness, derived somewhat from his reading of writers like Thoreau, Melville and Whitman. This sense was deepened through his contemplations of ancient worlds. Now, instead of merely seeing himself as part of a continuum, that is, as a later figure within an American literary heritage that had blossomed in the nineteenth century, Bronk became more attuned to that otherness he discovered in what was left of peoples who were distant and very different from himself. He made trips to the Mediterranean as well, to the sites of antique Greece and Rome, and to ruins in Eastern Europe. Yet, above all, in his imaginary life, there were those of the Mayans. Olson, after his own journey to Yucatan, wrote The Mayan Letters. Bronk, throughout a number of years, composed many poems and essays on the Maya and Inca; he collectively titled the essays The New World. Both books were being written and published at about the same time.
         Another collection of Bronk's essays—on Thoreau, Melville and Whitman—which were published as The Brother in Elysium, parallel Olson's Call Me Ishmael in both their outlook and, again, the time frame of their creation. Bronk's relationship to Melville is exceptionally in sync with Olson's. What is clear from their respective poems and essays, as well as their letters, is that Olson and Bronk shared a common view of American literature, and not least of all the literature of the northeastern United States. They both had a passion for New England and upstate New York. Overall, their sense of history was similar, which comprehended pre-Columbian America and ancient Greece. And, fundamentally, the two men shared an eclecticism. Most importantly, they each maintained, vis-à-vis both history and literature, a holistic and human centered point of view.
         Noteworthy is the fact that—especially considering the importance of place for both Bronk and Olson, as evident in their writing—they hailed from the same geographical locale. Olson ends one letter to Bronk with the salutation, "Anyhow, over the miles, the deepest respect—from one late New Englander to another one." Bronk attended Dartmouth and Harvard; Olson and Creeley went to Harvard but, like Bronk, did not complete its curriculum, while Cid Corman, the editor of Origin, and the person who, early on, put Creeley in touch with Bronk, studied at Tufts University across the Charles River, in Boston. After school, Corman organized a circle of writers there, which was to form the core of his journal. Only when Bronk met George Oppen, in the early 1960s, was he significantly affected by a writer from beyond this region. Yet, while Oppen had grown up in California and lived there for a portion of his adult life, he was, all the same, born in the New York City area and had spent his first years on Long Island; in a later period, he lived in Brooklyn. By the time he sought Bronk out, Oppen had also migrated into Olson's life, having secured his attention (as is indicated in an Olson letter here) because of Ezra Pound's and William Carlos Williams' mentoring of Oppen, but particularly because of a review of Olson's work he wrote in Poetry.
         These three poets—Oppen, Bronk and Olson—can be grouped together for another significant reason: they were all deeply interested in mathematics and contemporary physics. In general, they thought about knowledge in the terms of post-positivism (hence, Olson remarks to Bronk in one letter, "what I'm plugging is the death of metaphysic, the absolute which turns out to have been the Jonah instead of the Whale [. . .]"). Ed Foster has written, in his book on the Black Mountain school, that "it was obviously and obsessively important for Olson to find conceptual agreement between his poetics and, say, the work of physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg." 2 The achievements of people like these two scientists can be characterized by their abandonment of Newtonian mechanics. For these poets, this abandonment spelled their own relinquishing of classical physics as a conceptual paradigm, and along with it their rejection of a transcendental world. The incorporation of scientific concepts like relativity and uncertainty are critical to Bronk's poetic enterprise. Thus, Olson's interest in physics (finally, not quite as avid as Bronk's), along with its possible relationships to poetry, mirrored the younger writer's aesthetic and conceptual concerns as they were bound up together in his work. Bronk may not have embraced his style, but instinctively he warmed to a certain attitude in Olson's poetry and in Olson himself. This attitude was substantially the result of seeing physics and mathematics as keenly relevant to poetry and to thought per se. Moreover, Bronk was fascinated by the ideas of Riemann and Boole; likewise, Olson could enjoy mathematics for its purely cerebral nature. He knew the "excitement of mental adventure," as Tom Clark writes,3
the sense of pushing beyond the frontiers of accepted definitions of reality, in which he felt quite able to share despite his scientific amateur's status. An 1823 comment of the Hungarian mathematician Bolyai Farkas to his son—"many things have an epoch in which they are found at the same time in several places, just as the violets appear on every side in the spring"—struck Olson as directly applicable not only to projective geometry but to the postmodern pursuit of knowledge in general; the quote became for him a touchstone statement on the process by which a plurality of minds may arrive unbeknownst to one another at parallel advances, and thus an image of a common intellectual "company" which he would always find particularly gratifying. No less appealing to him was the response [. . .] of Bolyai Farkas' son Bolyai János: "I have created a new universe out of nothing." On the instinctive conjectural level at which he functioned best as a creative thinker, Olson's own later discoveries in open-field poetics, his aesthetic formulations of verse as "projective space," can in large part be traced back to these early [. . .] inquiries of 1946.
         Some of these mathematical notions, as they were appropriated by Olson in "Projective Verse" and elsewhere, are comparable with certain of Bronk's pivotal conceptions that form the basic structure of his later rhetoric. His tendency was not only to use the ideas of modern physics, but as well those arising from mathematics, for asserting his signature concept summed up in his locution, worldlessness, in poems like "Boolean Algebra: X2=X" and "Euclidean Spaces: Linear Time." In other words, his friendship with Olson, which began and continued according to their shared love of ancient Mayan and other civilizations, was also grounded in post-positivist thinking. The two areas of interest were ultimately not exclusive of one another. Bronk's correspondence with Oppen also reveals this connection, in fact with more specificity. His letters to and from Olson are, nonetheless, inflected by this same epistemology.
         Even as the Bronk-Olson correspondence is not voluminous, it is vigorous in each of its iterations. Clearly, each man cared a great deal about what the other would think and feel about both him and his letter. Some of Olson's letters are missing from what has been archived (there is the hope that they may still turn up among Bronk papers not yet catalogued). The letters would normally go back and forth, one for one, sometimes after a hiatus of time. In the early letters, Olson's encyclopedic response to Bronk's inquiry about where to go and whom to contact in the Yucatan are eventually matched by Bronk's lengthy and detailed accounts of his jungle adventures. Then the letters begin to widen their purview. First, Olson applauds Bronk's early poetic effort, Light and Dark, with an exhilarating economy of language:
                I wanted to say this : it does pivot so much on the entendre of "want" (wish and/or will, as well as desire &/or "missing" it)
                               I wld just press on you, out of love, that the desire is its own cause, & that to bring [it] into being can celebrate the edge of its act—by letting it stand as rightly as to remark the edge of loss. Men share both.

The letter prompts this delighted reply:
                What a wildman you are. I am sorry that you lose me so easily because I think I know what you are saying and I think I am in sympathy, if not agreement, with it. But are you actually saying that? I [don't] know. It leaves me uneasy. But you were kind to write. There are supreme advantages in being a neglected writer but one hesitates to enjoy them entirely without relief.

         Bronk complains about lack of recognition several more times over the years, within an expanding field of topics. His distaste for the politics of poetry, however, is a palpable counterweight. He is horrified by a radio broadcast Olson made in which he was "patronised," as Bronk sees it, by a "little group of worldly eccentrics"; this event inspires him to write his poem "In Contempt of Worldliness," which he sends along with a letter, calling it "Olson's poem," and Olson is happy to accept it as his. 4 It is at this time that Bronk comes into contact with Oppen who has recently located him through Corman. This link is made not long after Olson has himself first come across Oppen, as Bronk learns when he asks if Olson knows him. Olson's answer says a lot about his frustration at being viewed as a sort of junior Pound, and perhaps at the inevitable oversimplifications that may come about because of both book reviewing and poetry politicking:
I do know Oppen, and though some of my friends thought his review of The Distances and Maximus from Dogtown (together, Poetry, along with Ginsberg and, I think it was, Harvey Shapiro) was the old business of measuring me by Pound, and I thought to myself he raced his motor on Maximus from Dogtown, I thought his picking The Savages for a voice which was peculiarly my own, true enough. (I haven't yet seen his poems at all—though I had noticed EP's high praise, and Bill's [i.e., William Carlos Williams’] curious 'constructions' puff of him; as well as that New York Times man's putting Oppen and Resnikoff [sic] together (as of the year's poetry books) and back at some 'constructivist' point between Imagism and Objectivism, if I remember rightly. Which and maybe Oppen himself (?)—misses the point of Vorticism?
         Much as comes to be true about Bronk's epistolary relationship with Oppen, which stretched over an expanse of time, there is a mutual affecting going on in these letters. Olson says, at one point, "already you see I am obviously so influenced immediately by your style I start to write back to you like yourself! Most insinuating!" Beyond the writing, and the intermingling of world views, there are also exchanges of sympathy, for instance when Bronk writes, in 1964:
I am now at one of those times when I wish I were someone and something and somewhere else though I can't think what. And last night, trying to read my most recent poem I was aware—not having any—how much tolerance and prepossession it must take to read me at all.
         As you say of your life not having any plans for itself at all I could say also. I see this business [i.e., Bronk's lumber yard] declining and only partly regret it though what I should do when it is over is more than I could guess. I think more and more of Thoreau's really serious—even though not successful—concern for economy and employment which most people have taken for crankiness. But who has ever seen the issues more clearly than he did? How shall a man manage to be really employed?
         The vocation of poet can be difficult to defend in a world that often celebrates only utilitarianism. Olson's final years were difficult for reasons beyond this problem, yet the struggle to maintain one's self as poet was perhaps central throughout his life. His letters to Bronk shed some light on this aspect of it. In any case, in his final letter to Bronk, a restlessness seems to have abated; Olson reports, "today I am settling back into good old fashioned ways."

The Letters

Editorial note: In the following (for now, complete) correspondence, I have inserted all editorial comments using { }, in order to preserve the look of Olson's prose, because at times he uses [ ]. As well, to the best of my ability, I have employed line breaks, indentations and other kinds of spacing as closely as possible to how they are to be found in the original letters of both Olson and Bronk. I have also preserved idiosyncratic punctuation. All the same, for the sake of fluidity, I have taken some minimal liberties in reproducing the letters here, such as, for instance, omitting mention of when a new page of a letter begins.

Sources of letters: Olson's letters to Bronk are archived at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Butler Library, Columbia University. Bronk's letters to Olson are housed among The Charles Olson Papers, Archives and Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

{handwritten letter}

57 Pearl St
  Hudson Falls NY
  24 January 56

Dear Mr. Olson,

         May I presume on some acquaintances in common and our coincident appearance in some of the same periodicals?
         I expect to be in Maya country in March. When I suggested to my travel agent that he figure out some way to get me to Palenque, Tikal and Uaxactun, he said I was an unusual traveler and he would book me to Merida and after that (politely) I could go to hell or wherever.
         What do you know? Evidently you have worked in this area somewhere. No doubt I would not be unhappy in Atitlan and Chichicastinango but it is the archeological sites that I really want to see as in South America last year the really notable experience was Machu Picchu. (I sent Corman a long essay on MP but I think it shocked him--anyway, he wouldn't print it.)
                                              Would you like to suggest anything?

                                                                                                          Yours truly
                                                                                                                         Wm Bronk

{typescript letter}

                                                                                           604 East 9th Street New York City
                                                                                                 February 5, 1956

My dear William Bronk -
                                              Delighted to hear from you, and that you, too, are headed into those dry brilliant places. Yr agent cld get you to Palenque, by train either from Merida-Campeche or the same r.r. the other way, from Vera Cruz. Or, if I am not mistaken, you cld be flown from either of these terminals to Villa Hermosa, and from there take train to Palenque.
                                                                                           Tikal and Uaxactun, however, he was right abt: na da way, for the likes of him. In fact, so far as I know, you might not at all be able to get into the Peten - which is where they both are, simply that chicle operations may not any longer be pursued in that area. In any case, so far as I ever knew transport to T and U, it was from Guatemala City, by chicle planes. - But there is this to be sd abt any such places : that one can stumble on new ways by being on the ground.
                                                             I can put you on to one man in Merida who ought to be the best answerer anywhere: Gustav Stromsvik, who is Field Boss for the Carnegie Institute in all the regions of Yucatan, Guatemala and Honduras. And I think he is enough my friend - or anyone's who asks - to steer you. I don't have his address with me here in New York but if you will call the Casa Camara, and ask Senora Camara where Stromsvik is in Merida (hers is the ideal hotel there, but I understand rents only by the month now), she shld know. Or merely ask for the Carnegie Headquarters (they had a villa not far from the Camara when I was last in Merida.)

                               Now, in addition, there is Hippolito Sanchez in Campeche - or, the last news I had of him, he was the assistant to Alberto Ruiz L'huiller in the Palenque dig. He can be reached care of the Museo Arqueologico at Campeche, or, like I say, if you go to Palenque on yr way to Yucatan, you may meet him direct. He is a fine dibuchar, young and a pleasure.

                               So please, in return, keep me in touch with your travels. Or write me for more info now. For I stay interested, and have a grant from the Wenner-Gren people to return to the sites as soon as I can be free from Black Mountain affairs. In fact - and this cld be a very interesting stop for you - Gordon Ekholm, of the Am Nat History Museum here, is opening a new site this month on the edge of Chiapas and Tabasco, a crazy site he showed me pictures of in September, in which the buildings are made of fire-brick! the only known use of such {inserted here, in Olson's hand, is "in the Americas"}, and resembling Cambodia or early Mesopotamia.

                               Also : I shld very much like to see yr essay on Machu Piccu {stet} - that two of us at least, who have no righteous business writing of such things, are so writing, makes absolute sense to me. How come you got on this kick? just "travel"? or Hindians?

                               Nice to hear from you and good luck -

                                                                                                          Charles Olson {signature}
                                                                                                          Charles Olson


Hudson Falls
   8 Feb 56

Dear Mr Olson
                               I am much encouraged by the results of my various feelers and particularly by your letter which was more than kind. As things stand now I plan to go from Merida to Palenque and will try to reach Uaxactun and Tikal from Guatemala City. As you say, when one is on the ground possibilities will no doubt turn up. I have had a note from a Carnegie man named Pollock and have turned up some Dartmouth connections in G.C. which I may be able to work for something. Also I note in the N Y Times of a week or so ago that the University of Pennsylvania is opening an extensive dig and restoration at Tikal. So Chicha or no (I think though that the plantation is still there) there must be some communication to Tikal. If I can meet the right people and find them sufficiently tolerant and indulgent I may get there.
                               As to whys and howcomes there are several. March is a nasty month here and I can travel there. Beyond that as I come less and less to believe in our lives being what they are represented to be in the world of affaires {stet} textbooks and popular novels (alas, O'Hara; alas Kinsey) I go looking for what they may be when they have not been as James Baldwin says "cut down to size." I dont {stet} care about the primitive for its own sake. If I can suddenly see around the conventions of a remote society it would be something like our reality I would hope to see. We might as well live with our own conventions even if we dont believe them; and even though we dont believe them they obscure us and obscure the world. Then there is something else--maybe the same point after all--I like to remind myself how wide and various and numerous we are : how big a world we live in, for the sake of the same kind of liberation I get from a statement by Hoyle, the English astronomer, that the winds of the earth are an aspect of the earth's rotation in respect to the remotest regions of space far beyond our galaxy, and that those most remote regions are a determinant of reality as we hope to know it.
                               Well, a roundabout way to Tikal. I want to rub my hand over stelae and think about time which must be a fiction and maybe there in one of the places where the fiction was invented would be as good a place as any to wonder what other fiction might say it better.
                               I take you at your word about the Machu Picchu piece which is as you see herewith. It was another time and I dont know now where it was going or whether it still goes there. It was a demanding journey in the writing and I exulted in it. But it has penetrated no editorial hide and maybe with reason. I dont know. Gone, I guess, but not regretted.
                               Will you still be in New York at the end of this month? Shall I make you a call?


                                                                                                          10 Ap 56

Dear Mr Olson,
         I was so sorry to miss you both in NY and later in Black Mountain. You see I left Hudson Falls on 22 February--before I had heard from you--and so did not know you had gone south again. Then when I came back, I was unexpectedly in Asheville and came out to BM on the chance that you or Creeley might be there. And I did intend to come back in the afternoon but I chickened out on the weather and took the train that day to Washington instead of flying at a later hour so time ran out and I couldn't make it.
         I ended up by doing the country in tourist fashion though at less than tourist pace. We were at Chichen, Uxmal, Tikal and Zacaleu. When it came to the point, Palenque seemed too tedious a trip. So did Copan; but had I known that we could have chartered a plane for $60.00 to Copan instead of the $160.00 I was told, we should have gone. It was too late when I found out. Shook was the only archeologist at Tikal. That was the best place. The jungle very beautiful and the old temples showing abruptly and dimly in the vegetation. I was attracted here. But on the whole the Mayas and I hardly met. They remained strange and even a little repellant {stet} to me like the people at the large party you hadnt wanted to go to because you woudnt know anyone there--no one at least that you wanted to see.


                                                                                                                  Black Mt
                                                                                                                         June 12/57
My dear Bronk:
                This is a fan letter. I'm so moved by yr verse. (Have just read again Light & Dark--which I bought (!) for Jonathan Wms the night he did his reading--book showing in Asheville--my one purchase
                I wanted to say this : it does pivot so much on the entendre of "want" (wish and/or will, as well as desire &/or "missing" it)
                                                             I wld just press on you, out of love, that the desire is its own cause, & that to bring {it} into being can celebrate the edge of its act--by letting it stand as rightly as to remark the edge of loss. Men share both.
                I guess what I'm plugging is the death of metaphysic, the absolute which turns out to have been the Jonah instead of the Whale, in the sense, that it is the transcendence of the problems not any reversion to their "solutions" which overwhelm us & keep us active.
                                                             / Anyhow, over the miles,
                                                                   the deepest respect--
                                                             from one late New Englander to another one


                                                                                                                  17 Jan 57

Dear Olson
         What a wildman you are. I am sorry that you lose me so easily because I think I know what you are saying and I think I am in sympathy, if not agreement, with it. But are you actually saying that? I dont know. It leaves me uneasy. But you were kind to write. There are supreme advantages in being a neglected writer but one hesitates to enjoy them entirely without relief.
         We had an interesting stay in Mexico during March. The City for a few days, then to the Pacific coast near Puerto Vallarta and afterwards south to Oaxaca and San Cristobal de las Casas. Saw Teotihuacan, Cholula, Mitla and Monte Alban. The last is certainly enormously impressive but I thought Mitla a bore. It was mercilessly hot there and I was sick so that may have had something to do with it. A good visit to Franz Blum in las Casas a beautiful town I hope to go back to. We both came home with various intestinal parasites including amoebas in spite of having been quite restrained and cautious about what we ate and drank.
                     Be sure I am solving no problems.

                     Thanks for writing.



                                                                                                        19 February 58

Dear Olson

         I am off to the Maya country again the first of the month--some loafing on Cozumel and probably some poking around at Kabah Labura Sayil Tulum and Palenque. I understand there are also some sites on Cozumel but I havent found out much about them. If you have any hot suggestions I'll be at the Biltmore in NYC all next week.
         Not too productive a winter but could be worse: one poem of sixty lines which I haven't yet decided to dislike. What an odd lot of stuff Creeley has in the current number of BMR. Do you know Robertson of Windhover Press? I still cant get Creeley's The Dress out of him. It's too bad. That kind of press has a hard enough time financially without creating the bad feeling which welshing on advance subscriptions creates not only for him but for other little presses by association
         Corman, who says he is off to Japan, sends me his new collection, The Marches. He gets more skillful and more grown up. I have considerable respect and even affection for him. But nothing he has to say is really compelling
         I see this is no letter. Forgive my dullness. I only wanted to tell you I was off to Merida because I knew the thought would please you

                                              Bill Bronk

{handwritten} 5

                                                                                                                   5 Ap 58

Dear Olson,

         Back from the Maya. Your kind letter reached me in New York before I left and I was grateful for the introductions. Unfortunately we were in Merida only between planes and I was unable to locate Stromsvik. Subsequent inquiries of people likely to know didnt indicate he was in the area anyway. Neither did I find Sanchez in Campeche or Palenque. But no matter. I might have run across them and thanks anyway. A woman at the Hotel La Croix in Palenque remembered an Hypolito who had been in Palenque two years ago and was she thought now in Chichen.
         Cozumel is not a pretty island. It is like Yucatan, flat and dessicated. But the sun shone most of the time, the water was blue and lucid and full of wondrous creations and we had a fine time loafing and swimming and skin diving. There are extensive remains there notably a site about 2/3 of the way across the island from San Miguel. They refer to it there as two sites--Santa Rita and San Gervasio from the peasant names of ranchos in the area. There is a road that crosses the island there much like logging roads through the woods in this part of the world. I went one day with a painter woman to San Gervasio with a man to show us the way and some pitiful little horses. There is a well preserved high wall of a temple some small temples with remains of painting and red hands on the walls and quite a few columns. In one spot there is a large column all by itself and something to indicate it might have stood in the center of a small building. Bob Marx, the resident skin-diver, who is also a ruin-enthusiast (I think his strongest motive is a Spanish vision of golden treasure) told me that at Santa Rita there were pyramids with standing temples on them higher than the Castillo at Chichen Itza and four separate quadrangles larger than the monjas at Uxmal. I decided to dispense with the slow little horses and approach these on foot and alone. Marx equipped me with his marine pistol belt hung with canteen, compass and machete and with some vague directions to follow after I left the road. My feet were my defeat. It was hot that day and was always humid. I think it must have been because of that that when I got to the turning off place I had started blisters on the soles of my feet. But into the bush I struggled anyway. I dont know how long I was in there--an hour and half perhaps, hacking away with the dull machete and taking sights with the compass--when I finally decided to hell with it and decided that probably no one would ever find me again unless I could find my way back to the road and this is what I was trying to do when all of sudden I stumbled on one high pyramid from the top of which I could see another. No temples on top however. Down on the flat I found two walls of a small building with some simple carving on the stones of the cornice and nearby some long tumbled walls. Slight as it was and tired as I was, I was thrilled. When I got back to the road it took me three hours to walk home and they were painful. I was sure my feet were bloody. It turned out that they werent but I could barely step on them for two days. Another day, later, I made another attempt. Back to the house again and a conductor. But it turned out that the native knew less about the location than, by that time, I did. Or so he impressed me. And he insisted that there were no pyramids with temples on them farther to the north of there as Marx had told me. There was nada. I wanted to show a couple who were with us the ruins of San Gervasio and the day was getting on so I didnt insist. I got Marx to confess later that when he had tried to find his great temples a second time he couldnt find them either. So maybe he just has visions induced by the pressures of deep diving, a greed for gold or the chronic cramps and flux of his gut.
         One day Marx took us across the channel to Quintana Roo at a location called Xcaret (We were always planning to cross to Tulum but never made it. You have to leave in the middle of the night and in a dead calm to make it successfully). Here there are numerous well preserved but tiny buildings and some wild caves and natural cisterns. Some of the buildings are raised on mounds and some not. The doorways are barely three feet high and corbeling of the arch starts within two or three stories of the ground. Inside there is usually something like a little altar against the rear wall. In at least one instance when I had gotten almost flat on the ground to stick my head inside I found that small as the place was there was a building within the building (as with the temple of the cross at Palenque). So what was all this unless a series of shrines? Like a long via crucis. Marx says there are similar remains all down the coast to Belize.

         Palenque was wonderful. The landscape of that part of Chiapas is worth the trip itself. The beautiful contours of the rising ground covered with that lush and varied green must be a rich sight anytime but last month some huge emergent trees were in full blossom. I was transported. But what struck me here was the vast difference in architectural imagination from anything in Yucatan. The palace is a building one can enter and walk around in passing from area to area. Most Maya buildings are all exterior, great monoliths with a tiny hole bored in them here and there. One can crawl in the hole for a moment and feel the crushing weight of the masonry pushing in but it is forbidden to expand there, to extend oneself spacially {stet}. They are holes to lurk in, perhaps "the better to eat you with, my dear" but at any rate, even to a non-claustophobe, to one who loves to be held but not too tightly, sinister and dark and forbidding places. But Palenque delights in space, in inner vistas, in the opened, and closed. Palenque is the Alhambra.
         We spent an interesting day in the Puuc. area parts of which have been hideously restored. The arch at Kabah has given up its graceful ruin to become a spritely {?} vulgar and meaningless arch. But it is so coarsely awful as the great high Castillo at Labura which should certainly have Pepsi Cola in neon written across the roof coulisse {?} --or better still Bond Clothing Stores, with maybe a water fall. But is there anything more charming in all Central America than the little figures inside the cistern outside of one of the temples at Sayil, stuccoed there in positions of holding up the roof? We recognize our own world in the confinements of Mayan regalia, in the insistence of the repeated rain god Masha {?}, in the big strumpeting phalluses, the serpents etc.etc. and cry out for the same kind of relief for some secret grace and humor like Palenque or like these cistern figures. In the museum in Mexico (the museum in Villahermosa has a replica) there is a Young Man of Hauxtica carrying on his back a baby in this same sprawling position.
         There is a big new dig going on near Progresso at Drychulchaltan {?}. I didnt see it but it is claimed as very big and very important.


                                                                                                                   28 Fort Square
                                                                                                                   December 22, 1961

My dear Bill Bronk:

                                              Many thanks for your poem.6 It was a pleasure to hear from you again.

                                              How are you? Do you and your sister still make your trips South? If so - and there are such results - please count me on your mailing list.
                                              All goes about as this sort of a life (that one, of not working for a means and keeping house almost one might say it does amount to - curious fact that one is not used by anyone solely by oneself sort of it does amount to -

                                              and as you might know or imagine it doesn't even seem to get off the old spot: that is who reviewed the last Maximus I am told but Samuel French Morse, in Poetry (I met him by the way one night reading at Wesleyan, and to my surprise he was grumpy: I wld have thought those years ago wld have given him some sort of a come-on as of meeting;
                                              and then Cid has been here in the past year, as well for that matter as Creeley - for the first time. Etc.

                                              And the only difference is that Floating Bear (in Ny) instead of Origin is a rallying point (have you seen it? a mimeographed thing done by Leroi Jones.

                                              Also - also 'old' - Creeley starts a news letter sort of thing out of Albuquerque (he now teaches at the U of NM) {"shortly" is handwritten here}

                                              Did you read Seami's play in Cid's last Origin: I find Seami anyway way out

                                              So: good luck in all you do, and wld enjoy - do enjoy - hearing from you anytime


                                                                                           Charles Olson {signature}
                                                                                           Charles Olson {typescript}


                                                                            16 Jan 62

Dear Olson

                               It was a kindness in you to reply to the poem. Hardly anyone does even though this was the first in three years.
                               Origin 4 came today and I read it over. What a strange thing it is. You may remember I appeared often in the first series and Cid is planning to print 10 or 15 of mine in # 5. But every time I see it I wonder who in the hell are these people and what in the name of God are they talking about. We dont meet or correspond. Margaret Avison in the current issue almost gets through to me. I understand the language but I overhear her poetry and she is talking about things I haven't seen, people I dont know. I miss the reference. Once I was sent books by Enslin and Turnbull with cordial letters but I didn't care anything about their books and told them so which was a coarse necessity but a necessity even so. I got along for awhile with Creeley and still admire much of his poetry (I Know a Man is a tremendous poem) but he lost interest in me. Cid and I got along with our disagreements until this past year; now, he rages at me and I have not found it possible to answer him. I dont understand how he can care anything about my poetry. He says he does.

                               I dont think I am just crying on your shoulder about my personal neglect though it must sound so. But I find the whole problem interesting. I know, of course, that one should not--no rather can not as a practical matter--expect one poet to really much like the work of another--not a contemporary's anyway--even though I also know that an immense amount of poetic politics in the way of logrolling and mutual back scratching, pretending to like each other supports the whole poetry industry in the US today.
                               Another thing: I am pretty sure that, for me at least, writing poetry is among other things like one of those elaborate courtship rituals one finds in the animal world--bower birds, say. If my preenings and struttings get no response I am hurt; but curiously enough--or maybe not curiously at all, I think I skitter off if the response is too ready or whole hearted. I dont want someone to nest with just someone to dance with--preferably to my measure no doubt But I'm willing to try a new step or so. Look at me ! Look at me ! But look primarily at the dance, the struttings and preenings because your own longing is there also and the courtship is all.

                               Well enough of that. I'm not surprised you found Sam Morse grumpy. His last book was dull dull dull. He has so far as I know become exclusively the politician of poetry and ceased to be a poet. He does his courtship ritual on an escalator and doesn't move his feet anymore but he thinks it is going to take him to the top--up anyway. I havent seen or heard of Floating Bear. Charming name. I liked the Japanese play better than anything else in the current series. Well I didnt like anything else anyway.

                               We spare our poor guts and dont go south anymore though it is still the most exciting place in the world. Maui and Sicily and Yugoslavia the last few years. In March this year probably Athens and some Greek Islands.
                               Does this amuse you?--

                {Here Bronk writes out his poem "The Mayan Glyphs Unread" with its title.}



                                                                                 27 May 62

Dear Olson

                               This is a letter about my regrets in a more specific sense than Letters may be said to about ones regrets.
                               First of all, I am sorry that when you stopped in HF as Henry Schultz tells me you did, I was not at home. It would have been a great pleasure to see you and to have you in my house. We have such ill luck in our meetings--that is, in our failure to meet whether in North Carolina or NYC or here. I suppose it may have been while I was in Greece in March and April--a place, by the way, which seemed to me bound by the simplicities of death not to speak of, at that time of year, anyway, the chill winds of death also.

                               My second regret is as a Dartmouth Alumnus and a somewhat despairing one in the light of Dartmouth's recent growth in physical plant and administrative complexity. Harry tells me that the English department talked to you and decided they didnt want you. What a stupid mistake this would seem to be. The situation sounds much the same as when Emerson made his speech there. Harry says your chief opposition was from Vance and Eberhart. I hardly know Vance as either a person or poet but Eberhart, of course, is a fraud at both and a leading candidate for the least significant poet in America. I just looked at Harry's letter again and note that he doesn't say that the turn down was definite.

                               I saw Sam Morse in March and have to revise my opinion of him which I gave you last winter. He has some new poems which seemed to me very good.

                               Should you go through Hudson Falls again please stop. You know--or perhaps you dont--I am in business here and may be at my office if I am not home. Bronk Coal and Lumber Co.



                                                                                 31 Oct 62

Dear Olson,

         I have been wanting to write you to say that last summer I heard you on the radio being patronised by that little group of worldly eccentrics and was outraged at their effrontery and admired your patience and forbearance. Only, I have been down in a hole and couldnt get my writing arm out to scribble even.

         How one comes to despise worldliness, not to say eccentricity, as though it were the only sin, as it is not of course. But it is probably the most prevalent one around Boston campuses. I cant even be other-worldly. I only keep looking for other people who know how to be worldless--not that one ever really knows how but one ceases to be astonished by it.



                                                                                 18 Dec 62

Dear Olson,

                               I couldn't get it out of my head about your radio appearance and how it seemed to me and what I wrote you about it. I had to make a sort of poem about it and now I send it to you. Let it be called Olson's poem unless you want to disown it which would be all right. Maybe I'll disown it myself one of these days.

                               Do you know Geo Oppen who has just published a good collection called The Materials? Corman introduced me to him--that is Oppen asked Corman for my address and sent me a note of a sort which led me to think he was a pretentiously illiterate beat and I sent him a polite and perfunctory reply and one thing leading to another I find he is anything but illiterate though he has quirks of {a}sort that make him write to me as BLONK or WILLAIM and such like but we are becoming a kind of esteem group just the two of us and he is trying to bring his sister into the act, she being the San Francisco Review part of a publishing venture in partnership with New Directions.

                                              Allright {stet}, the poem:

                                              {written out here is Bronk's poem, with title, "In Contempt of Worldliness"}

                                                             I wish you well in '63



                                                                                                     28 Fort Square Gloucester Massachusetts
                                                                                                          December 21st {1962}
My dear Bill Bronk,

                I do know Oppen, and though some of my friends thought his review of The Distances and Maximus from Dogtown (together, Poetry, along with Ginsberg and, I think it was, Harvey Shapiro) was the old business of measuring me by Pound, and I thought to myself he raced his motor on Maximus from Dogtown, I thought his picking The Savages for a voice which was peculiarly my own, true enough. (I haven't yet seen his poems at all--though I had noticed EP's high praise, and Bill's curious 'constructions' puff of him; as well as that New York Times man's putting Oppen and Resnikoff together (as of the year's poetry books) and back at some 'constructivist' point between Imagism and Objectivism, if I remember rightly. Which and maybe Oppen himself (?)--misses the point of Vorticism?

I certainly like that poem, and will have no trouble at all that I be identified with it--if you should do that or anyone else. The coming to the end--and that double-shot here--is delicious: the word mattered hitting {above this word Olson writes "[sitting]"} with full force, that lovely way in which you do bring about first those letting outs of the light out of a very even and quiet word
                                                                                                                         /But already you see I am obviously so influenced immediately by your style I start to write back to you like yourself! Most insinuating!

                Hope you--and your sister I believe it is? have a very true holiday (I mean this one now, not that lovely annual one of yourselves in the spring--which I so enjoy as though I
might too have had such pleasures, that you relieve the world in which I find myself, like a term of imprisonment, ensconced. (I wrote to Lowell lately and told him that if he said in certain quarters what he had written to me privately about the Maximus Poems I thought it would (might) change my venue. And looking up that word in the dictionary was quite a shock--of recognition, wasn't that Melville's phrase?

                It is such a pleasure to hear from you and the best of anything you want all along.


                                                                                                                         Charles Olson
                did finally after two years or something get a note off to Cid (acknowledging receiving his book of poems) and that felt good. For as the present (publishing-wise) seems altogether to slip further into vulgarly and notoriously (promotional and representational effects) his act back there in 1950--and not to slight his new series but it's all too 'good' now, mostly--earns its way more and more, don't you think?

                By the way if you have a penny card by, just print me that verb opening line of the animal young to the flanks of the world {i.e., Bronk's line, "We cling like animal young to the flanks of the world," from "In Contempt of Worldliness"}. [Not to speak of my own handwriting!]
                Yrs, Olson

{handwritten postcard to CO postmarked 17 December 1962}


And what a nice letter it was!


Passed you last night--that is, as near as the Thruway, & if it had been earlier would this time (it was this time only 10:45 PM) tried to have called you, & hoped to see you.

(My own life at present is almost without any place for itself at all. --Am now enroute to Buffalo [no address : Gloucester reaches me

September 14th 1964

My dear Bronk

                               Having heard nothing from them [isnt that construction the old ugly ablative absolute?] I assume my card about The World the Worldless didnt reach June Degnan, but it was such a distinct rare pleasure (for me) to read your book that I wrote the only spontaneous puff I ever did write,7 having a great deal of excitement--& since, for having said it [today must be Ablative Absolute Day--I am very close to Auries rule shrine--as well as to [Henry] [Erie Canal] Mohawk [Scholarie Creek] River Monday!] I have been--at least up to today, when, at Fort Hunter, I may have, for the first time in my life, imagined a further succinct life--what I said about your poems was the utterly delightful belief & fact of the explicit
                                              Hope all goes well in everything, Charles Olson


{First above and then below the date, on this letter from Bronk, Olson has scribbled: "Suspended clause--shaped part after (opp. of Ablative to (deduction of Absolute)." 8

                                                                                                          16 September 64

Dear Olson,

June had your card because she quoted from it in a letter to me; and I am sorry that she shouldn't have acknowledged it. I was proud to have it though it puzzled me by praising a virtue I think myself as having so little of, as though a thief should be praised for his probity. But perhaps we are all quite other than we think ourselves to be.
                               And you will have to attribute to St Isaac Jogues--or more likely, the Blessed Tahakwitha, your vision at Fort Hunter of a further life. I know of none and see no way out of this, least of all, by way of Fort Hunter. But then, I have never been there I guess.
                It is a comfort though to hear from you and to know you liked the book. I am now at one of those times when I wish I were someone and something and somewhere else though I can't think what. And last night, trying to read my most recent poem I was aware--not having any--how much tolerance and prepossession it must take to read me at all.
                               As you say of your life not having any plans for itself at all I could say also. I see this business declining and only partly regret it though what I should do when it is over is more than I could guess. I think more and more of Thoreau's really serious--even though not successful--concern for economy and employment which most people have taken for crankiness. But who has ever seen the issues more clearly than he did? How shall a man manage to be really employed?
                               I have a canal poem I wrote this summer though it has to do with the Glens Falls Feeder not the Erie and if you send me your Buffalo address I will copy it out for you sometime when I can stand my own prosody better than I can now.



                                                                                                          21 November 67

Dear Charles,

                               I have been thinking intently of you these last few days and meaning to write you and you must have sensed those emotions. What happened was that Sherry Moore wrote me about how pleasant and exciting an evening she had had with you sometime recently and I thought I must write you and tell you because you would be pleased. We are, after all, getting older and how often do these mermaids sing to us now? Perhaps I underestimate you and they sing often to you.
                               Sherry10 wrote me because she had asked me to read at Cortland next month. I look forward to it and would be glad to have some other engagements. I think it can easily interfere with writing but I am having a dry period now with poetry so it's a good time to read. I read at the Guggenheim a couple of years ago and have since suggested directly or indirectly to Betty Kray that she make more use of me but she is chilly to me now though she once was cordial. I take it I may have offended her somehow (I made negative noises at Stanley Kunitz and William Stafford at a reading last spring) or someone took care of this for me. Perhaps I imagine it all. I get increasingly paranoid.
                               I was in Tikal again last spring to see the new excavations and recoveries since I was last there in '55 or '56 and later saw some odd Salvadoran sites and then Copan and looked at that stunning collection in the museum at San Jose, Costa Rica. I know you love those places as I do; let me send you when I get a chance to take off a copy, an essay I have done on Copan.

                               Cid let me have an ORIGIN issue last spring (though I only used half of it) which you perhaps saw, and I have had other poems here and there in other little magazines. The World, the Worldless continues to sell more or less but no one has offered to do the subsequent collection (The Empty Hands). Oppen is very much against that collection and he has a strong influence on Degnan (my paranoia again) but Degnan is not publishing anything now anyway.
                               Well, none of this matters at all except as something to say to you and it is nice to be saying something to you again. How kind you were to write me. There aren't any Christmas poems any more; but on the back of this sheet a little poem anyway.


{The back of this sheet contains an autograph of Bronk's poem "The Plainest Narrative."}


{5 December 1967}

My dear Bronk,

                I was so delighted to hear from you, and to read your essay on Copan, that you mustn't mind my delay in thanking you. (I have been house-bound for days getting copy off, which is a most difficult task for me--gets worse, even with zerox machines (or because of them, like so much else of the competences of our era

                And today I am settling back into good old fashioned ways. Simply living, that power which seems to have gone away (with the fields I want to say so much of it seems to be so literally nature and why I was so pleased--I hate him so--to see Copernicus put by Spengler I believe in recent reading--with the socialism which has brought it all on, Marx Darwin Freud. And Einstein one has to add too.

                I am luxuriating, even before making any breakfast, saying these things to you--I was moved by your historicism but if you don't know of a woman named handsomely enough Maud Worcester Mackenson I am going to try to find for you a copy of a book of hers which, more than anything else, particularly the monuments, will give back to you--and thus the more {unreadable word} on your own self--the agony and livingness {?} of those Maya (Was in fact I suddenly realize provoked to write you just now looking at--or noticing the telephone--no, electric pole in the lovely larger photo I have on the wall here--I was drinking at least a coffee--of the hill up from the house in Semia. Seeing that power line intruding on the classic Maya thatch and grow houses started me off
                                                                            Will write you again. This solely
                                                             to let you know. Best--& by that
                                                                  all, O [Tuesday December 5th]

{Other autographs of Bronk poems sent to Olson, without date, are "Green as a Verity" (signed "Best wishes Bill Bronk") "The Primacy of Light" (signed "With a Merry Christmas Bill Bronk"), and "A Bright Day in December" (above, signed "With all best wishes Bill Bronk").}


1   Bronk's career began to gain momentum when Cid Corman and Robert Creeley began to publish his poetry and then some essays, starting, respectively, in 1951 and 1953. The first issue of Origin in which Bronk was included contained work by Olson among others. Of course, many of Origin's contributors appeared in The Black Mountain Review about the time when Bronk's work was being printed there.

2   Edward Halsey Foster, Understanding the Black Mountain Poets (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995), 33.

3   Tom Clark, Charles Olson: The Allegory of a Poet's Life (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1991), 114-15.

4   As is indicated in a letter of 21 December 1962, reproduced herein. Another letter from Olson dated (circa) 2 November—which is to be found in the Bronk archive at Columbia University (perhaps the text of the letter is merely a carbon copy in the Olson archive)—is quoted by George Butterick (the Curator of the Charles Olson Papers at the University of Connecticut) in Charles Olson, Mythologies: The Collected Letters and Interviews, Vols. I and II, ed. George F. Butterick (Bolinas: Four Seasons Foundation, 1978, 1979, p. 191); this second letter reads in part” “Very gratifying to have you say what you do about the effect of that [radio] program. I felt altogether discouraged that I hadn’t been able to do anything except sit there. . . .” Bronk also wrote to Corman at this time, expressing the same feelings about the show (191). And, Olson speaks of his exchange with Bronk about the show in an interview (97). The program was broadcast on television station WGBH in Boston; Bronk heard the sound portion of it on radio station WQXR in New York, which he was able to pick up, at that time, in Hudson Falls.

5   A previous letter from Olson is lost.

6   Bronk used to send Christmans poems to his friends. Of these the Olson Papers holds three, all undated: “A Bright Day in December,” “Green As a Verity” (the autograph reads: “Green is a Verity”), and “The Primacy of Light.”

7   “I may have, for the first time in my life, imagined a further succinct life.” The “puff” appeared eventually on the front jacket flap of Bronk’s Life Supports: New and Collected Poems (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981); there is a new, 1998 edition of this book published by Talisman House (Jersey City, NJ). Degnan (Oppen’s sister) was the editor who handled Bronk’s The World, the Worldless (New York: New Directions / San Francisco Review, 1964).

8   Cf. Olson’s previous letter to Bronk.

9   A previous letter from Olson is lost.

10  Kearns née Moore; she was at this time unmarried.

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