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Leonore Overture

collects the music and arts criticism of Keith Powers

Three women discuss Charles Olson

 Kate Tarlow Morgan, “dancing with books,” poses in her Invisible Stories Winter.

Kate Tarlow Morgan, “dancing with books,” poses in her Invisible Stories Winter.

Three authors with dynamic stories to tell will discuss a poet whose own powerful language formed much of Gloucester’s cultural identity in the last century. 

The three speakers are all women, and that makes a difference. They will all talk about Charles Olson, and the presentation should make for an engaging confluence of ideas.

Kate Colby, Kate Tarlow Morgan and Amanda Cook will all read at Speaking of Olson, this Saturday at the Cultural Center of Rocky Neck. The presentation is sponsored by the Gloucester Writers Center.

They will each follow their own approach. Cook will read from her ongoing collection “Letter to Maximus,” written as a response to Olson’s Maximus poems. Colby, a distinguished poet with more than half a dozen volumes published, will read an essay, The Bind. Morgan was still formulating her presentation when we spoke, but will certainly explore her own studies on movement and the body, incorporating Olson’s own notion of proprioception.

Olson’s poems are muscular and ambitious—his viewpoint could take the smallest locale, usually Gloucester in some way—and extrapolate almost anything. That influential outlook, and the brilliant work that outlines it, have left a mark on an entire generation of poets and thinkers. His is a large and sweeping legacy—sometimes overwhelming.

Not everyone finds it all-encompassing. “How can you do that without the women and children?” says Cook. “I don’t blame Olson for it, or hold him to the standards that we have now. I don’t think he thought about it at all. But I’m angry. There are a lot of situations where there are no women in his poems. He describes the whole town, and there’s a whole group of people who aren’t there.

“I grew up in Gloucester, in Charles Olson’s shadow, dealing with people coming to Gloucester and experiencing it through Charles Olson,” she says. “I had to deal with my own personal Olson. I’m writing a reaction to the Maximus poems, dealing with the community, and with parenting. You have to make a decision where you put your attention, and for him that wasn’t a concern.”

Morgan’s ideas seem quite different. “There are a lot of women who are mad at Olson,” she says. “I’m not. If I could be his body, I would do that. Olson is one of those people who did experience the body in a deep way. Olson knew that we can’t know where we are, unless we know our body. 

“I’m going to perform or talk, maybe do some exercises—however I feel from the audience,” Morgan says. Her work as a choreographer, editor, archivist and writer will certainly all come into play. “Every year since 2010 I’ve done some work with writing and movement in Gloucester. For me it’s the body. The body makes me more than a female.”

Colby’s thoughts, and her presentation, come from a shifting attitude toward the poet. “Olson is part of my primordial poetic soup,” she says, an attitude that many poets might agree with. “I have a profound love/hate relationship with him and his work, and I want to look right at that.”

Colby’s thoughts about Olson galvanized with recent studies at UConn and Harvard. “I got a small travel grant from the archive at UConn,” she says. “I spent three days looking at papers and the essay on proprioception. After that, and compiling all my notes, I realized I had said what I needed to say about Olson. I felt exhausted by his legacy, and the degree by which it invoked a Gloucester mostly by men, artistic ways of thinking that still prevail. I don’t want to give any more attention to his work.

“He tried to do and say everything in these giant works,” she says. “They seem scattershot, and sort of vague and pompous to me now. I think I’m trying to do the same thing in my essay, with a great deal more precision. It isn’t about Olson, but tries to look at him via negative space.”

Colby’s essay easily blends ideas about Vitruvian man, the color Vanta Black, Huysmans’ 19th century novel “A Rebours,” and the destruction of Pompei. That’s only a start. “It feels to me like an orchestrated piece,” she says of The Bind, “lyrical and intertwined, like twelve different melodies.” 

Kate Colby, Kate Tarlow Morgan and Amanda Cook all read at Speaking of Olson in the Cultural Center of Rocky Neck, 6 Wonson St., East Gloucester, at 7:30 p.m. Sponsored by the Gloucester Writers Center. Admission is free. Visit www.rockyneckartcolony.org or call 978-515-7004.

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