The revolutionary formal principles of his “projective” poetics are deeply rooted in a drive to investigate and recover neglected energies of the human and geological past. Olson’s poetics, then, represents an epistemological claim — a methodology through which one’s specific attentions and movements through the world (geographic space) function as a contingent aspect of historical investigation. His poetics evinces a way of being in and of history; it is a modality of knowledge rather than one of style. In this context, it’s possible to coherently talk about resonances of Olson’s influence in works as varied as Lorine Neidecker’s Lake Superior, Robert Duncan’s The H.D. book, and Ed Dorn’s Gunslinger.

Olson’s concept of ISTORIN (to find out for one’s self), drawn from the work of Herodotus. Letters takes up this call for a project of individual historical investigation, the creation of multiple histories. As Jeff Gardiner puts it in his piece “The Mytho,” “The verbal base of history as method is action: finding out and telling. The act of history … is generative and open, not descriptive and closed.” It asks us as readers to do the archaeological work required to form our own understanding of history.
the HEAD, by way of the EAR, to the SYLLABLE

the HEART, by way of the BREATH, to the LINE

Architecture began like all writing. A stone was placed on end, and it was a letter, and each letter was a hieroglyph—and upon each hieroglyph rested a group of ideas, like the capital on a column. … The original idea, the word, was not only at the base of all these buildings, but also in their form. … Thus, for the first six thousand years of the world’s history, from the most immemorial pagoda of Hindustan to the Cologne Cathedral, architecture was the great writing of mankind.

So writes Victor Hugo in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, who wasn’t the only writer fascinated by the Dame:

Notre Dame de Paris was spellbinding for Proust. He was even known to have thrown a fur-lined overcoat on over his nightshirt and to have stood in front of it for two hours in order to receive fresh inspiration from the portal of Saint Anne.

Paris inspired Benjamin’s The Arcades Project  and gave us the flâneur as a literary type:

Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world "picturesque."

Susan Sontag, On Photography

— check out also the wanderings of  Stacy Szymaszek in Journal of Ugly Sites.  

Writers think about place and space and architecture again and again and architects use the term poetic a whole lot and what is that all about? Poetry and architecture have a lot in common; their shared obsession with natural geometries and rhythms, with precision and structure, with recording, visioning and visualization. Poetry and architecture both honor the ambient potential of space (as in Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space) and hold space, and in some ways a poem is a walk through rooms. Where we are from, where we (must) wander and what we see shapes our cultural identity; for a powerful journey that defined the tenet of negritude, go with Aimé Césaire in Notebook of a Return to a Native Land.

Take a look also at a visionary work that embodies the written structures and architectural sketch, Renee Gladman's Prose Architectures (more on that book).


Awaking in New York

by Maya Angelou

Curtains forcing their will
against the wind,
children sleep,
exchanging dreams with
seraphim. The city
drags itself awake on
subway straps; and
I, an alarm, awake as a
rumor of war,
lie stretching into dawn,
unasked and unheeded.

New York in the work of
and Mayakovsky
and Crane

Times Square then and now: the area featured a red-maple swamp frequented by beavers, wood ducks, and elk.   Photographs by Markley Boyer / Wildlife Conservation Society; Michael S. Yamashita / IPN

Times Square then and now: the area featured a red-maple swamp frequented by beavers, wood ducks, and elk.
Photographs by Markley Boyer / Wildlife Conservation Society; Michael S. Yamashita / IPN

Map of Milwaukee print, circa 1835 showing founding fathers, Lake Michigan, Milwaukee, Menomonee rivers, and Kinnickinnic rivers (at this time, named Kinnickinnic creek) and Native American villages.

Map of Milwaukee print, circa 1835 showing founding fathers, Lake Michigan, Milwaukee, Menomonee rivers, and Kinnickinnic rivers (at this time, named Kinnickinnic creek) and Native American villages.

Milwaukee: A “Good Land”

Centuries ago the place where you live was covered by a heavy forest. The canopy of trees was so thick that it was hard for summer sunlight to penetrate through their leaves. There were oak trees and maple trees, green in summer and ablaze with the autumn colors in October. Eagles, hawks and dozens of other bird species soared in the sky. Wild turkeys ate nuts, seeds and insects. Deer, bear, beaver, muskrats, raccoons, porcupines, and rabbits were abundant. Then, as now, three rivers flowed from the land into Lake Michigan. The rivers were so sparkling and clear that you could see all the way to the bottom and watch fish swim.

No immigrants lived where Milwaukee stands today until about 1675. But Native Americans, the original people of this land, first appeared here almost 12,000 years ago.
Early Native Americans in Southern Wisconsin left behind hundreds of earthen mounds. Some mounds were small and were built in very simple shapes like ovals or cones. Others were large and shaped like birds, panthers and turtles. Some large mounds were as long as 250 feet. Some mounds were built for burials. The reasons for others remain a mystery. Today, almost all the mounds have disappeared. It is possible some remain buried under our current streets, parks, homes and businesses. There are now only two visible mounds left in our city: one in Lake Park at the eastern end of Locust Avenue and one very small mound at State Fair Park.
Around 1650, as more European immigrants came into the Eastern United States, they needed land for farms and cities. The newcomers began to push Native American tribes toward the West. Some came to the land and waters we now call Milwaukee. Nine different tribes lived near our three rivers at one time or another. The four largest tribes here were the Potawatomi, Chippewa, Ottawa and Menominee.
Charles Whitnall was born in 1859 in a small, Cream City brick house still standing today at 1208 E. Locust St. The house then was just off the old Humboldt Plank Road, down which wagons carrying goods from the Humboldt mills still jounced. Charles Whitnall’s name is on the first plan, published in 1909, to preserve the riverbanks from Port Washington Road to the North Avenue Bridge as public green space. Gordon Park, just south of his home on Locust, included land that once had belonged to the family of his first wife. In the 1930s, Whitnall organized a cooperative land-development company — as a Socialist, he didn’t believe in selling land for profit — and laid out a small subdivision on the east end of Burleigh Street. Though the cooperative did not survive the Depression, the land was later developed by Frank Kirkpatrick, a Whitnall associate, and became Gordon Circle.

Whitnall was a great planter of trees, and he is believed to be responsible for at least some in the small grove in the middle of Gordon Circle. Kirkpatrick told me in 1979 that a rambling rose, a horse chestnut, and several sumacs on his riverbank property just south of Capitol Drive also were from the old park planner. The late Florence Engelhorn, who lived on Gordon Circle, remembered Whitnall coming over often when she first moved in, bearing plants from his own garden to replant on the Engelhorns’ property. When she protested that he was being too generous, he replied, “Oh well, when you get going you’ll have stuff to give away, too.” She did, and the descendants of Whitnall’s plants have now spread throughout the neighborhood.
A public bathing beach was started as an experiment on the river at Gordon Park. Six election booths were erected on the riverbank, dressing rooms were partitioned off, and an attendant for the boys and another for the girls, were employed; the man in charge acted as life-saver. This bathing beach and the booths were put in order rather late in the season, but during the 45 days they were in use, 10,792 boys and 508 girls availed themselves of the sport. The advantages the river has over the lake as a bathing beach is that it gets warmer sooner and that the temperature remains more even.
— Milwaukee City Park Commission, 1911
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Bird lines

Bird lines

Francesca Capone

Francesca Capone

Do you observe nature? Do you write about it? Do you write in it? Do its things, leaves and trees and stars, appear in your poems as they appear in the street and sky? What do you learn from birds, trees, and other nonhuman beings?

(But how do we even define nature: Ed Hirsch says Gary Snyder says nature “will dodge our expectations and theoretical models.”)

How do you define nature?

What delights you in nature? What shapes / colors / phenomena? Do you bring them into your work? What about the recursion of patterns? Or pleasing formlessness, clouds — see Brenda Hillman’s Pieces of Air in the Epic, how unused parts of the poem drop to the footnote like ashes.

Have you ever written the seasons, as in di Prima’s Spring and Autumn Annals? What would it mean for a poem to have a horizon, or waves? For words to behave like a murmuration, like bird lines?

By situating ourselves in nature, as natural beings amongst other fauna and flora, what subjectivities do we access? How is the poem’s (and the poet’s) voice heard among other living voices?

This from Eileen Myles:

The poet is like the earth's shadow. The sun moves and the poet writes something down.


There would be days in which feelings were so externalized that you just behaved like a painter a kid with deep pockets, bringing the lavender home. The poem was a grid that swayed and moving through it you just picked up things and hung them on the grid all the while singing your broken heart out.

What about the use of natural metaphor and symbol — how a rose can mean love and conversely might just stand for an actual rose... Or whatever William Carlos Williams does in Spring and All, undoing a cliche and making it new.

Julian Talamantez Brolaski writes about "horse vision" — horses, evolved as prey animals with excellent peripheral vision, have a blind spot directly in front of them. What does it mean to see as another being sees — to write FROM YOUR BLIND SPOT. What do you see in the place you can't see?

Nature transports and awes. Transports where? Inside or out?

What about the fear of nature? Monotony and boredom? 

Writing shit about new snow
for the rich
is not art.

- Issa


Clouds appear and bring        
to men a chance to rest from
looking at the moon                

- Basho

And the fact that our species is decimating nature? Do we as poets have duties to nature? Is this part of your po/ethics? How does your practice connect to the natural world now and how do we move toward a regenerative practice in the fight for nature that is ahead of us? What is the Notre Dame burning in comparison to fires in the Amazon?

Jean Metzinguer, 1912,  Aldeia

Jean Metzinguer, 1912, Aldeia

Boka Kotorska

Boka Kotorska