Charles OlsonThe enormously influential Gloucester poet CHARLES OLSON (1910-1970) was born in Worcester, MA, and summered in Gloucester as a boy. After college, he embarked on a series of careers before becoming a legendary part of the artsy and experimental Black Mountain College. After it closed, he moved to Gloucester in 1957. Olson is best known for his Maximus poems in which he creates an all-encompassing Walt Whitman-like persona. In this long series of poems written over the last decades of his life, Olson uses Gloucester history, the lives of past and present Gloucester residents, geological history, and current civic events to anchor Maximus to Gloucester. Sometimes Maximus seems to represent all of Gloucester, and at other times, all of humankind.

Letter 7, part 2 of “Maximus, to Gloucester” is inspired by Whale’s Jaw, Dogtown’s most famous glacial erratic and includes references to Dogtown poets Marsden Hartley and Vincent Ferrini. The lengthy “Maximus, from Dogtown – I” centers on legendary Dogtown bullfighter John Merry. This poem nicely illustrates why Olson is an epic poet, as in it, he makes Merry into the epic hero of an epic poem. In November 1959, Olson took prominent American poets Michael McClure, Don Allen, and LeRoi Jones to Dogtown, where he told them Merry’s story. McClure’s Foreward introduces the ‘proem’ by retelling that legend.


Maximus, frm Dogtown - I poem

from: The Maximus Poems edited by George Butterick (Berkeley: University of California Press) 1983.
courtesy: Copyright restrictions apply to the use of this text. Reprinted with the permission of Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, and the Estate of Charles Olson. For more information contact the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.