Your anecdote of first meeting Ralph Maud coinciding with Blaser’s teaching Olson and Maud’s powerful reaction to Olson’s superb description of the profound difference he observed between bodies when riding the bus south of the border in The Mayan Letters is terrific to hear. I appreciate the enthusiasm it describes in Maud. In fact, I always have…as I mentioned I am in debt to him for the many issues of the Newsletter of the Olson Society.
Yet you hit the nail on the head in your strenuous defense when you describe Maud as a SCHOLAR.
Let me point out an easy specific example of the difference between being a Scholar and being a Poet. A poet doesn’t give a shit about anything other than the work. A scholar cares about everything surrounding the work. Such as cold hard cash. As a scholar Maud conducted the Olson Society as a cash operation. I received only what I paid for and I was dutifully reminded when I owed any money. (Oftener than not the reminder would accompany some advert for an “Olson trip to be led by Maud sponsored by the Society for which cold hard cash was solicited by those interested in taking part.) I’m not saying Maud got rich from the operation, just stating he operated his project with the impulses of a Scholar.
In contrast, a Poet doesn’t give a fuck about making money. They don’t allow it any power. Kenneth Warren was all Poet. Note, he was also a poet-scholar. But he was never solely a scholar. I generously and ever joyfully received untold issues of Warren’s House Organ free of charge. When I inquired about a subscription he told me it was a “donor organ” and started sending me issues. Eventually I became a “donor” in so far that I sent work to him and he occasionally included it in an issue. That was an honor.
In addition, I find Howe’s attestation that “nobody’s reading Olson” an overstatement. She made it 2011 and it’s now 2016. I’ve been reading Olson since roughly 1993. In the intervening years I’ve had the extreme pleasure of the increasing opportunity of reading and in some cases reviewing a massive amount of his own writings and transcribed lectures and interviews.
This is not to mention innumerable essays written on his work— very few of which, if any, might be seen as NOT taking his work seriously and confronting him as a major figure of American Poetics.
A quick search in the central library multi-database where I work turns up 167 scholarly (peer-reviewed) articles identifiably focused on Olson. 69 of which appeared between 1993 when I first started reading everything Olson and 2011 when Howe made her statement. (67 dissertations concerning Olson pop up for the same period.) While another 20 articles have appeared since 2011. (This number does not include the 19 dissertations that were also written in that time.) Worth remembering is that these are research-driven articles where Olson is a main subject, in other words it does not include the hundreds where he is only mentioned or referred to in varying degree.
You might point out the irony that it is in fact Maud who is directly responsible for the majority of Olson books which have appeared during this time. I do agree. It’s ironic. All the same, he ever remains such the stolidly square scholar. It is indeed quite asinine that he claimed to write a “biography” when the book is nothing other than stringing together a point-by-point takedown of a pre-existing actual biography written by a working poet. Maud is thus ONLY a scholar. He is not even a biographer! Let alone anything close to being a poet.
I had the impression anyway that Dispatches was concerned at least in part with poets ahead of scholars… my distaste for Maud derives from his clear inability to stand with the poets. In my view he thus does not stand with Olson.
Rather than worry about celebrating or even simply defending Maud I urge Dispatches to get more work on and by figures such as Kenneth Warren, whose House Organ I’ve already mentioned, or John “Jack” Clarke out there. After all, it is Clarke who truly defined and drew attention to the more mytho-poetical, quasi-spiritual dimensions found in Olson’s work. The Institute of Further Studies and the Curriculum of the Soul pamphlets form a lasting testament to Clarke’s attention to such matters. His lectures collected in From Feathers to Iron are unmatched documentation of concern for such areas and to this day they remain arguably the unread lost great masterpiece of American Poetics.
Surely, the simultaneous posting today of poet Joe Safdie’s compelling Olson lecture delivered in Gloucester is a step in this direction. ONWARD!