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The Maximus Poems

4.22  ·  Rating Details ·  931 Ratings  ·  41 Reviews
Praised by his contemporaries and emulated by his successors, Charles Olson (1910-1970) was declared by William Carlos Williams to be "a major poet with a sweep of understanding of the world, a feeling for other men that staggers me." This complete edition brings together the three volumes of Olson's long poem (originally published in 1960, 1968, and 1975) in an authoritat ...more
Paperback, 664 pages
Published July 25th 1985 by University of California Press (first published 1960)
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The Complete Poems by Emily DickinsonLeaves of Grass by Walt WhitmanShakespeare's Sonnets by William ShakespeareThe Waste Land and Other Poems by T.S. EliotAriel by Sylvia Plath
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,793)
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Peycho Kanev
Feb 25, 2012 Peycho Kanev rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Robert Duncan, in his essay "Regarding Olson's 'Maximus,'" writes: "Olson insists upon the active. Homo maximus wrests his life from the underworld as the Gloucester fisherman wrests his from the sea." Olson's striding poetic syllables, says Duncan, are "no more difficult than walking."
What is an epic? Pound said it was a poem with history. Olson disagrees. Olson visited Pound, argued with him, and Pound said Olson saved his life. But Olson disagreed with Pound on many issues. Olson actually beg
James Murphy
Jun 22, 2014 James Murphy rated it it was amazing
This is Olson's heroic long poem in tribute to Gloucester, Massachusetts and to the people who lived there in which he tells much of its history as a fishing port, even going back to its place in the original Pangaean continent. The poem connects Gloucester to many of the cultural sources we associate with the eastern Mediterranean and south Asia. The larger-than-life figure of Maximus is both Maximus of Tyre and Olson himself. This is one of my favorite things, and i have to touch base with it ...more
Jul 09, 2011 Joe rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Was surprised I didn't enjoy this more. Plenty appealed--the spiraling of time, history into a geographically situated self; the alternative and subjective cartographies;

better than
a European with a home, American
no place
to go in landlessness alone
resides, the Earth a skid
for the American the
Skater all over the
surface of (the

But something about the overall syntax of the 600 pages seemed haphazard, even on the relative scale of similar mega-life projects; it wa
Feb 21, 2008 Dawn rated it it was amazing
The Maximus poems will do as they do and I will read them all again in in in. But I have to read Heroditus and know nothing about Tyre and also the deep history of Virginia and Boston and the kinds of salt to keep fish and what exactly a shoal feels like and if Adam Smith really was what, a poet, if he was cured of his skin's burns and "meubles" and Thucidides and furthermore Orontes, which C.O. calls a "congested poem." You see all of this plus stuff is to be mine upon reading and reading my C. ...more
Apr 14, 2007 barry marked it as to-read
As I mention in my review of the Olson biography I'm reading, this book stands to become a monumental obsession for me. It could change my life. I may finally consume it, drop out of my current life, move to a lonely Cape Ann on Cape Ann and watch the waves pound against Bass Rocks until they wear away the shore of my sanity. But, alas, I can't find my way into this tome. Not yet. I will, though. Mark my words. I will, dammit, I will...
Jim Smith
Dec 30, 2009 Jim Smith rated it it was amazing
Just started a thorough re-reading after 30 years. This is one of the few books I can identify that had a deep effect on me about what a poetic line was, the power of where a line was broken, how it was read. Although likely invisible in my work now, without Maximus I would not be the same poet I am. I recommend every reader check the few but precious youtube videos of Charles Olson reading several of these poems.
Jan 11, 2008 vanesa rated it did not like it
sorry world, i simply cannot worship at the Olson altar- he's taken up all the space i could have used to admire him himself. these poems are insular, self-obsessed, driven with a hyper-masculine fear of subtlety, nuance, or stillness. the imagery is leaden, and stuffed with a gross amount of literery references. so hopelessly academic that i wish Olson would have just written an essay instead.
Sep 02, 2008 Casey rated it it was amazing
big, rapturous and sedate by turns, image-thoughts cycled through the four seasons, maritime america, gloucester, mass. immortalized, formal innovation and structure always employed to specific effect, in response to a deeply-felt need. for those addicted to the collision of the monumental and the mundane in the narrative arts. and/or as a primer or a companion to MOBY DICK.
Ann Klefstad
Nov 30, 2008 Ann Klefstad rated it liked it
On the fading edge of the possibility of the epic poem. Only a great loneliness for the specificity of another distinct human being can keep one tethered to these pages for a continuous reading of the book. And that seems to happen less often nowadays. But this extraordinary project is worth the time and effort if, by chance, you happen to have them available.
Beth in SF
Sep 18, 2007 Beth in SF rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Mundane poems with historical tilts that suddenly jab you with a revelatory one liner. Quite unique and certainly not everyone's taste. I kept thinking that I was reading something special that held secrets for which I didn't have the key, but sometimes got the chance to peek through the keyhole.
Nov 14, 2007 Carl rated it it was amazing
Shelves: pomes
i've spent many nights holed up in dark bars pouring over this book. completely reshaped the way i viewed poetry when i was 21.
Molly Brodak
Nov 30, 2007 Molly Brodak rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: poets
interesting...kind of self-absorbed at times. But lots to learn from.
Jim Leckband
I don't often not give a book a rating - but I don't think I'm qualified to give a rating because I think my reading experience was orthogonal to what the author intended. I think he wanted a reader who has a reading ship full of barnacles slowing down the eyes. My ship sailed too smoothly and quick, which I'm sure left a lot of the poetry out. Good thing I only had the 1960 edition and not the complete edition - I think my reading ship would have never have left shore. As it is, I don't regret ...more
John Cutler
May 21, 2014 John Cutler rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry-and-drama
Olson took decades to write this sprawling epic and died before it was finished. Its debt to Pound's Cantos is clear, but it is also very much its own creature, with less of the high allusive posturing that makes the Cantos so insufferable in places. Some of the poems, such as "I have been an ability, a machine ..." are visually experimental and incredible fun. Others are intensely personal, revealing a poet with a sharply honed sense of place. It's worth it to read the entire volume at a go, ta ...more
Jun 20, 2007 Sean rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
One of my poetry grandfathers.
May 29, 2015 Axolotl rated it it was amazing
I do admire Charles Olson's poetry---for its highs and lows.
I do find "his" idea of 'istorin compelling (one of those elegantly simple yet difficult things)
but a little dubious with regard to his own poetry
in that
it's as though he is saying "find out for
yourself and you'll see that I've been right about everything
all along". On the other hand,
in his poem beginning
"at the boundary of
the mighty world", he does say (while
personifying a geological formation,
no less) "I should like to take
Matt Walker
Aug 15, 2008 Matt Walker marked it as to-read
No star rating for this since I've only read bits of it.... I've also read some of his other stuff in anthologies, and I guess I feel the same way about Olson that some people out there feel about Ashbery (my guy), so I'll try to be compassionate here...I was flipping through Maximus in the store the other day, trying to see what in the world people find appealing about it, just trying to find some little ledge to grab onto...I have to say I'm stumped. I'll go back and try again tomorrow maybe, ...more
Alex Kennard
Jun 05, 2014 Alex Kennard rated it really liked it
I finished reading The Maximus Poems for the second time walking through a car park. Reading the words of an Englishman pulled from history and moulded into the shape of Olson's Gloucester while walking through the concrete landscape was incredibly fitting.

Olson is the close of the journey Ezra Pound began with his Cantos: a journey that started in the United Stars and expanded uncontrollably into Europe's long history and traditions. Here, that traveller returns to the small town of Gloucester
Apr 16, 2014 Nor rated it really liked it
The post-Cummings Virgil. Historian of fisherman and Massachusetts. Hear his voice if you can. It sounds like Gloucester.
Eric Phetteplace
Nov 24, 2010 Eric Phetteplace rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Olson was just experimental enough in this ambitious volume and I like that his tone stays fairly lowbrow and relatable throughout. The random touches are great, like repeatedly using an open parenthesis with no close, or spelling "said" "sd". The only drawback is that the content can get quite boring: Massachusetts and fishing boats are not the most intriguing topics for me. But overall the collection sways between mythology, history, and personal events in a pretty compelling mish-mash. Very A ...more
Feb 27, 2008 stephen rated it really liked it
alternately lovely and tedious, as any huge collection is bound to be: but under this a counter-history of the u.s., and obsessive reprocessing of gloucester and it's ghost-double of dogtown, and a complicated map of the fort and the cut and the islands in gloucester harbor and many stories of boys on fishing boats in storms at night far away. most excellent for the head if you find yourself being on cape ann and want to be convinced that it is multiple but haven't quite been able to find confir ...more
James Debruicker
Dec 05, 2010 James Debruicker rated it liked it
A rare "liked it" rather than "really liked it" from me. I usually don't bother reviewing books unless I really liked them. Anyway. I love the language of this, I love the form, Olson is undoubtedly an amazing poet. The content just leaves me cold. Maybe because I didn't grow up in Gloucester, MA? But, like... there's this part where he goes off on a rant on the editor of the local newspaper for *some* slight and I just found myself going "Really, Charles Olson? This is how you're choosing to sp ...more
Oct 28, 2015 Dominic rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ben Schaffer
Nov 30, 2014 Ben Schaffer rated it really liked it
May 16, 2014 Marc rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Maureen Thorson
Aug 10, 2008 Maureen Thorson rated it really liked it
I will probably be "currently reading" this book for the rest of my life, but that's a good thing. I'm very into "poetry of place" right now, as well as learning more about open field work, and Gloucester is a very real place in this stuff, and it breathes on the page.
Dec 30, 2008 Allen added it
I had all three volumes that make up this book but was glad to get them all in one volume (I gave my old copies to a friend). I cannot sell this to anyone except to say that O's work has been influential for me, and Maximus is a great part of that influence.
Jesse Myner
Nov 21, 2014 Jesse Myner rated it it was amazing
Turn your back on the sea/Go inland/To Dogtown/The mother city/Now shitty as the nation...

Dogtown is now covered in forest.
Anastasios Kozaitis
Mar 31, 2007 Anastasios Kozaitis rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-past
The Geography of the imagination...Gloucester as Troy as poem as hero as map as sound as memory as profoundly seminal
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  • "A"
  • The Collected Poems, 1945-1975
  • My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry
  • The Sonnets
  • Collected Poems of George Oppen
  • Collected Works
  • Paterson
  • Gunslinger
  • The Opening of the Field: Poetry
  • My Life
  • Radi OS
  • Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror
  • Deepstep Come Shining
  • The Tunnel: Selected Poems
  • Trilogy: The Walls Do Not Fall / Tribute to the Angels / The Flowering of the Rod
  • Personæ: The Shorter Poems
Charles Olson was a second generation American modernist poet who was a link between earlier figures such as Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams and the New American poets, which includes the New York School, the Black Mountain School, the Beat poets, and the San Francisco Renaissance. Consequently, many postmodern groups, such as the poets of the Language School, include Olson as a primary and ...more
More about Charles Olson...

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“As it is there isn't a single thing isn't an opportunity for some 'alert' person, including practically everybody by the 'greed', that, they are 'alive', therefore. Etc. That, in fact, there are 'conditions'. Gravelly Hill or any sort of situation for improvement, when the Earth was properly regarded as a 'garden tenement messuage orchard and if this is nostalgia let you take a breath of April showers let's us reason how is the dampness in your nasal passage -- but I have had lunch in this 'pasture' (B. Ellery to
George Girdler Smith
1799, for

'the town'
sitting there like
the Memphite lord of
all Creation

with my back -- with Dogtown
over the Crown of

It is not bad
to be pissed off”
More quotes…