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Weekend devoted to a giant of poetry

March 01, 2007|Scott Timberg | Times Staff Writer

AT 6 foot 7, Charles Olson (1910-70) was literally and figuratively a behemoth of American poetry. Although he was deeply rooted in the land and sea around Gloucester, Mass., his work went on to influence writers all over the country, most obviously the Beats, the avant-garde poets of North Carolina's Black Mountain College, the aesthetes of the New York School and the Language poets of 1970s San Francisco.

There's also a down-to-earth quality to some of his work: Olson's most celebrated book, "The Maximus Poems," which loosely resembles Ezra Pound's "The Cantos," began as a series of letters to Vincent Ferrini, a working-class friend in Gloucester.

This weekend, the Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice is hosting a variety of tributes to Olson, including discussion by such poets as Wanda Coleman and Jack Hirschman.

The highlight of the weekend will be the Los Angeles premiere Friday night of the documentary "Polis Is This: Charles Olson and the Persistence of Place." The film, by Ferrini's nephew Henry, sets Olson in the New England fishing town and includes appearances by John Malkovich and poets Amiri Baraka and Robert Creeley.

"There are two groups of people who know Charles Olson," says filmmaker Ferrini, "the poetry community and people here in Gloucester." He met a wide range of locals -- fishermen, a deliveryman, a waitress -- who admired the mandarin poet, and he realized how wide verse's reach can be. "I wanted to bridge that gap and bring his work to a broader audience. Film has the ability to do that."

It's all a hint that the tide may be turning on a poet -- best known for his theory of "projective verse," which valued sound over sense -- who's been largely neglected by today's literary mainstream.


Charles Olson events

* "A Tribute to Charles Olson" includes screening of "Polis Is This": 7:30 p.m. Friday

* "No Polis Without the Poem," a discussion of poetry and public life: 3 p.m. Saturday

* "A Tribute to Vincent Ferrini," a look at one of Olson's contemporaries: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center, 681 Venice Blvd., Venice

Price: $10 for individual events, $15 for all (suggested)

Info: (310) 822-3006,

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