When I was a boy, I held a melancholy conception of poetry. In my neighborhood, most verse was found on tombstones. I’d walk the main road of my island home with a sea fever and an adolescent desire to understand the changes in my body. The idea of  the  poet as a stranger, standing outside in the dark and examining ordinary domestic life while spying through the lighted windows of neighbors’ homes surely came from my reading Nathaniel Hawthorne. It still gives me the creeps in a morbid and delicious way. When I first wrote these sentences, I was preparing to teach The Blithedale Romance. Hawthorne’s alter-ego, Miles Coverdale, is a poet who spies upon the lives of his fellows with a power of conjecture that foreshadows the worst possible turn of events. His acts of espionage are capable of compelling tragic events to manifest themselves.       Observation, by means of a spooky sympathy, generates what the poet claims to fear. One of Hawthorne’s characters, Zenobia, is based on Margaret Fuller. Here is Miles on their uneasy relationship, 

She should have been able to appreciate that quality of the intellect and the heart that impelled me  (often against my own will, and to the detriment of my own comfort) to live in other lives, and to endeavor—by generous sympathies, by delicate intuitions, by taking note of things too slight for record, and by bringing my human spirit into manifold accordance with the companions whom God assigned me—to learn the secret which was hidden even from themselves.[2] Yépez finds Olson’s personality and his work to be symbolic of North American imperialism.

     I give a large degree of credence to what Yépez offers. Others find it thin with respect to textual support. And that may be the case, but the wounded anger that motivates some of this criticism is unnecessarily hostile. The text of El imperio de la neomemoria is replete with inscrutable neologism. But there is passion in the exposition, a charged feeling of deep sincerity; after all Yépez is writing as a Mexican on Olson’s appropriation of Mexican material, among other subjects and that fact alone demands respect. Troublesome for many readers will be those claims that link an unresolved Oedipal complex with the motive force of American imperial expansion, making Olson the emblematic American monster and representative of capitalism who seeks to devour a mother that is identified with Mexico, with the land and its indigenous people. Olson’s psychodrama involving the family romance is open to these charges: the distant mother, the father in whose mail pouch (representing the U.S. Government) the boy is carried, the poet son’s betrayal of the good father when refusing him the loan of a suitcase right before the father’s death (as recorded in Olson’s autobiographical “The Post Office,” a text that can be likened to the practice of autoethnography). 
     Another argument made by Yépez qualifies Olson’s postmodern desire to turn time into space, in its reordering of history for self-serving and autocratic purposes (such reordering is the meaning of neomemoria in Yépez’s title). The technique of turning time into space and salvaging fragments for propagandistic purposes is a practice employed in Hitler’s fascism and, argues Yépez, similar to Olson’s visionary politics. Read from an anti-imperial perspective, Maximus becomes, kitsch and simulacrum, a manufactured reality that replaces the historical world with a spatial plenum of fragments, arranged in paratactic fusillades that are overwhelming in their onslaught, replacing lived experience with artificially constructed experience, turning night into day, as often Olson, in fact, did. A return to Sumer under the sign of the postmodern does not obviate the social responsibilities generated by modern history: genocide and nuclear holocaust. This is my summary of the argument presented by Yépez and I think a fair representations of assertions that will be too quickly dismissed by readers who see Olson differently. I do not completely reject this angle of vision. Nor do I allow it to obscure the profoundly generous though agonized view that I hold of Olson’s achievement.  
     It is necessary to learn to see ourselves from the point of view of the other. That is a central message of these essays. Olson has helped my poetics immensely with his insistence on limits and his openness to native American cultures among many cultures that might be classified as archaic or oral in their address to human realities. But I will accept the claim made my Yépez that Olson was unable to see himself in other than solipsistic terms. This is also a failure of perception or observation on the part of millions of Americans who have visited Mexico. Olson may in fact have a different ethos of observation than those tourists. United States citizens (Americans for short) do not understand the impact of their perceptions on those who are subject to the American gaze, orientalizing and subjugating others to the needs of business or tourism. In  an equally eroticizing vein, Olson famously expresses his admiration for how the Mayans carry themselves with no false modesty and a level of openness to contact with others, and yet he does not consider how others may see him or feel about his behavior or claims. This blindness, this one-sided openness, motivates many of the arguments advanced by Yépez. El imperio de la neomemoria may, if you have patience with the exposition, offer a corrective to Olson’s partial vision of Mexico, but the lesson offered by Yépez is necessarily animated also by animosity for American imperialism; it is only too convenient to fuse Olson’s self-centeredness with the American monomania to consume and shape the newly emerging world of global capitalism, founded as it is on consumption, the genocide of indigenous and African peoples, slavery, and environmental degradation. This is not only Heriberto’s argument. José Marti made a similar point about North American imperialism in 1891.
     The passage below captures some of the strength that is at the heart of Yépez’s argument:

Olson confluía con el otro. Fundía el saber del otro en le suyo. De Dahlberg, Pound y Cagli pasaría, poco después, a Frances Boldereff y Robert Creeley. Si la obra de Olson se refiere, centralmente, a la expansión hacia lo otro, hacia la fusión y apropiación de ello, esta incorporación también opera en los limites de su propia existencia personal. Olson devora al otro, lo traga por su propia vida y, al mismo tiempo, es devorado por su presa. Ballena que devora Jobs. Olson es, fundamentalmente, un antropófago. Y es también lo canibalizado. (73) [Olson mixes himself with the other. He bases his knowledge of the other in his own self-knowledge. From Dahlberg, Pound and Cagli, he went on, shortly after to, Frances Boldereff and Robert Creeley. If the work of Olson refers centrally to expansion in the direction of the other, toward the fusion and appropriation of it, this incorporation also works at the limits of his own personal existence. Olson devours the other, he consumes it to support his own life and, at the same time, he is devoured by his catch. The whale who devours Job. Olson is fundamentally, a cannibal. And he is also the cannibalized.]

In this instance, Yépez offers a recognizable version of Olson’s self-projection. In the next passage that I cite, the theme is the Americanization of the world, Yépez responds to a passage in Call me Ishmael, that reads, “For the American has the Roman feeling about the world. It is his, to dispose of. He strides it, with possession of it. His property. Has he not conquered it with his machines? He bends its resources to his will. The pax of legions? the Americanization of the world. Who else is lord?” (Collected Prose 66). Yépez responds:

Olson, como puede verse, no es critica de esta “Americanización del mundo.” Fanático del New Deal, triunfalista Democrática, Olson se volvió un vocero, muchas veces implícito; otras, demasiado abierto, del imperialismo. A la vez, Olson es consciente de que tal “señorío,” el del Capitán Ahab, el de América, conduce al naufragio, como Melville lo supo también. “El colapso de un héroe a través del solipsismo que echa un mundo abajo” (CP 66). El solipsismo—todo solipsismo es pantópico—es lo que derriba al mundo, al imperio y, a asimismo, es su primer motor.  Olson, sin embargo, es conquistado por la belleza del solipsismo. Le parece sublime el intento. Le parece trágicamente bello, bellamente trágico, la muerte por hipertrofia, la fragmentación sobreviviente. Sus restos en el fondo del mar.” (83)[Olson as can be seen is no critic of this “Americanization of the world.” A New Deal fanatic, Democratic Party braggart, Olson became a spokesperson for imperialism, often implicit; other times, excessively open. At the same time, Olson is conscious that such sovereign arrogance as that of Ahab, that of America, lead to shipwreck, as Melville also recognized. “A collapse of a hero through solipsism which brings down a world” (CP 66). Solipsism—all solipsism is pantopico—is that which brings down the world, the imperium and, at the same time, it is its prime mover. Olson, without doubt, is conquered by the beauty of solipsism. To him its purpose is sublime. It is tragically beautiful to him, beautifully tragic, death by hypertrophy, the surviving fragmentation. Its remains on the bottom of the sea.]

Talk about melancholy a la Hawthorne, Romantic and  gothic! Melancholy is the other cheek of tragedy, each facing the sublime. I hope to deal differently with the matter now. The involvement of Olson’s material and physical agency in his work is unlike Yépez’s theorizations.
     Olson’s deeply transformative experiences in Mexico do not figure into Yépez’s account. In citations to the essay, “The Human Universe,” or to correspondence with Creeley, Yépez sometimes plays fast and loose in his juxtaposition of references, for instance, quoting from a letter to Creeley from April 16th that contains a derogatory reference to Mayan culture in its state of material decline and impoverishment as evidence of Olson’s attitude in general toward contemporary Mayans, an assertion far from the truth (172). Yépez’s book contains useful presentations of the Mayan calendrical system, the sense of time in Native American grammars, and the multivalent identity of Quetzalcoatl, offering in this way useful corrections to Olson’s amateur archaeology.
     Olson sought, from his post in Lerma, to map the proportions of the human universe. He blends two facets of the same reality, that of the ego or self-awareness and that of the cosmos. For him, the Mayan glyph functioned in the doubled sense of the real, as an equal to the projective. The glyph, carved in stone, serves as a physical hinge between inner and outer. Olson’s take on language, which is what excited him about the glyphs that he encountered, derives as much from Emerson as it does from Pound. For Olson, the image is not only glyph but also a physical fragment of a constructed reality. This view is similar to that of both Miguel Covarrubias and Diego Rivera. The idea is that expression can be built from repeated blocks, each possessing a degree of intrinsic integrity,, like a talisman.  A certain formulaic set of properties runs through those blocks as design and evidence of a perceptible coherence. Importantly, in this regard, we are not talking about the construction of an abstraction, free floating above the hard reality of sweat and unremitting sun. We are talking about physical encounters with the stone. Envision here, Olson laboring on a small hill overlooking the sea salvaging fragments found in an unregistered site from the machines that were grinding the limestone into cement for new construction products. 
     Olson’s imagination works in two modes, one at a theoretical distance from the subject, one embodied and physical.  Texts are objects. Discovering the drawings of Hipólito Sánchez served to charge Olson’s level of theoretical excitement and in that sense helped him to read what he could of the Mayan record. Like much that Olson encountered in Mexico, these records generated a physical response. He may suffer insecurities but he expresses his bodily and psychic reality in a holistic way. They are inseparable, at the level of the molecule apparently. Inside and outside merge continually, frequently in The Mayan Letters and consistently from early poems like “The Moebius Strip” and toward the end of his life in texts like the one that begins “Outer Darkness – Inner Schoodic” 589), the subject of the previous essay. 
     Melancholy aside, surely reading Olson has helped many poets to improve their understanding of the language-facts central to their art. His method encourages a productive and highly subjective bricolage, bringing out both the poet and the anthropologist in processes of observation and synthesis. What follows in this essay is a gambit: scattered reflections in search of a momentary coherence, verging on autoethnography or the ability to see one’s self as a subject within a field of forces that impinge  on choices and abilities. In “My Life Tangent to the Charles Olson Circle,” I describe multiple points of contact between my youth on and in the vicinity of Cranberry Island and Olson’s last days. The thread that runs through my fragments is a focus on Olson’s daughter Kate, whom I loved as a sister.[3]  Here is a footnote to my version of “My Life” (there is an intentional resonance with Lyn Hejinian’s My Life in my title), Jack Heliker who owned the house formerly of Lou Stanley and lived there with Bob Lahotan, once told me, I was probably 18 or 19, that as a small boy, John Masefield had taken Jack on his knee and promised to write him a poem about “going down to the sea in ships.” Maybe that is a tall story, but my purpose is to note that Masefield and Olson died around the same time, that is within three years of one another, the same three years of my Vietnam War Era military experience, a period of historical challenge to American global dominance. Some aspects of the most arrogant American imperialism died in the Mekong delta. The impulse to bring up Hawthorne, with which I began, has relevance, because Hawthorne sets the scene of the poet as a troubled observer. Olson is no stranger to melancholy observation. Using as caption  “And Melancholy,” he writes:

            unbearable complexity – as though our souls
            could never be the equal of our bodies, its
            occurring, at such a rate only knowing
            Ko Hung [4] says white and preserving
            black (that the mystery-unity is seen only in the sun
                          – as against Truth unity and
           will make us unsuccessful 
            in the desire for death

 O melancholy New Englanders who desire unrequited love, who desire death, I am one of you. I have pursued my passion for Olson’s poetry even to retracing some of his footsteps in Mexico. Yépez is right in this, Olson does take a myopic view of Mayan material culture. He offers perceptions with a tone of authority that have no basis in material or spiritual facts. Olson is very much of his time. I am of my time.
            In my travels in the Yucatan, I had occasion to compare my experiences at Uxmal with those of Olson and Octavio Paz. I wrote then, concerning Ezra Pound’s later cantos: “From profound sources I was once led to believe that there is a resonance between aesthetic integrity and morality. Machines without souls or randomized constructions without the handprints of a creator haunt the modernistic landscape in search of purity with respect to form. Circumstantial evidence in support of coherence underwrites this credo, prizing alienation, morbidly, dispensing panaceas. Thrones de los Cantares! Hateful bigotry!” Pound’s denial exemplifies reification as understood by Theodore Adorno when he wrote of the impossibility of writing poetry in an age that produced the holocaust. The case of Ezra Pound argues surely against the possibility of transcendent order. But Pound also, helpfully to my sense, held to a pre­lapsarian faith in the power of goddesses that deserves respect. There is an archaic order also in Olson’s message concerning the postmodern, his desire for a fused past-present. Jarring the hope of uncovering a redemptive order will fail in the last pages of Maximus.
     Deeply disillusioned by his work with the Office of War Information during World War Two, when he visited the Yucatan in 1951, he hoped to come to an understanding of the desires that drove him toward poetry. This program is reflected in his letters to Robert Creeley of the time, and in proposals for special issues of Cid Corman’s Origin. His encounter with Mayan glyphs was transformational. Functioning similarly to Pound’s ideogram, the glyph as fact of observation compelled Olson’s imagination as he undertook, amateur though they were, archaeological excavations among Mayan ruins. His method and exercise were clued to a possible fusion of aesthetic and moral or spiritual values. His exercise, a presumption as to his native abilities, served as a lens that may have distorted perception, one the one hand, but also served to confirm the presence of design and intention with which humans had ceased to feel comfortable or familiar. That loss too is an effect of holocaust and war. His method then is found on a simple principle; one engages one’s surrounding as interactively as one is able to do. That’s the relevant science and human faith. 
     He observed the freedom with which teeth are displayed when people smile (“The Human Universe,” SW 57). He also remarks on a persistent deadness among the Mayan people after 400 years of colonialism. “They are fucking unhappy. … those sons of bitches, those ‘scholars’ –how they’ve cut that story out, to make the Mayan palatable to their fucking selves, foundations, & tourists” (SWH “The Mayan Letters” 79-80). Olson is quick to perceive the commodif­ication of culture and yet his imagination is compelled by the solidity of forms cut in limestone. Wave patterns that mime scales, mouths that are flutes.  “The fish is speech. Or see / what, cut / in stone / starts. …” (SWH “The Mayan Letters” 101). It is in these words in particular that I find the source of an intercultural poetics; to which I add the knowledge that identity shifts as discourse (always outside or after that which has been felt) warps the frame of local experience.
     One evening in July, 2006, seeking to understand Mexico as a magical elsewhere for Beat authors like Burroughs, Kerouac and Ginsberg, I was lead to translate Octavio Paz’s “En Uxmal.” I also re-read relevant correspondence between Creeley and Olson on Mayan archeology. From his observations of the site, Paz’s “En Uxmal” seems to inhale an archaic non-linear coherence, a property that Latin American magical realism shares with Beat, anti-modernist social values. According to Daniel Belgad,[5] both the Beats and Paz envisage Mexico as “the potential site of an alternative modernity” (31). Belgad addresses a synchronicity shared by these poets. He distinguishes between representations of Mexico as liminal or magical and the harsh facts of Mexican cultural history
     Perceptions of the sacred mark Paz’s response more deeply than do physical facts; nonetheless, it is true, as Paz asserts, that in the “unblinking light … the columns dance without moving” The second story friezes, balanced upon undecorated receding walls, impress the observer with a sense of agitated movement. Multiple figures of Chac weave over a ground of stonework patterned in imitation of reed mats and woven thatch, reflecting an invasive influence, out of kilter with the rest. On the west side of the quadrangle, a superimposed cornice, heavily encrusted with twin serpent figures of Quetzalcoatl, Xul (or Mayan), submerges the clean-lines of the Puuc vocabulary. 
     On the architecture at Uxmal Olson writes “… the famous Uxmal, is altogether otherwise than you’d gather, from the literature I have seen      the two famous buildings, for example (the Governor’s Palace and the Nun House), brilliant architecture & engineering as they may be, are aesthetically dead …the Maya had become state lovers ….” (Olson/Creeley Correspondence, Vol. 5, 1932). [I can add now that It is hard for me to find the basis for this assertion. It is solipsism, as Yépez describes it.]  For Paz, Uxmal is a living and transparent temple, not the dead thing that Olson finds it to be. My visit to Uxmal, the subject of a poem in my Prolog Pages: Diario mexicano, reads the mythology of the serpent against the physical form of the Nuns’ quadrangle when the walls are illuminated, as an instance of the commodified spectacle that Olson feared. For me the imbrication of the sacred and the physical is not in the stone, dead or quick.  It is in the perception. Olson hunts back into archaic time on the track of vestigial knowledge.  Paz is stunned by experiential transparency. 
     When I first visited Uxmal, I sat briefly in the cells where the women were fattened and pleasured before their sacrifice. I perceived a frightening, but sacred reality. Forms of death and bloodshed as horrible as those that cause us to blench when looking at the corpses produced by modern terrorism, insurgency, counter­insurgency, car bombs and missile strikes, earthquakes. At Uxmal my morality and humanism failed me. Quotidian news footage  is sanitized, commoditized, necessarily made comprehensible. Memories too horrible for words produce emaciated, drained, terrified beings. Do ruined temples hold curative instruction? I have no warrant for such hope. My poem, “Uxmal,” written independently of these reflections and on the site of the sacred compound, cites both quotidian and magical realities. Not positioning myself in flight from consumerist or late-capitalist cultural facts, vision becomes enmeshed by past and present aspects of an unfolding reality. Facets in an overlay, not in polar opposition, perceptions constitutive of where we are, not a nostalgia for that which one presumes might have been.
     Honoring the complex realities of indigenous experience, my desire is to resist the subjective longing for an elsewhere. Engaging a spiritual space that is alien to me (and doubly alienating in having been commodified by means of projected illumination), the poem maps aspects of Mayan history as it affects contemporary identity, including my identity. My confusion and my shadow emblazoned on the walls during the spectacle, make of my melancholy a grandiose gesture, the poet not looking out of the gloom into a lighted room as proposed in my first paragraphs, but being now the subject of multiple stares, himself blinded by searchlights. My presence, my sense of self and insecurity because of lost identity papers, because of the misstep that led me into the flood lights projecting the sound and light show, participate in a variety of projections, fusing mythical thought while accepting as equally real, an alienating personal discomfort with sources that include the compensation of service workers, of the police who held my papers, and of the tourist economy generally. How to survive as a poet in this world that verges on both the mythical and the artificial is my melancholy question?
          EN UXMAL   
     El sol es tiempo;
     el tiempo, sol de piedra;
     la piedra, sangre.

    La luz no  parpadea,
    el tiempo se vacía de minutos,
    se ha detenido un pájaro en el aire.     

    Se despeña la  luz,
    despiertan las columnas
    y, sin moverse, bailan.

    La hora es  transparente:
    vemos, si es invisible el pájaro,
    el color de su canto.     

    La lluvia, pie  danzante y largo pelo,
    el tobillo mordido por el rayo,
    desciende acompañada de tambores:
    abre los ojos el  maíz, y crece.

      El muro al sol  respira, vibra, ondula,
      trozo de cielo vivo y tatuado:
      el hombre bebe sol, es agua, es tierra.
       Y sobre tanta vida la serpiente
      que lleva una cabeza entre las fauces:
       os dioses beben sangre, comen 
        Octavio Paz   

           IN  UXMAL

     Sun is time;  
     time, sun of rock;  
     stone, blood.     

     Light unblinking, 
      time emptied of minutes,  
     a bird has been stopped in the air.     

     3  LATER  
     Light emissions,  
     the columns awaken  
     and, without moving, dance.    

     FULL SUN  
     Time is transparent:  
     if the bird is invisible, 
     we see  the color of its song. 

     The rain, dancing foot  and long hair,  
     the ankle bitten  by the sunbeam,  
     descends with drums:  
     the corn opens its eyes and grows.

     he wall breathes with sun, hums,
     a bit of sky, alive and tattooed:  
     the man drinks the sun, is water, is  earth.  
     And on all this the serpent lives  
     who carries a head in its jaws:  
     the gods drink blood, they eat men.        

     Tr.  Donald Wellman    


Two times to Uxmal, its dovecote and macaw’s roost,
impossibly recursive. On the first return, unexpected confidence 
in my abilities to navigate: jarring topes in the road.
Identity papers, passport and the required 
foleta de migración turística, 
mislaid, not where I expected to find them
on my return to my room, 
compromised self, panic at the old year’s end.
No magical purpose at work here or in the recovery.
Near noon, I had been splayed on a high platform
for a sun god’s inspection,
exposed post-operative on offer. 
On the lawn of the palace, jewel box 
of ancient authority, children played at jaguar
and diviner. From my perch I examined 
the bedrooms where girls were feted before sacrifice.
Fields and shrub forests in the distance,
remarkably green toward the north coast.
Do they burn the earth to destroy the thorn bushes,
potentilla fruticosa, morning glory, red darts from a fennel
where I had wandered into uncharted ruins?
Descending the ninety-nine stairs,
a small incautious boy tottered
on the brink of a well. I called out, “¡Cuidado!”
Happily, he did not fall.  I acquired a guidebook to Mayan ruins
with reprints of drawings by Catherwood 
and daguerreotypes by Charnay. Also a puppet,
with an arm long sleeve, wearing
typical yucateca costume. And an jipi. 
No great awakening in these details, 
only that my tourism seemed almost joyous, 
setting aside, for reasons of conscience, my status: 
consumer without identity in an impoverished land.
At night, on the second return, error led me into Muná, 
known for workshops that specialize in reproductions. 
Museum security had recovered my papers
from the floor of a stall where I had urinated, 
dislodging the passport from a waistband 
when extracting bills. With my papers restored,
I was able  to view the sound and light show,
son et lumière, turning to my left (so often I take
the long way around), assuming that on this night, 
I might be one of only a few there, 
gingerly stepping over grates
that house flood lights, then turning, about face,
to find myself on the opposite side of the quadrangle 
from the crowded stands on the north wall, “Chac, Chac” 
stereo prayers to end the drought.
Quetzalcoatl, his form wound among the Puuc friezes,
illuminated blue, then green. How can I explain 
that the serpent god has female aspects? Venus, Lucero?
On this night, I had intended to meet my scorpion woman,
my Shangó, Santa Barbara. Endless New Year’s Eve 
dawning on a desolate balcony overlooking
an empty plaza, supping on cream of cilantro soup, 
desiccated poc-chuk, the white carriages below having waited to transport
lovers to balls in mansions on Avenida Montejo.

 [1] The Blithedale Romance. Ed. Arlin Turner. NY: Norton, 1958: 173.  
 [2] Oaxaca: Almadía, 2007. Available as The Empire of Neomemory, Chain 2013. Eds. Jen Hofer Christian Nagler & Brian Whitener.  
 [3] “My Life Tangent to the Charles Olson Circle.” Minutes of the Charles Olson Society, Aug. 2007. Revised version in The Cranberry Island Series (Loveland: Dos Madres, 2012).   
[4] Ko Hung A.D, 280-240, Taoist philosopher whose Alchemy, Medicine, Religion in the China of A.D. 320  was edited by James Ware of the MIT press in 1963. Gerrit Lansing. shared this text with Olson on Monday, July 22.  
 [5] “The Transnational Counterculture.” Reconstructing the Beats. Ed. Jennie Skerl (NY: Palgrave-MacMillan, 2004): 27-40.