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Humanities 2018, 7(4), 108;

Charles Olson’s ‘Projective Verse’ and the Inscription of the Breath

Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 1RH, UK
Received: 9 September 2018 / Revised: 28 September 2018 / Accepted: 25 October 2018 / Published: 1 November 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Anatomy of Inscription)
PDF [265 KB, uploaded 1 November 2018]


Charles Olson’s hugely influential essay-manifesto ‘Projective Verse’ is usually understood as proposing a close - and a necessary—link between poetry and body. Some account of Olson’s as a ‘poetics of embodiment’ or a ‘breath-poetics’ is almost ubiquitous in the extant criticism, yet what this might actually mean or imply for poetry and poetry-reading remains unclear. ‘Projective Verse’ is deeply ambivalent about print, seeing in it the ‘closed verse’ Olson looked to replace, while simultaneously idealising the typed-and-printed page as the only medium for the supposed immediacy of the poet’s breath. This essay contends that Olson’s lionisation of the typewriter is accompanied by a suppressed inscriptional register—a concern with carving and engraving—and asks what the substrate hosting this inscription might be. The aims of the piece are twofold: to demonstrate that ‘Projective Verse’ contains a logic of inscription which has gone severely underappreciated; and to argue that this logic runs up against the much better-documented logic of poetic embodiment via the breath in such a way as to deeply trouble criticism’s rather murky understanding of what that latter logic implies, both in Olson’s specific case and for poetry more generally. View Full-Text
Keywords: Charles Olson; breath; projective; poetics; inscription; ideogram; anti-art Charles Olson; breath; projective; poetics; inscription; ideogram; anti-art
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Gillott, B.C. Charles Olson’s ‘Projective Verse’ and the Inscription of the Breath. Humanities 2018, 7, 108.

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