Charles Olson called his letters with Robert Creeley “perhaps the most important correspondence of my life.” In the dedication to The Maximus Poems (1960), Olson names Creeley “The Figure of Outward,” a term elaborated in a short poem written near the end of his life:
the Figure of Outward means way out way out
‘World,’ I’m sure, otherwise
why was the pt. then to like write to Creeley
daily? to make that whole thing
objectify the extension of an
‘outward’? a[n] opposite to a
personality which so completely does (did)
stay at home?
Through personal narrative and critique of individual poems, the nearly 1000 letters that passed between Olson and Creely parse the evolution of their generation’s poetics. Meticulously collected and edited by George F. Butterick and, later, Richard Blevins, these ten volumes stand as priceless testament to an entire era of the American word.
From the editor:
Each man allowed the other his head, took what came, and found of interest (or at least discussible) each other’s preoccupations. Sometimes a dialogue ensued, other times one generously allowed himself to be used as a sounding board for the other’s necessities. Together they hammered out a poetics – both the specialized craft of the wordsmith, but also the larger issue of how a man of language must live in the world.
—George Fiction. Butterick