Charles Olson at Goddard College

Readings and lectures by poet Charles Olson, from our repository of poetry recordings from the 1960s


Fields of Knowledge
  • Artistic legacies
  • Memory
  • Performance


Kyle Schlesinger, with Aaron Levy, Louis Cabri

Opens to public



4017 Walnut
Philadelphia, PA 19104


0% Formal - 100% Informal

Slought presents a selection from our online repository of poetry recordings from the 1960s. Charles Olson at Goddard College features nearly four hours of recordings of Charles Olson reading from Maximus III, Maximus V & The Distances (April 12, 1962) and giving a talk on Melville (April 14, 1962). The recordings and the transcript are available as a vault installation as well as online.

Charles Olson's first reading at Goddard College (Plainfield, Vermont) was recorded in the Haybarn Theatre on the evening of April 12th, 1962 while the talk on Melville was recorded in the same location on the afternoon of the 14th. Olson begins by addressing the problem of reading, "it's become a performing art, you feel as though you have an audience, and as if you're supposed to do a concert or something" and concludes, "I don't think I believe in verse in this respect at all." An ironic introduction for a tremendous reading from the third and fifth volume of The Maximus Poems with selections from The Distances. Goddard is a small, rustic college, popularized for it's progressive and experimental practices.

In the decade of Olson's visit, the student body was approaching its peak, with just over one-thousand students. According to Don and Susan Wilcox, the reading was arranged by Paul Weiners, a student at the time, who was remembered fondly as a "honky-tonk piano player" who later "became a kind of traveling cabaret act calling himself 'Sweet Pea'." Transcriptions of these recordings first appeared in the Minutes of the Charles Olson Society #s 2 (June 1993), 3 (October 1993) and 5 (September 1994). In addition to providing the reader/listener with the unique opportunity to observe the audio and textual recordings of the reading and talk, this transcription provides select bibliographic notes, reproductions of the poems and prose as they were read aloud, numerous corrections to the original transcription, and a more accessible means of distribution.-- Kyle Schlesinger

read more

"What the young know is the price today is huge, and already are clear that institutions are dinosaurs and sanctions are pitiful gasps and procedures all gone dead in their mouths and minds. The task wld seem to be to get the new things sorted and straight for all to have some idea of paths or procedures to follow (other than abandonment and suicide). Guerilla and soft."

-- Charles Olson, "Letter to Hank Chapin, April 25th, 1962"

"At Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, Olson's next stop, he was at his outgoing best for the first few days of a week-long reading/lecture visit, helping a young but receptive student audience though his latest mythohistorical Maximus run by airing his views on the poet's role as mythmaker—reformulated, he said, following discussions a few days earlier with Dartmouth French poetry expert Ramon Guthrie. (Guthrie had pointed out to him that the medieval French verb trobar meant to find, allowing word-root fanatic Olson to link the troubadour poets with Herodotus, Homer, and himself in the tradition of the investigative storyteller, 'the man who finds out the words.') But by the end of the week, both the poet himself and his wife [Betty Olson] had been summoned before the college Judiciary Committee, reprimanded for taking part in a wild drinking party on campus, and sternly 'told to abide by community laws while there.'"

-- Tom Clark, Charles Olson: The Allegory of a Poet's Life

Charles Olson (1910-1970) was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. By the late Forties his work received major attention. He was writing teacher and then rector at Black Mountain College, where Robert Creeley later taught. Volumes of Charles Olson's poetry include The Maximus Poems (1983) and The Collected Poems (1987).


These recordings of Charles Olson at Goddard College have been transcribed by Kyle Schlesinger, who would like to thank: Forest Davis of the Goddard College Archive for making these tapes available, Charles Olson Jr. for generously granting permission to display these lectures on the Slought Foundation website, Robert Creeley, Bill Sylvester and the Olson/Melville Reading Group at the State University of New York at Buffalo for their ongoing interest and feedback, Louis Cabri, Kristen Gallagher, and Aaron Levy for their assistance in the final revisions.

Kyle Schlesinger is a poet and received his PhD from the Poetics Program at SUNY Buffalo. He is the editor of Cuneiform Press and collaboratively edits Kiosk: A Journal of Poetry, Poetics, and Experimental Prose.