T.S. Eliot, Charles Olson and the Occupation of Gloucester

Brendan Gillott


This piece considers T.S. Eliot's 'The Dry Salvages', from Four Quartets, and Charles Olson's The Maximus Poems as examples of poetical occupations, with a focus on their writing on/of the port-town of Gloucester, Massachusetts. It considers questions of place, landscape, history, archaeology, leisure and labour, paying especial attention to the way in which Olson's work finds its impetus in correcting what the younger poet sees as the excessively generalised and inaccurate depiction of the city which Eliot provides in 'The Dry Salvages' This corrective tendency operates through Olson's 'particularism', a meticulous archival attention to detail and change in the landscape which combines historical research with record of lived phenomenal experience and the input of the senses. The piece argues that whilst Eliot's occupation is one of leisurely speculation, Olson's is one of labour, a complete occupation with rather than of Gloucester which rejects Eliot's poetic practice as a hostile occupation of the territory.

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