Johns Hopkins University Press

Book history follows the principle of an entropic universe: cohesion succumbs to eventual diffusion. The flow of historical materials between people, institutions, and spaces renders our records "atomized, pulled apart, stored in separate containers, making it much harder for us to inhabit coherent stories, to make sense of ourselves, our history, and the times we live in."1 In the mid-twentieth century, the poet Charles Olson came to a similar conclusion during his scholarship on Herman Melville and in particular, Melville's reading practices. Because of financial troubles, after his 1891 death Melville's family sold his richly annotated library to dealers all over the East Coast. Beginning in 1933, Olson began to identify and gather these books from booksellers. In reconstituting this collection, he was one of the first scholars to encounter Melville's reading notes—sometimes mere "x" marks in the margin, but as in the case of his copies of Shakespeare, sometimes revealingly annotated.2 During his graduate work at Harvard's doctoral program in American Civilization from 1936 until 1939, Olson analyzed these annotations alongside Melville's research on the New England whaling industry, and argued for their fundamental connection to Moby Dick (1851).3 Harvard scholar F.O. Matthiessen (who brought Olson to Harvard) praised Olson's 1937 essay, "Lear and Moby-Dick" in his classic American Renaissance.4

Olson completed a book-length draft of his scholarship on Melville's reading practices and library in 1940, placing this material aside as he joined the Office of War Information in 1942 as the Assistant Chief of the Foreign Language Division, a post he resigned in 1944 in protest of government censorship policies. Olson's manuscript was later published as Call Me Ishmael in 1947,5 and he turned his comprehensive list of Melville's books over to Merton Sealts, who completed Melville's Reading (1948)6 by building [End Page 206] on Olson's inventories.7 During the 1950s height of anti-Communist panic, Cyril Lionel Robert James composed Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In (1953)8 while detained for months on Ellis Island under political suspicions of subversion. In Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways, James explored the political dimensions of Moby Dick and Melville, particularly on the shifting edges of totalitarianism and democracy that became so immediately relevant while he was detained. While Olson's and James's fates were radically different, their shared interest marks the political and historical relevance of Melville at the time—at once neglected by mainstream scholarship and politically salient, if not downright subversive.

In light of this, Olson's attempts to physically regather the books of this little-understood author may have raised eyebrows at the time—though at a 2019 auction, a lot containing two of Melville's annotated books cleared one hundred thousand dollars. Yet Olson's collecting proved essential to scholars who recognized Melville's literary merits. David Herd, in the introduction to Contemporary Olson, describes Olson's fundamental contribution as no less than "alter[ing] the field of Melville studies, both as archivist (re-assembling Melville's library) and through his radical re-contextualization of Moby-Dick."9 This "re-contextualization" takes place both materially and conceptually, setting the stage for a methodological lineage; Olson's own approach to Melville would become a template for scholars to one day address The Maximus Poems through Olson's own sprawling piles of books. As Ann Charters notes in her Olson/Melville: A Study in Affinity (1968), which traces Olson's approach to Melville, Olson's work amounts to more than that of a "scholar or academic critic," but more dramatically, a "basic restructuring of the entire human universe."10 As she and others have argued, Olson's utilization of Melville, books, and bibliography as part of a larger cosmological and poetic project is one of the hallmarks of his influence. Projects such as Richard Grossinger's Olson-Melville Sourcebooks (1976),11 Albert Glover and Jack Clarke's decades-long chapbook or fascicle series, A Curriculum of the Soul,12 Charters's aforementioned work, and perhaps most monumentally, Ralph Maud's Charles Olson's Reading: A Biography (1996),13 all follow the impulse to map Olson's reading practice as a way to understand his work, just as Olson did with Melville.

Ralph Maud, however, set out on a quest to match Olson's own extreme bibliophilic impulse. Over the course of his own lifetime, Ralph Maud collected copies of books that he deduced Olson had read, drawing on evidence in his poetry, correspondence, teaching materials, and even his apartment at 28 Fort Square in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Maud's letters to and from [End Page 207] friends and book dealers testify to the obsessive and painstaking nature of this project, with printouts of the online rare-book dealer ABE Books, receipts from local bookstores totaling hundreds of dollars, and back-and-forth banter about specific copies and volumes. After Maud's passing in 2014, this collection of books, comprising over three thousand volumes, was transported to Gloucester and named the Maud/Olson Library. There, in two shelf-lined rooms that overlook Gloucester Harbor, the collection lives with Ralph Maud's personal papers, anchored by Charles Olson's own massive, cigarette-burned, paint-streaked writing desk.

The Maud/Olson Library is an idiosyncratic resource to say the least; it is at once a physical library of the book-knowledge of a man, not just a facsimile of a legacy library belonging to Olson (the books possessed by Olson are mostly at University of Connecticut, Storrs, with the rest of his literary papers) but a conceptual project in its own right. However, the Maud/Olson Library, or MOL, is one star in the constellation of book collections generated by (or directly relating to) poets writing after World War II, in the broadly defined "New American" genre. Other examples include Diane di Prima's library on occult traditions in her garage in San Francisco, collected over the course of half a century as a specific act of archival preservation; Gerrit Lansing's house in Gloucester, which contained approximately 20,000 volumes across nine rooms with a special emphasis on magic and poetry before it was sold to various dealers; Vincent Ferrini's library (currently in process of being inventoried) at the Cape Ann Museum, also in Gloucester; and Ed Sanders's collection spanning numerous backyard sheds in Woodstock, New York. Beyond these examples, certain postwar American writers' book collections have been granted reading rooms, to become brick-and-mortar libraries in their own right—including Kathy Acker's library at the University of Cologne, and Kenneth Rexroth's library at the Kanda University of International Studies in Japan. Yet despite the rapid acceleration of the literary papers market in the twentieth century, with author archives fetching upwards of a million dollars, personal libraries are often not included in seller inventories or the eventual acquisition of an archive. Institutions often have limited resources for storing and cataloging author libraries as specific units, even though an author may conceive of their library as a conceptual project, or as an archive in and of itself. Without documentation of the unique materiality of these books—such as autograph annotations—they are at risk for being returned to the author or estate, deaccessioned, or redistributed to general collections without readily visible attribution to their provenance. And likewise, without documentation [End Page 208] of the importance of the books as evidence of the author's practices or as part of a research or creative project, scholars have little other option than to take annotation as a book-by-book phenomenon. In each instance—scholarly and institutional—the book becomes the unit of analysis, rather than the library.

The question of book-as-unit appears early in the era of growing interest in information science, and what would later become informally known as "information overload." Brooks Adams's The New Empire (1902),14 a key text for both Olson and Amiri Baraka, grapples with the growing influence of scientific industry upon American political influence as well as what Baraka (a longtime correspondent of Olson's) calls the "complete domination" of the "economic sensibility" as part of hostility towards artistic and creative life in American culture.15 Adams focuses intently on books as physical and conceptual units, arguing that the overemphasis on books within libraries as a fundamental unit of knowledge limits our ability to synthesize and derive meaningful knowledge from ever-increasing bibliographies. Adams compares books to facts, noting that "what gives facts value is their relation to each other; for when enough have been collected to suggest a sequence of cause and effect, a generalization can be made which scientific men call a 'law.'"16 And while the idea of knowledge organized by "scientific" reasoning is particularly charged in the early twentieth century, Adams' insistence that "no attempt has been made to digest what has been gathered," and "libraries are no longer able to buy and catalog the volumes which appear, and he who would read intelligently must first learn to eliminate" speaks to a problem we might now characterize as postmodern.17

Postwar American poets' libraries, then—or collections of books assembled by poets themselves, or as representations of poets' approaches to knowledge-building—have much to teach us in terms of how poets attempted to manage an ever-expanding universe of information in light of barriers of censorship, access, and discovery. These libraries also demonstrate curatorial strategy intersecting with life circumstances, by revealing what poets managed to keep, had to give up, or otherwise chose to preserve. In this sense, scholarship on earlier author libraries, such as those of Ben Jonson and Samuel Coleridge, provide insights into the contemporaneous book trade for private libraries and also larger questions of accumulating knowledge in material form. For instance, Ralph J. Coffman's work on Coleridge suggests that by reconstructing the poet's working library, we might better understand "the tension between the democratization of the printed word and the persistence of the elitist constraints on access to information in nineteenth-century [End Page 209] England."18 Likewise, applying this methodology to postwar twentieth-century American book collecting reveals specific considerations between restricted and free-flowing forms of knowledge in print, and also, significantly, changes in the type of poet who could collect a library. Poets with little income, transient housing, and no university affiliation or government resources often amassed important collections that they described conceptually, used regularly, and considered as part of their poetic practice. The aforementioned poets Lansing, di Prima, Ferrini, Sanders, and Olson all fall into this economic and extra-institutional category, making their libraries unique historical units (after Adams's formulation) even if the objects within are not necessarily rare volumes. Beyond these examples, poets including Olson, Audre Lorde, and many others created bibliographies as part of their poetry and pedagogy, expanding our concept of what their libraries may have actually contained—a question that the Maud/Olson Library takes up literally.

In this sense, book collecting is tied to the practice of enumerative bibliography, and for Olson, these two activities are of key poetic importance because of how they demonstrate or inform the idea of complete knowledge of a subject. For Olson—the man who first coined the term "postmodern" and its concomitant connotations of fragmented, expanded, unknowable narratives—the idea of "completeness" is a constant preoccupation. In his advice in A Bibliography on America for Ed Dorn (1964) to "saturate" and "beat" a single subject until it is fully known, Olson argues that "the point is to get all that has been said on given subject" and not just through "books: they stop" but rather archival documents, primary sources, and other premises that expand the small world of published material.19 Completeness of Olson's own material traces is elusive, as it is for many other authors; his materials are housed in multiple special collections across North America, including the MOL. Yet if, after Benjamin Friedlander, we consider Olson's work as a "borderless archive" that rejects the idea of "the book as ultimate horizon," we might more fully explore the iterative, possibly dialectic relationship between knowledge and its material form when the question of completeness or saturation consistently eludes us.20

The inherent lack of completeness in collections, to those in the professional world of archives and rare books, is practically a given, but this fact does not absolve us from scrutinizing the specific reasons why this may be the case or how this may reflect goings-on outside the world of book collecting. Charles Olson lived, worked, and wrote during an era dominated by a physics-heavy consciousness of the atomic bomb (as Peter Middleton [End Page 210] has explored) and that sought to distill everything down to its minute parts: atoms, information, archives, scholarly disciplines.21 At each turn, this fracturing is political, in that knowledge (or lack thereof) is an act of governing the extent of what can be known. It is also literally political, given Olson's work in the Office of War Information starting in 1942, at the same time as poet Muriel Rukeyser worked as a Visual Information Specialist. The rising tides of information management—as indicated by Rukeyser's very title, specializing in visual propaganda, not to mention Olson's own role in incorporating foreign language material into the Office's materials—meant that both poets were highly aware of the new ways knowledge was being created and distributed in light of information theory and cybernetics, during an era of ever-increasing government surveillance and control.22

This postmodern aspect speaks to both the conceptual structure of the MOL, and broader approaches to acquisitions and collections development within cultural institutions. Two questions resonate: how do we contain a rapidly proliferating body of knowledge in stable material form, and how are our practices influenced by the ramifications of information overload? While recent scholarship increasingly addresses Olson's approach to knowledge-building in the era of information overload, we have yet to fully address the archival implications of these forms of understanding.23 The MOL affords an opportunity to not just examine Olson's knowledge-building practices and how they might reflect a postwar American sense of information management, but also the archival elements that render this process visible and will preserve it for future generations of poets and scholars.

This focus on archives and materiality is tied directly to Olson's poetics and knowledge-building practices; for him, knowledge was always embodied, buried in the soil, material and real. The MOL's material qualities are experimental grounds to consider Olson's priorities not as a "historian of ideas," but, in the words of his mentor Edward Dahlberg, a "historian of realities."24 Olson's work relied on a symbiotic approach to the material considerations of his world—Gloucester, Mayan potsherds, research in England on the colonial period—combined with the epistemological question of how we can touch what can be known. Even for Olson's cosmological approach, "space, like myth, had to be as actual, solid, and factual as everything else," and characterized by "insistence upon the concrete and literal condition of all cosmic forms."25 We might then take Olson's work in book history and the resulting archival traces as an extension of his epistemological concerns, the bedrock of his very poetics, and part of a larger response to the dematerialization of knowledge in postwar America, after N. Katherine Hayles's call to see information as material and embodied. [End Page 211]

Thus, while the premise of the MOL speaks specifically to scholars of Olson and New American poetry, as a special collection it is part of a larger conversation that concerns the visibility and interpretation of postwar American poets' libraries, particularly as subjects that warrant the scholarly toolkit of a book historian. While the MOL's idiosyncratic structure does not necessarily make it a typical example of poet-generated libraries from this era (since it is not in fact generated by the poet itself), the very uniqueness of this resource allows us to think broadly of the institutional and material qualities of what we might conceptually deem a "poet's library." In particular, this collection's dual representation of Olson and of Maud makes vivid the possibilities of what happens when the material paradox of the bibliography as a conceptual act—summoning books that are materially absent but intellectually present—is challenged by being made incarnate. With regard to Olson's own interest in enumerative bibliography, a practice of inventory in which books shape (or limit) the field of what is possible to be known, the MOL provides insights into how Olson's conceptual project of shaping the "human universe" or postmodern knowledge itself, relates to and operates on specific material conditions. By negotiating the conceptual and the material in the MOL, I will contextualize the possibilities of the collection as a model for the very real material considerations of non-institutionalized archival spaces and holdings, in an era marked by the proliferation of knowledge with increasingly destabilized structures in which to house it.

Material: Making the Maud/Olson Library

In his 2016 essay, "Driving Charles Olson's Brain,"26 Gregor Gibson, an author, book dealer (who in fact sold certain volumes to Maud for his collection), and founding member of the Maud/Olson steering committee, recounts the odyssey he took in 2015 after Maud's death in 2014 to pack up and relocate the Library from Vancouver to Gloucester, where Maud's bequest had donated it to the Gloucester Writers Center. Joined by Henry Ferrini, the Director of the Gloucester Writers Center, documentary filmmaker, and nephew of Vincent Ferrini (addressee of the first Maximus letters), Gibson describes the transcontinental drive and its deep reveal of America's "sprawling, gorgeous, deep, murderous, inscrutable" self. Gibson then applies this same litany of adjectives, in the very same order, to "Olson's Brain," his term of affection for the Maud/Olson Library. This [End Page 212] repetition weaves together the vastness of the American landscape and of Olson's knowledge, invoking the sublime ("gorgeous … murderous") and conceptualizing the immensity of Maud's project and its possibilities.

The books, as Maud envisioned them, forge direct lines back to Olson. Maud spent decades hunting down copies of books Olson had read and accessioning them into his collection via annotation and bookplates. When possible, Maud painstakingly transcribed Olson's own marginalia into the books he had collected. Maud also created a bookplate for each item, containing a summary of the book's relationship to Olson and sometimes jotting down page numbers where annotations had been carefully inscribed. The bookplates offer a preliminary template for understanding the collection itself; each plate is titled "Charles Olson Collection," with a picture of Olson's book-strewn table and office, and captioned "the main working area in Olson's apartment. He usually slept here. From his chair at the desk he could look out and see Ten Pound Island, the outer harbor of Gloucester, and out to sea." Below contained four dotted lines for Maud's contextualizing annotations, and centered at the bottom of the plate, "Ex libris ~ Ralph Maud." The bookplates document the intimacy of Maud's connection with Olson's work through his books. Thus, the MOL not only represents "Olson's Brain," using books as metonymy for the knowledge they provided Olson, but also "Maud's Brain": the obsessive scholarly and personal project of assembling such a vast corpus of materials.

The MOL inventory was comprehensively published as Issues #64, #65, #66 of The Minutes of the Charles Olson Society, in conjunction with the Charles Olson Centenary Conference at Simon Fraser University from June 4th to 6th in 2010. This publication crystallized, to some extent, a complex acquisitional and bibliographic history that is now materially solidified and accessible on the tidy shelves of the MOL at 108 East Main Street, right down the street from the Gloucester Writers Center (housed in Vincent Ferrini's old framing shop and home). Launched in spring 2016 with support from André Spears, the MOL now also holds the Ralph Maud papers as well as Olson's writing desk. Ann Charters donated Theresa Bernstein paintings, and Thorpe Feidt paintings line the hallway. The poet, and close friend of Olson, Gerrit Lansing also donated materials and even annotated Maud's bookplates with his own personal knowledge of Olson's reading. The collection is community-oriented, with the scholars, writers, and artists who know the most about Ralph Maud and Charles Olson serving on the steering committee or advising in various formal or informal capacities. Thus, the MOL is not just a museum of Maud's collection, but continues to be curated collectively by those who understand its context best. [End Page 213]

Maud donated the collection to the Gloucester Writers Center before he passed away, with the understanding that it would be housed and displayed in a dedicated space in Gloucester for at least five years.27 The books might well have remained in Vancouver, but in October 2015 an agreement was reached and Miriam Nichols, Alan Franey, Peter Grant, Henry Ferrini, and Gregor Gibson brought the MOL to Gloucester in a U-Haul.28 The shape of the Maud/Olson Library remains to be determined; neither its location nor funding is necessarily permanent. However, efforts to contextualize the MOL and seek scholars to animate it continue; the Gloucester Writers Center provides key contextualization and audience for the Maud/Olson Library, in the former's mission to offer extensive curricula and community that supports local writers across education levels and genres. And recently, the MOL brought sixty volumes to The Graduate Center, CUNY, for a popup exhibition and conversation about independent special collections, with the sponsorship of the Community Grants Program from the Bibliographical Society of America.

To fully understand the capacities of the Maud/Olson Library, we must understand the collection as a vector into understanding each word in its title: Maud, the scholar; Olson, the poet who approaches knowledge as fundamentally material; and the library as an institutional unit that can be reframed in light of the conceptual qualities of the men whose brains it purports to represent. Assessing the interplay across these categories gives us greater insight into the possibilities and limitations of "Olson's Brain," as well as lessons on formulating special collections spaces and experiences that reflect their creators and contents.

Conceptual: Making the Maud/Olson Library

While two short years passed between Maud's death and the establishment of the Maud/Olson Library, the scholarship represented on the shelves of the MOL has been culminating for decades, fed by Maud's own talents and the synergistic fact that scholars who study Olson tend to aim for staggering thoroughness. George Butterick, a student of Olson's and the curator of Literary Archives at the University of Connecticut during the acquisition of Olson's materials, had produced a "Preliminary List" before the full bibliography appeared.29 Butterick, too, had extensive interest in Olson's books, and augmented the collection at Storrs that was based on Olson's volumes from Black Mountain with additional volumes of books Olson was thought [End Page 214] to have read. Maud's project, though, is a unique combination of Olsonia and collecting chops. No stranger to building large-scale book collections, he is largely responsible for the Contemporary Literature Collection at Simon Fraser, where he acquired pamphlets, chapbooks, little magazines, and other ephemeral items representing the years from 1945 to 1965. Thus, while the MOL currently does not have an institutional affiliation, its generator was highly skilled in navigating traditional environments for acquiring and maintaining special collection resources.

In particular, Ralph Maud's papers within the Maud/Olson Library offer a close-at-hand means of contextualizing the efforts that went into the development of his collection. The papers, currently being cataloged by Gregor Gibson, consist largely of correspondence that reveals the deeply networked nature of the project of collecting Olson's books. A crucial aspect of this story is Jack Clarke, and his visit to 28 Fort Square in 1965 after Betty Olson's death in a car accident. To lure Olson home again (he had not been back in the apartment since her death), Jack and Sue Clarke went in to help with the basics—cleaning floors, placing books back on shelves. In this process, Jack Clarke began to create an inventory of Olson's books in a series of small notebooks. He recounted the process to Maud in a 1989 letter, housed in the Ralph Maud papers located at the MOL:

When we arrived the back door was open, the padlock broken, so it had been entered by unknown persons already. Jean and I secured the place. As far as she could tell, nothing was missing. I assume the library was fairly intact at the date of the inventory. Later, when George [Butterick] actually took possession of the books, things had by then come up missing (why he made use of my list in the archive magazine), some before his death, especially from the other side where he had boxes (Linda Parker might know about this period), some after, to family, etc. Kate and Connie were there directly—unfortunately things got disposed of—not books, but things—which I know George wanted for the archive. Not big things, Laurence pissing, Quetzal's thigh, but simply, say, a shirt to show size etc., or a table used to write on, an old wobbly throwaway anything. The big things got sold anyway, so neither archive nor family has them, though George was always looking out for stuff that might come up for sale in N.Y. this way to buy back for the archive (though resources always slim post-Olson #10.). Jean has some books of Charles that never entered the archive. Of course this works both ways, e.g., Charles had many of Harvey's books on loan which George would never let him have back, like 2 sets [End Page 215] of the Historica Highways. So, along with Linda, Harvey, & Kate, Boer was also in and out of the Fort in this time frame (though his memory leaves a lot to be desired, to put it mildly), but I'm afraid you'll only get 'stories' if anything as to discrepancies between my list of 1965 and the actual situation, 1970. So I guess it's quite fortunate that more were not lost in this period (mainly because of annotation, obviously), because the place was never secure except when he was occupying it.

This passage highlights the basic question of household security in gauging the accuracy of Olson's library, since his home had been broken into by "unknown persons" by the time Clarke began his inventory. This instability is accompanied by tension between how archives and families approach objects: Butterick had wanted a shirt to show Olson's size, for instance, while Connie and Kate (Olson's former wife and their daughter) had disposed of many personal belongings in cleaning out the apartment. The passage contains a variety of names, highlighting the dense social structures that govern the distribution of Olson's books or evidence of them having been there, including Jean's books that "never entered the archive," and Olson's borrowed copies that Butterick claimed for Storrs. Finally, Clarke characterizes the list as highly permeable, since Olson's place was only "secure" when Olson himself was in it, and otherwise the flow of books between people in Olson's milieu can be characterized only by disparate "stories." For Clarke, while the list technically solidifies Olson's collection at a certain time, its entire premise is marked by instability, permeability, and the impossibility of completeness.

This impossibility of completeness is matched only by the intensity of our desire for it. Reflecting on a moment when he arrived at Olson's apartment, only to interrupt him in the act of writing in a poem, Maud asserts that observing Olson's desk and room scattered with books gave way to the

conviction that to follow the evidences of Olson's reading—the books he kept, the books he stored or gave away, the books that the poems, essays, and letters reveal he used, the significant articles in magazines he was sent or read at the drugstore counter or whatever (there is so much evidence, and the abundance is to the point)—to follow Olson's movement within these source works is the best way to get into the poems, which, as I witnessed, are often a direct extension of his reading. The life of the poet was a life within books.30 [End Page 216]

Parentheticals often paradoxically set aside a key point—here, the question of "abundance" of evidence in the sheer variety of scope of Olson's reading. Of primary importance is the manifold nature of the material, much of it ephemeral or possibly inconclusive. Materials that we might traditionally conceive of as "ephemera," including the descriptions of "drugstore counter" or "whatever" magazine article, are calcified in Olson's letters, lectures, and poems, meticulously reconstructed and traced by Maud. The very materiality of some of these items resists completeness, and it is a testament to Maud's skills as a collector that so much of it remains preserved.

Thus, the MOL's current incarnation in Gloucester is only a moment of temporary stasis in a long history of such moments. This can make its interpretation challenging at times, especially to broader audiences. While the MOL has welcomed dozens of visitors and researchers, from local highschoolers to Olson translators, André Spears also acknowledges that there exists a "possible alternate view of the Maud/Olson Library as a waste of time and money, a collection of replicas that are basically fakes, from which are missing the bibliophilic items of true value." The skeptical alternative, however, does not stand up to close examination of the history and structure of the MOL. The books are not replicas of Olson so much as they are originals from Maud: a material testament to his conceptual project while they gesture also towards Olson's own knowledge and reading practices. The lack—rather, impossibility—of completeness in a bibliographic project like this is fundamental to the conceptual work of the MOL in its representation of Olson's knowledge practices. It underscores, in material form, that knowledge-building is always in process, despite the appearances of fixity in material instantiations like libraries or archives. This indeterminacy, this in-processness, reminds us of Olson's own always-unfinished work of scoping fields of knowledge, negotiating the postmodern problem of information overload. Fortunately, the MOL offers us a few sense-making techniques.

"Biblio. & Library"

On the one hand, the question of completeness thus far refers to the collection of the books in the context of a full library. On the other, completeness and its impossibility in the context of the MOL also refers to Olson's reading practices: that is, what was actually read and why it matters. Of Olson's master's thesis, Maud cautions that we need not be "gulled into assuming that everything mentioned has been read," noting that Olson's passing allusions [End Page 217] to major literary works do not appear in his later library or even necessarily in his poetry.31 Likewise, Gerrit Lansing annotates the Maud bookplate of Phenomenology of Perception by M. Merleau-Ponty (translated by Colin Smith) with the simple "Did O see the book?"

The difficulty of comprehensiveness over the course of a lifetime means that there is no stable, material concept of a library that was expanding ever-outward; the only evidence we truly have of Olson's reading practice must be obtained through multimodal sources, given its existence in his actual books, Maud's Olson library, as well as Olson's letters, lectures, poetry, interviews, and other material traces. Olson's ever unstable financial circumstances as well as his intellectual interests shaped his library as a living thing. And of course, very few individuals have a stable library over the course of decades. How then, do we negotiate the conceptual project of the MOL alongside an understanding of Olson's own library? In his letter to Maud, Clarke described the difference between his and Butterick's lists of Olson's reading:

Butterick's list in Olson doesn't include all the books here because:

A) As you ask, some of the books are not his.

B) Many of these titles, especially specialized, expensive ones, were borrowed from the SUNY library by Charles, so though 'his' he didn't own them—the dif. between biblio. & library.

C) Furthermore, many books recommended along the way were from memory, one he had seen or used previously, but not possessed at any time.

Here, Clarke identifies a key premise, expanded over points A, B, and C: the difference between "biblio. & library," as a result of many of Olson's books not being his own property. Clarke notes, "though 'his' he didn't own them," characterizing the "his" as Olson having intellectual command although not material ownership over the items. Library, for Clarke, implies some sense of material ownership.32 However, one can "own" a book without possessing it materially, given the symbolic value of the book as metonym for Olson's knowledge and his distillation of the contents within it. Within this paradigm, the word "library" in the context of the Maud/Olson collection is indeed fitting—Maud established actual ownership over all of the books he assembled for the project—but Clarke's distinction highlights the conceptual paradox of the MOL. The MOL is a synthetic fabrication, a conceptual unit materialized by Maud that would not otherwise have ever become incarnate. To that end, in terms of technique, the only way to stabilize [End Page 218] the concept of "Olson's Library" or, as Gibson calls it, "Olson's Brain," is enumerative bibliography—a practice closely tied to library-building as well as Olson's own critical work.

Enumerative bibliography entails the listing of publication and bibliographic (that is, book as physical object) information on items that relate to a specific subject, with the goal of author- or subject-specific comprehensiveness. It is perhaps one of Olson's earliest and most persistent literary forms. In the beginning of his master's thesis, Olson provides "the first complete bibliography of Herman Melville ever attempted," bringing together unpublished letters, doctoral theses, and published works from across United States libraries.33 Later, in 1955, at Black Mountain, at Edward Dorn's request he writes A Bibliography on America for Ed Dorn, which circulates privately for years until its printing by Donald Allen as a pamphlet by the Four Seasons Foundation in San Francisco in 1964.34 While for the MOL, bibliographic knowledge of Olson underlies the conceptual and material unit of the "library" itself, for Olson, bibliography functions not as evidence of reading that has been accomplished, but rather as mapping the contours of what can be known based on textual evidence at a certain point in time. This practice of bibliography as testing the limits of what can be known in the future, as opposed to evidence of what has been read or digested in the past, is essential to understanding Olson's relationship to materiality—and thus, the way this understanding crystallizes on the MOL's shelves.

In A Bibliography on America for Ed Dorn, Olson advocates for a "saturation job" of a subject—"to dig one thing or place or man," either archaeologically or enthusiastically (dig it?), until one's knowledge is exhaustive. Olson advocates for this process occurring within "primary documents," as Maud reprints:

Repository #1: THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES, Wash., D.C.

``                 #2: Senate Documents (published)

``                 #3: Bureau of Am. Ethnology Reports & Bulletins (pub. by the Smithsonian Inst.)35

Not only does Olson use the institutional language of the "repository," the overarching term for an organization that holds archives, collections, libraries, and other cultural heritage collections, but he advocates first and foremost for an archival approach.36 Books, he argues just prior to this list, only contain finite information that requires supplement, challenging, and further digging. Olson practiced what he preached; he recounts to Ann Charters in Olson/Melville how he chased a lead in a book to the Shaw [End Page 219] Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society by sitting in their donor's kitchen, realizing the connection, and then making beeline for the archive.37 Not only proficient in the interpersonal dealings of archival research, Olson was involved in archival creation. In a 1950 letter, he recounts going into a bookshop to find a copy of D.H. Lawrence's Fantasia and instead finding the bookseller in possession of a collection, whose sale he then facilitated to the Library of Congress.38 While the worlds of archivist and academic are disparate today, as a result of efforts for professionalization in both fields over the course of the century, Olson offers a fluid model—more common in the first half of the twentieth century, during an era of interest in establishing special collections and also public libraries—that generatively blends researcher and collector roles in the service of the subject at hand.

While characterized by an archival impulse, Olson's thinking was often shaped by information science, especially by Norbert Wiener's Cybernetics (1948),39 which shows up almost wholesale in "The Kingfishers" (1949).40 In an echo of atomic theory, a popularly-known development of modern physics, Wiener framed humans as machines, in which all elements of information and communication could be reduced down to their parts. Olson's work with primary sources shows a strong interest in taxonomies of information and materials; Maud recounts his 1953 handout to freshmen that states "fiction is only one form of storytelling" and lists the next top five: "the dictionary, "the encyclopedia," "the library card catalogue," and "Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature," then "Herodotus's History" and the daily newspaper.41 The variety of reference genres here as generative, narrative forms is striking for its dissonance with contemporaneous literary studies. I.A. Richards in Principles of Literary Criticism (1924) cites Britannica-style resources as "negligible,"42 while Olson wields them to great effect in "The Kingfishers," where Olson includes language from the Encyclopaedia Britannica to describe the bird's life cycle.43 For Olson, returning to primary sources, to dictionaries, to library catalogues, to the fundamental units of information offers an opportunity to seek information at its source, recombine it on the atomic level, and develop new fields of understanding based therein.

For Olson, source information was an intellectual priority, and its presence in his work is reflected with varied degrees of "processed" and "unprocessed" information. After the traditional archival definition, "processed" collections have been fully accessioned by their repository, include a finding aid or other catalog record, and are served in a dedicated space in a particular manner based on the policies of the institution. Olson, sitting at a kitchen table of a literary executor and then pawing through boxes at the Massachusetts [End Page 220] Historical Society, or wandering a bookstore only to purchase a significant collection, engages with primary sources at a highly unmediated and unprocessed level—he often intervened actively in the sources themselves. Thus, a possible parallel emerges between Olson's archival approach and his approach to reference. His approach to knowledge development is to build information up close to its source, before interpretation, in the act of collating its fundamental material or definitional existence.

This re-source-fulness as a strategy for assembling knowledge is fundamental to Olson's approach to bibliography as well, especially in his Bibliography on America for Ed Dorn. Dorn reflected on the Bibliography in his Olson Memorial Lectures at Buffalo in 1981, noting its meaningfulness to him, and specifically that

the value for a student in a well-conceived bibliography is not in the bibliography's comprehension, or completeness, if such a completion were possible, but in the engagement of certain of its—I don't want to say "genes." But in the engagement of certain of its—I'd like to say here that the lighthearted depreciation of some of Olson's sources on the basis that some of them are dated—for instance, I've heard this charged against the Pleistocene work—or not up to date, leave me cold, and unimpressed. The value of a working instructional bibliography lies in its net of connections. It isn't concerned with the latest so-called "corrections" and insights of the latest worker, or the latest hot number. The value for a student in a well-conceived bibliography is not in the bibliography's comprehension, but in the engagement of certain of its genes.44

Dorn speaks iteratively here, looping back on his definition multiple times to refine the difference between the content and the connections within a bibliography. Fundamentally, the bibliography offers an opportunity to explore a "net of connections" that is not necessarily comprehensive, but demonstrates a path to certain foundational ideas, traditions, circumstances, or individuals—what Dorn deems "genes." This biological approach envisions bibliography as a living organism, in possession of genetic matter than can be queried and explored, as well as vector to return to a source, to the cellular level of knowledge in this metaphor, by way of examining the interconnectedness of textuality.

Dorn goes on to suggest that the source-based quality of bibliography means it functions like a "map" that can be read in manifold ways, since maps are used to "go different places" and "do different things" depending on their users.45 Indeed, this is a useful template for the Maud/Olson Library [End Page 221] on the whole, whose contents can be animated in a variety of ways depending on its audience. In the MOL, multiple prisms of intellectual depth filter the experience itself. These prisms—Olson's approach to reading, the actual subjects of his library, Maud's approach to Olson's reading, the depth of his research on this topic—exist in a vast array of archival materials, from Olson's reading lists and correspondence and even his poetry, to Maud's letters, conversations, research, and more. Olson and Maud's bibliographic obsession adds still more layers of meaning over the MOL. Like Dorn's "net of connections," each book is a vector to another, by means of its own bibliography, its presence in another's bibliography, or its relationship to a primary source. From this and from Clarke's definition, we might define bibliography as a fundamentally conceptual practice that negotiates presence and absence of materials simultaneously. Thus, it stands that when this conceptual form is made incarnate—into a library, like the Maud/Olson—that the materiality itself becomes a site for rapidly-expanding meaning.

This is Yeats Speaking (through the MOL)

The reading environment of special collections in general is characterized by a sense of isolation from the visual and material scope of the collection. While open stacks became a symbol of access in university libraries after World War Two, and while all library access policies are individually set according to the regulations and resources of their institution, special collections often operate on a reading-room model in which materials are not available for the researcher to self-select but must instead be paged from a (presumably) more secure location.46 This process often exists in complex interplay with open stack models, often within the same institution; Terry Belanger, summarizing student reports on special collections between 1976 and 1985, notes an "ancient New England library" in which many rare American first editions were discovered and subsequently "locked up," but not so a collection of incunabula that remained on the open stacks until 1967, with "scandalous" circulation cards affixed within—"scandalous" because the very cards themselves, glued to centuries-old open-shelved books, undermine the collection's mission of secure preservation and limited access.47

In this access model, a researcher first scrutinizes catalog records, inventories, or finding aids to identify materials of interest. Of course, this step requires that materials are catalogued in the first place, or, depending on [End Page 222] the researcher's location, that digital records are available for remote access. Then, once relevant materials have been identified, they are paged by a specialist, and delivered in a limited amount for the researcher to examine methodically. Since all special collections may operate according to their own guidelines, often set by a curator, the amount of material that may be accessed at any given time varies. Certain collections offer an archival folder at a time, an archival box at a time, or only a few books, and it is almost impossible for the average researcher to see the scope of the collection in its physical, material form, since browsing archival boxes or rare-book stacks often constitutes a security violation. The only way that an average researcher can ever gain a sense of scope in terms of the collection is through its metadata, whether that be catalog record or a more extensive finding aid. Once again, this also only covers materials that have been catalogued, meaning that there is always backlog information or acquisitions that a researcher can never account for at all, unless they are telepathic or have an inside connection to the repository.48

In contrast to this, while it remains a special collection because of its mix of rare-book and archival resources, the rooms of the MOL simply are—drawers of archives to be opened and stacks of alphabetized open shelves, all ready to be browsed at the researcher's leisure. Maud's meticulous bookplates are tucked in each book's pastedown, and while they each lead to worlds of correspondence, research, Maud's life work, a visitor to the Maud/Olson Library is initially confronted only with spines, an assortment of titles and subject areas, browsable but almost impenetrable. Metaphorically speaking, most archival collections present a building brick-by-brick, making available to users only partial context to assemble a perception of the whole building. The MOL offers the whole building first, and we look up at its immensity, experiencing the awe of that confrontation.

The gesture of open stacks in a special collection, while it may be born of the community basis of the MOL and indeed, its smaller budget, is significant rhetorically. The experience of awe and immensity at the scope of the books, while still being unable to perceive the density of their connections to each other, raises the question of affective response in special collections, and even in terms of scoping knowledge as part of Olson's project. While not yet a predominant theoretical lens in the archival and special collections community, "the affective turn" is gaining traction.49 In these conversations, the question of affect, or emotional experiences in archival spaces, touches on the intersection of the political and personal, on erasure and precarity, and is especially relevant to engaged endangered archives in war-afflicted [End Page 223] communities, or interrogating LGBTQ archives for silenced histories. In this instance, we might interpret the affective experience of the MOL as part of the energies of Olson's own interest in the body as a site of experience.

In Miriam Nichols' indispensable Radical Affections, she cites Martha Nussbaum and Charles Altieri to explore the ways "that poetry may catch and hold our experience of the world as larger than ourselves" to reanimate the terms "love, cosmicity, the practice of the outside" in the works of Olson, Creeley, Duncan, Spicer, and Blaser.50 Of Olson in particular, she states, "document plus affect: these are the coordinates of Olson's map."51 And indeed, within the MOL's open stacks, "document plus affect" is a potent formulation not just for Olson's work, but for a visitor seeking to make sense of the space.

This affective quality necessarily plays out across and within bodies. In the 1953 work "The Resistance (for Jean Riboud)" Olson argues that man has to fundamentally contend with "his own physiology … it is his body that is his answer, his body intact and fought for, the absolute of his organism in its simplest terms."52 This process was not just theoretical for Olson: he even performed ballet at one point, taken by the critical and expressive possibilities of the body.53 This bodily appreciation of experience itself as a site of knowledge-building is key in affect theory on the whole, and discussed to great effect by Teresa Brennan's The Transmission of Affect. Articulating that the "transmission of affect" is "social in origin but biological and physical in effect," Brennan describes how energies are transmitted across bodies and spaces from either individuals or environment.54 She further argues that because of the permeability of affects within spaces, that this possibility "undermines the dichotomy between the individual and the environment and the related opposition between the biological and the social."55 While still accounting for the particulars of individual experience, Brennan's work ultimately destabilizes the idea of the "self-contained Western identity" that separates the self from the "Other"—often with political consequences. This, too, constitutes an important aspect of Olson's own knowledge-building project, which he enumerates in "Human Universe" by condemning mere acts of "demonstration, a separating out, an act of classification" to constitute "a stopping," arguing that instead, "any of us, at any instant, are juxtaposed to any experience, even an overwhelming single one, on several more planes than the arbitrary and discursive which we inherit can declare."56 This concept—that experience need not be contained arbitrarily, since it can simultaneously stretch in manifold directions—is in part a guiding principle of the material conditions of the MOL itself, and part of its force as an act of knowledge production. [End Page 224]

Considering this focus on experience, alongside Clarke's idea of "library vs. biblio," we might think of the Library as part conceptual art, part performance art that is co-created by its users as they engage in a conceptual piece that demonstrates the contours, limits, and possibilities of bibliographic knowledge. André Spears highlights this quality in "Maud/Olson and Me," noting that Maud's work does not simply function as an "Olson source library" but as a "conceptual art installation … designed to highlight Olson's library as a space through which and around which a community or 'polis' might come to life," or "an open invitation to enter a growing and evolving network of texts that would cohere as social body." It is this invitation, and the mechanisms of it, that feels most immediate to the reader upon entering the collection. The conceit of the MOL, with its open shelves full of rare books and periodicals that hide their bookplates (and thus conceptual worlds) within their covers, generates a provocation to the researchers that casts them as performers: find your starting point. Which book do you pull, in this body, space, and time?

Choosing a book off a shelf is not necessarily a revolutionary act. Yet, that first choice is significant from a perspective of a reader "performing" the collection: the only way in, or to begin to create an understanding of the totality, is to start somewhere. And once you've pulled that first book, the network of meaning in the collection starts to reveal itself through the materiality of the book, the Maud bookplate, the secondary sources and experiences that surround the collection. But to return to the revolutionary: choosing to engage with knowledge-building in a particular way is always a political act, especially within Olson's criteria. In his opening sentence of "The Gate and the Center," Olson writes: "KNOWLEDGE either goes for the CENTER or it's inevitably a State Whore—which American and Western education generally is, has been, since its beginning."57 The conceptual structure of the MOL—as "Olson's Brain," in material form, yet a conceptual piece in and of itself—means that addressing any arc enables the reader access to a central core. This core is as unstable as the material paradox of libraries and bibliography, in which the knowledge they metonymize is located in bodies, not the books. In this capacity, each and every item may be utilized as a vector into a core of meaning—Olson's universe—and outward, into possibilities suggested by the books' very materiality.

As a study in examples, we might start with William Butler Yeats, an author that Ralph Maud pinpoints as inspiring Olson's critical approaches to literature and whom Olson later activates in his essay, "This is Yeats Speaking." Maud notes that Olson wrote an essay on Yeats for Wilbert Snow's "modern poetry course" in 1930, and enumerates the books he was likely [End Page 225] to have purchased, including Early Poems and Stories (1925), Later Poems (1928), and The Tower (1928), and a poem of Yeats's that Olson had spied in The New Republic.58 This discussion takes only a page of Maud's Charles Olson's Reading: A Biography, but the material works of Yeats occupy far more conceptual and physical space in the MOL itself. In some ways, the Yeats section of the MOL illustrates Olson's own point: that books have artificial stopping points or arbitrarily-contained subjects. Maud's inventory is only a paragraph, compared to the ample shelf space Yeats occupies; however, the very materiality of the Yeats books themselves offers extensive vectors outward.

W.B. Yeats's A Packet for Ezra Pound (1929) is one of the first books in sequence on the shelf that contains Yeats, and Maud's bookplate indicates that the book was "used in college paper." The MOL volume is stunning, with lettered signatures and a red ink colophon that notes "four hundred and twenty-five copies of this book have been printed and published by Elizabeth Corbet Yeats on paper made in Ireland at the Cuala Press, 133 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin, Ireland. Finished in the first week of June 1929." On its flyleaf, a small penciled dollar amount remains: 250. The book is a very fine copy, first edition of Yeats: a lovely acquisition by the MOL, but not likely a student-grade copy. While it is ambiguous whether Olson actually read certain books in the MOL, this particular book cannot ever have been read by anyone: its pages remain uncut. While the book represents what Olson learned from it, its actual materiality—its uncut pages—shows that would have been impossible.

In this same vein, Yeats's Last Poems and Plays (1939) is inscribed "To mother with love from Lois / May 1940," while Maud's bookplate states "Olson took the BMC copy. Storrs." Indicating that Olson "borrowed" the Black Mountain College library version, which is now housed at University of Connecticut. Maud's bookplate highlights the disparateness of Olson's pilfered copy with the material life of the book Maud obtained for his version of Olson's library, preserving a certain Lois's dedication to her mother. Like A Packet for Ezra Pound, as well as many others in the collection, this book is marked as a first American edition, printed by Macmillan in 1940. Its sale price is noted at $85, likely far too extravagant for Olson. This price, once again, highlights the disjunction between Maud's first edition library and Olson's likely-free bibliographic possession of the material, after Clarke's distinction.

Indeed, the Yeats section of the MOL contains a numerous fine copy editions, many of them very good finds indeed. Yeats's Ideas of Good and [End Page 226] Evil (1903), published by A.H. Bullen, also contains unopened signatures and unique typographic details, including page headers in the margins as opposed to the top. The Tower (1928), by Macmillan in London, has gold tooling on the cover, unopened introductory pages, deckled edges, and a penciled-in price of $105. The bookplates notes "Clarke's list," a reference to Clarke's inventories of Olson's work in 1965 at 28 Fort Square, reframing this fine copy as a reference to one of the many books scattered across Olson's apartment.

Not all of Maud's acquisitions are of rare stock; while Yeats's Autobiographies: Reveries Over Childhood and Youth and The Trembling of the Veil was published in New York by Macmillan in 1927, the flyleaf reveals the book is a library discard, last checked out on October 26, 1999, from the duPont-Ball Library of Stetson University in DeLand, Florida. And indeed, not all books in the Library are early imprints. Catherine E. Paul and Margaret Mills Harper's edited volume of The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, specifically the thirteenth volume that features the original 1925 version of A Vision, was published by Scribner in 2008. The bookplate notes that "Olson consulted the 1925 edition for his college paper." Two very different print materials, then, are substituted for each other in a symbolic manner, as evidence of Olson's reading. The 2008 date of the edition also illustrates the lifelong nature of Maud's collecting, as it signals his fifth decade of acquisitions for the project.

The presence of Maud's penciled-in annotations only augments the unique material considerations of the MOL, speaking to Olson's knowledge on the one hand, and to radically different vectors of materiality on the other (Lois's inscription, the unopened pages). In the Maud/Olson copy of A Vision, one of Yeats's most esoteric works, Maud's bookplate states that the pen notes in Maud's hand were "taken from the Storrs copy," and in parentheses, he notes that half-erased pencil markings in the book belong to another owner. Published by Macmillan in 1961, this text is heavily annotated throughout as Maud reproduces Olson's own annotations from the 1938 Macmillan edition copy held at Storrs. On the back flyleaf of the MOL copy, Maud copies out a passage from "The nail of the cross" poem, citing "see 'Crown of Nails' A Nation of Nothing But Poetry p. 20 poem based on p. 278 and 294. …" The notes go on to engage with this notoriously complex text, asking on page 278 "where a nail of the cross became the bit of Constantine's horse" and citing "neoplatonism," then underlining Yeats's description of the world becoming Christian as a "fabulous formless darkness" with the question "as fascism?" Through Maud's annotations, we [End Page 227] might also see how Olson engages with the premise of the work, annotated as "the confusion of spirits over material location" in which Yeats describes his method of receiving dictation.59 The front flyleaf further highlights Olson's depth of engagement with this text, as Maud reproduces annotations that demonstrate the interconnectedness of Olson's reading practice:

    soft immortal bounces stream Euryodocles (?)Dying each other's life, living each    other's death—Heraclitus

Leda 267     gyres    How great the gulp between            simplicity + insipidity Blake 72

    discarnate (follows incarnation) 79

Olson draws out resonances and key themes in his annotations, not just for A Vision but with regard for his larger cosmological interests in the discarnate and immaterial versus incarnated, gyres as a Yeatsian cosmological schema, and leaps across large swathes of texts and time—Blake, Heraclitus, and the questionably spelled or identified "Euryodocles." While fully exploring the semantic content of the Maud/Olson annotations requires further exploration, their material presence, like the unopened pages of the Yeats or a stamped library insert, embodies the generative paradox of the collection.60 At once pointing to an original annotation in Olson's hand, in another book in another library, the annotations now point to Maud's hand and must be reconciled alongside other (half-erased) markings, imprint details, and considerations of materiality in the books themselves. Yet, as per Clarke's formulation, they are no less a part of Olson's bibliography, or scope of his knowledge, because of their differing materiality. Rather, they represent almost infinite possibilities outward based on their unique material conditions—towards Olson, and also other vectors.

Postmodern Paper

Thus far, I have described the present and the history of the MOL, including where it is currently housed, how it began as a conceptual project whose material form exponentially expanded and challenged its scope, and how it relates to Olson's own ideas on embodiment and knowledge. This, however, [End Page 228] leaves open the question of the future, or in the parlance of special collection: preservation. The question of archival proliferation goes hand in hand with preservation, since the presence of the former limits the institutional opportunities of the latter. Since the twentieth century, during which archives first became professionalized in the United States, archivists working in government, private industry, and cultural heritage institutions have faced exponentially-increasing deposits of materials. This is evidenced by the turn to "More Product, Less Process" (MPLP) processing practices described by Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner as necessary for institutions in the face of extreme backlogs of material that pile higher with each new acquisition.61 We might consider this proliferation as twofold: firstly, mass-market reprographic technologies, from the Xerox to the printer, create a proliferation of paper for an archivist to negotiate, and even the relative inexpensiveness of books during the twentieth century often mean that an author's library contains thousands of volumes. The decreasing cost of paper goods—the stuff of books, drafts, and writing between the decline of parchment manuscripts and the rise of the personal computer—dramatically increases the possible volume of an author's collection of materials, challenging the archivist to determine what materials may be significant (and therefore worth preserving), or not.

Secondly, for many authors writing in the twentieth century, the growing consciousness of archival practice in its first century of archival professionalization and the rise of (a few) special-collections acquisition budgets means that most authors born in this century are aware of their own archive, preserve it and structure it to some degree, and often participate in the terms of its sale over the course of their lifetime. This twofold aspect of archival proliferation—in terms of the paper itself, whether in manuscripts or published books, and also in terms of authors conceiving of their own archives along with possible institutional futures—dovetails with the postmodern question of knowledge proliferation in general, especially after the Second World War. As a result of the increased availability of mass-market and personal print technologies, print knowledge was produced and disseminated at a faster rate than any historical era prior. Now, in the digital age of keyword searches, Wikipedia, and the sprawling knowledge of the Internet, we can only conceive of this information overload as big data that can be visualized, mapped, or otherwise rendered legible through a format other than its raw, sheer scope. Information overload as a postmodern condition is woven throughout archival institutions and practitioners.

Literature in the archival-sciences field suggests a few avenues of redress. One is more stringent collecting and deaccessioning policies, in which [End Page 229] materials deemed to have little scholarly value are "weeded" from collections or not accessioned in the first place. In the case of author libraries—a challenging format with a mix of mass-market paperbacks, first editions, autographed editions, and a variety of other print forms like journals or magazines—these collections are generally on the chopping block when institutions weigh the "research value" of unannotated pulp fiction alongside Yeats first editions. Likewise, certain types of ephemera or multiple copies of items are often weeded as per best practices in most archival manuals, although items like brochures and flyers may one day prove to be valuable—as in Charles Dickens's broadsides, advertising his reading tours—should they become rare enough. In a similar vein, Andrew Stauffer's ongoing project since 2014, Book Traces, addresses the precarity of nineteenth- and twentieth-century books in general stacks that are deemed not rare enough for special preservation, and are thought to be prime candidates for digitization and deaccessioning.62

In the MOL, fine copies of Yeats share the same shelves as The Price of Salt, a lesbian romance from 1953 that Audre Lorde taught in one of her classes at City University of New York. Mimeograph magazines, archival documents, Gloucester maps, and Greek philosophy primers intermingle. Because of the autonomy of the MOL, outside an institutional repository, its conceptual project and material form are safe from what would be a damaging and obfuscating process of weeding. While I have demonstrated that especially for the MOL, completeness is a paradox, this ensures the MOL's ability to preserve not just what seems significant now, but what might become significant in the future, for a variety of reasons. Given the restrictions of institutional repositories, based on budgets, backlogs, staffing, and other limitations, maintaining a community-based archive may offer the greatest flexibility for housing unique collections.

However, community archives also pose specific challenges in their precariousness. Despite the prevalence of recommendations for developing community-based repositories as opposed to considering institutions as the be-all end-all, the practice of creating a community collection is arduous. Catalogs must be built from scratch, modified from open-source software, or purchased for steep fees; staff must be trained to catalog, serve rare materials, and otherwise manage a reading room; and marketing, curriculum development, and outreach all make the work of a community archive visible and possibly sustainable. While institutional repositories are required to have long-term stewardship plans, few community archives can hope to do so unless they are acquired by a larger institution with the capacity to support them. [End Page 230]

For community-based repositories, traditional modes of preservation do not always apply. For instance, the literature of collections management cautions us against sunlight, pests, food and drink, and even the handling of materials themselves. At the MOL, you can read on the patio while drinking a beer on a sunny day. Sunlight and alcohol are not the primary threats to global archival holdings today. However, the widespread destruction of and pillaging of Iraqi archives during the United States invasion, just one example of the impact of war on institutional repositories, represents a totalizing and enormous degree of cultural destruction. In such events, the only thing that often survives is the secondary scholarship on items and/or their catalog records. The MOL's thorough catalog—digitized by Judith Nast, and available as a dataset for exploration—is available in numerous material forms and could theoretically be used to reconstruct another MOL at a future point. However, given the unique materiality of the current collection, a future iteration would not be the same. Like a conceptual art project, this instantiation of the Library, with Maud's own notes, the bibliographic particularities of the books themselves, and even its location in Gloucester, is irreplaceable.

Rebecca Knuth, in Libricide, states that all libraries, of any kind, symbolize human culture.63 The particulars of the MOL demonstrate that all books are materially unique vectors that point towards their relationship to the library and further afield, a concept corroborated more generally by projects such as Book Traces. The poet's library as an archival genre is just as significant a historical tool as an author's papers. For Olson, his library was a material collation of the type of knowledge-building that could generate a polis, an ideal society. Maud's scholarship collected these tools of polis and arranged for them to exist in a format that could truly make good on their promises, in open stacks, overlooking Gloucester Harbor. This type of collection and curation is a model for how we might think through the archival precarities of author libraries by embracing a mode of cataloging and access that does not seek to shoehorn them into current systems of classification—as unique rare book items or part of archival papers that must be served in a reading room—but rather considers them as their own archival type, and makes them visible and available with respect for this. On the scholarly side, the best way to encourage this type of preservation and access is to develop critical methods that are well suited to contextualize and theorize the importance of a poet's library as a cohesive project, ensuring that narratives exist about the importance of an author's books and their interconnectedness to their life and works. [End Page 231]

With this, the material itself is only half of the story. Alcalay notes that "having the courage to take up the historical burden also means knowing how precarious and open to manipulation cultural materials are, how necessary it is not just to preserve them but to reanimate the contexts in which they were created."64 Thus, an even more important part of collections management, beyond the handling and preservation of special collections materials, is generating comprehensive records and creating narratives in which primary sources will live on in secondary scholarship. After Alcalay's call, this chapter is an attempt to "reanimate the contexts" of the MOL from a variety of angles—Maud, Olson, and even my own perspective as an embodied user of the collection. In doing so, I hope to solidify a historical and critical milieu in which this collection can be legible to those who stand to benefit by seeing it—whether scholars of Olson, the subjects in his library, Maud, bibliography, special collections management, and ideas not yet contained.

In 1931, around the same time that Olson begins his own book collecting in earnest, Walter Benjamin wrote "Unpacking my Library: A Talk on Book Collecting" to explore some of the processes that create what he calls the "magic circle" created by books as they enter a collection. Benjamin notes that for a collector, "an acquisition of an old book is its rebirth," and that for private collections, the absence of the collector himself begins our understanding of what he has accomplished.65 Through this possibility of rebirth, collections can become transformed in their uses and meanings, even as we learn from their assemblers. Thus, while Maud's efforts were part of his admiration of and fidelity to Olson's work, thanks to the comprehensiveness of Maud's project our explorations need not be limited to the MOL's original collecting mandate. Rather, we might view this collection as part of a wider array of resources related to poets writing after World War II that we might examine, engage, and indeed advocate for. This work is necessary as we attempt to understand the book history of our most recent era of poetry, whose material traces require our active care to settle into patterns of visibility and meaning. As Olson states in his Bibliography on America for Ed Dorn, "it is not how much one knows but in what field of context is retained, and used."66 Through Maud's scholarship, and the stewardship of those involved in the Gloucester Writers Center, we have the opportunity to dance—literally, if we wish—in some of Olson's own retained fields so that we might reanimate them, in a new millennium, for our own edification. [End Page 232]

Mary Catherine Kinniburgh

Mary Catherine Kinniburgh received her PhD in English from The Graduate Center, CUNY, where she edited archival documents for Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, including materials by Gregory Corso and Sister Mary Norbert Korte. She has taught at Brooklyn College, served as a literary manuscripts specialist in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature at The New York Public Library, and worked as a Digital Fellow at CUNY. She is currently Archives and Rare Books Associate at Granary Books, an independent publisher that facilitates the organization, preservation, and sale of archives of contemporary artists and authors.


1. Ammiel Alcalay, a little history, edited by Fred Dewey (Los Angeles, CA: re:public/UpSet Press, 2013), 8.

2. Ann Charters, Olson/Melville: A Study in Affinity (Berkeley, Calif.: Oyez Press), 6.

3. Charters, Olson/Melville, 8, 9.

4. Charles Olson, "Lear and Moby Dick," Twice-a-Year 1 (1938): 165–89; F.O. Matthiessen, American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press, 1941), 457n6.

5. Charles Olson, Call Me Ishmael (1947), in Olson, Collected Prose, edited by Donald Allen and Benjamin Friedlander, with introduction by Robert Creeley (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997).

6. Merton M. Sealts, Melville's Reading: A Check-List of Books Owned and Borrowed (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Print Office, 1948).

7. Ralph Maud, Charles Olson's Reading: A Biography (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1996), 39.

8. C.L.R. James, Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In (New York: C.L.R. James, 1953).

9. David Herd, "Introduction," Contemporary Olson (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015), 1.

10. Charters, Olson/Melville, 4.

11. Richard Grossinger, An Olson-Melville Sourcebook, 2 vols. (Plainfield, Vt.: North Atlantic Books, 1976).

12. A Curriculum of the Soul was based on Charles Olson's "A Plan for a Curriculum of the Soul" published by the Institute of Further Studies in The Magazine of Further Studies' fifth issue in 1968. In collaboration with poets in Olson's orbit, Clarke and Glover made 28 fascicles between 1972–2002. In 2016, Spuyten Duyvil published a two-volume edition of all fascicles.

13. Ralph Maud, Charles Olson's Reading: A Biography (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1996).

14. Brooks Adams, The New Empire (New York; London: Macmillan, 1902).

15. Amiri Baraka, Blues People: Negro Experience in White America (New York: HarperCollins, 1999), 230.

16. Adams, The New Empire, xviii.

17. Adams, The New Empire, xviii. Adams was not the only scholar of knowledge who argued (and indeed, had hope) for the idea of a complete library that could meaningfully house all that could be known. Frederick Kilgour, an American librarian who pioneered the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), gestures to multiple moments where library data-bases—which are notoriously specific to institutions, with a variety of standards for cataloging and description—could have merged to form a single descriptive language and database (The Evolution of the Book [New York: Oxford University Press, 1998]). OCLC, whose database is now called WorldCat, is the largest open public access catalog (OPAC) in the world, which enumerates any registered book in its database that encompasses thousands of worldwide libraries. Digitally, rather than physically, this system starts to make good on Adams's wish. Still: the question of completeness, not to mention how to meaningfully process an ever-expanding array of information, remains.

18. Ralph J. Coffmann, "The Working Library of Samuel Taylor Coleridge," The Journal of Library History (1974–1987) 21, no. 2 (1986): 277–99, at 277.

19. Charles Olson, A Bibliography on America for Ed Dorn (1964), in Olson, Collected Prose, 307.

20. Benjamin Friedlander, "Charles Olson Now," in OlsonNow: A Blog on the Poetry and Poetics of Charles Olson, edited by Michael Kelleher and Ammiel Alcalay, May 27, 2006, The source of this citation is identified in Rachel Blau DuPlessis's essay "Olson and his Maximus Poems," in Contemporary Olson, edited by David Herd (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 2015).

21. Peter Middleton, Physics Envy: American Poetry and Science in the Cold War and After (Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press, 2015).

22. As evidence of this government surveillance, both Olson and Rukeyser were investigated by the FBI after their work at the Office of War Information concluded, upon suspicions of communism.

23. See esp. Paul Stephens, The Poetics of Information Overload: From Gertrude Stein to Conceptual Writing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015); see ch. 3, "Charles Olson and the Embodiment of Information"; Todd F. Tietchen, Technomodern Poetics: The American Literary Avant-Garde at the Start of the Information Age (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2018).

24. Maud, Charles Olson's Reading, 31.

25. Reitha Pattison, "'Empty Air:' Charles Olson's Cosmology," in Contemporary Olson, edited by David Herd (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015), 52–63, at 62.

26. Gregor Gibson, "Driving Olson's Brain: A Dive into the Maud/Olson Library," Gloucester Writers Center, (May 27, 2016).

27. André Spears, "Maud/Olson and Me," Gloucester Writers Center, (Feb. 15, 2016).

28. Spears, "Maud/Olson and Me."

29. Butterick, George. "Olson's Reading: A Preliminary Report." OLSON: The Journal of the Charles Olson Archives. 1–7 (1974–1977).

30. Maud, Charles Olson's Reading, 6–7.

31. Maud, Charles Olson's Reading, 26.

32. Diane di Prima recounts in "Old Father, Old Artificer": Charles Olson Memorial Lecture (delivered at SUNY Buffalo, March 1985, and published as Ser. 3, No. 4, of Lost and Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative [New York: Center for the Humanities, Graduate Center, CUNY, 2012]), that John Wieners borrowed her copy of Hymns to the Goddess by Arthur Avalon to give to Olson, and that "Charles never returned the Hymns, nor did I ask him for them when we finally met. I simply bought myself another copy" (7–8).

33. Maud, Charles Olson's Reading, 25.

34. Maud, Charles Olson's Reading, 40.

35. Olson, Collected Prose, 307.

36. Richard Pearce-Moses, A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology, Society of American Archivists, (2005).

37. Charters, Olson/Melville, 8, cited by Maud, Charles Olson's Reading, 8.

38. Maud, Charles Olson's Reading, 87.

39. Norbert Weiner, Cybernetics (New York: J. Wiley, 1948).

40. Middleton, Physics Envy, 157.

41. Maud, Charles Olson's Reading, 13.

42. I.A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner: 1924), ch. 33.

43. Middleton, Physics Envy, 158.

44. Edward Dorn and Lindsey Freer, "The Olson Memorial Lectures" (delivered at SUNY Buffalo, 1981, and published as Ser. 3, No. 6, of Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative [New York: Center for the Humanities, The Graduate Center, CUNY, 2012], 12.

45. Dorn and Freer, "Olson Memorial Lectures," 13.

46. Arthur T. Hamlin, The University Library in the United States: Its Origins and Development (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981).

47. Terry Belanger, "Rare Books and Special Collections in American Libraries: Seeing the Sites," Rare Books and Manuscript Librarianship 1, no. 1 (1986): 11–24, at 15,

48. Thus, the data about the items themselves, that is, metadata, is the only avenue for scoping a collection, and researchers develop techniques accordingly. Keyword search, extensive reading of secondary sources, trial and error: all these methods factor in to navigating a large collection in a reading room that permits limited access to its materials. Particularly with the advent of digital catalogs, the "metadata is the interface" and the means through which certain items may become visible or invisible (Jennifer Schaffner, "The Metadata is the Interface: Better Description for Better Discovery of Archives and Special Collections, Synthesized from User Studies" OCLC Research, 2009,–06.pdf). Depending on whether its format is extensible, meaning whether it is readily translated into other formats or software applications, the "data" quality of metadata can be useful for visualization. Additionally, certain institutions, such as The New York Public Library, have invested in "discovery layers" that are applied on top of the catalog, that allow readers to model patterns, visualize subjects, or possibly use an API to access metadata in innovative ways. However, despite the generative possibilities for visualizing metadata as a means of scoping special collections, there is no substitute for this present-yet-invisible materiality and the insights it holds—often just feet away from a carefully-monitored reading room.

49. See Archival Science's March 2016 special issue (vol. 16, no. 1), edited by Marika Cifor and Anne J. Gilliland, which builds on a November 2014 symposium at the University of California, Los Angeles, on "Affect and the Archive."–015–9263–3.

50. Miriam Nichols, Radical Affections: Essays on the Poetics of Outside (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2010), 8, 18.

51. Nichols, Radical Affections, 269. Nichols argues that "Olson holds poiesis at the level of affective response rather than that of epistemology, the better that we might tell ourselves to ourselves in our habitudes and responsibilities as a species being here, among others, on the mother rock" (Nichols, "Myth and Document in Charles Olson's Maximus Poems," in Contemporary Olson, edited by David Herd [Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015], 25–37, at 36).

52. Charles Olson, "The Resistance (for Jean Riboud)," in Collected Prose, 174.

53. See Karlien van de Beukel, "Why Olson Did Ballet: The Pedagogical Avant-gardism of Massine," in Contemporary Olson, edited by David Herd (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015), 286–96.

54. Teresa Brennan, The Transformation of Affect (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004), 3.

55. Brennan, Transmission of Affect, 7.

56. Olson, Collected Prose, 157.

57. Olson, Collected Prose, 168.

58. The New Republic, Oct. 2, 1929, 23.

59. P. 10. This annotation responds to Yeats's assertion that the spirits "seemed ignorant of our surrounds and might have done so at some inconvenient time or place; once when they had given their signal in a restaurant they explained that because we had spoken of a garden they had thought we were in it."

60. The annotations constitute an enormous task that requires a clear angle in, such as Charles Stein's The Secret of the Black Chrysanthemum (Barrytown, N.Y.: Station Hill Press, 1987), that explores Olson's annotations of Jung's volumes in particular.

61. Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner, "More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing," American Archivist 68, no. 2 (2005): 208–63.

62. Andrew Stauffer, Book Traces (University of Virginia, 2018),

63. Rebecca Knuth, Libricide: The Regime-Sponsored Destruction of Books and Libraries in the Twentieth Century (Westport, Conn.; London: Praeger, 2003).

64. Alcalay, a little history, 17.

65. Walter Benjamin, "Unpacking my Library: A Talk about Book Collecting," in Illluminations (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), 61.

66. Olson, Bibliography on America for Ed Dorn, in Collected Prose, 298.

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