Letter to Olson

by: Cole Heinowitz

Cole Heinowitz’s magisterial “Letter to Olson” is a “ritual to banish silences.” Part seance, part dream, Heinowitz writes to one of the spiritual fathers of American verse, whose notion that a poem must be “a high energy-construct”  breathes in every syllable. 


A Poem

You cut into story the primary equal of its parts,
of what has been converted from legend & myth
into something called history / where people
having lived here for millennia unrelieved
more or less escapes the conversation.

You know the diminishment I mean,
the present loss of context & the misery
of expenditure & gain—for which read
What is it with this country that will not wait
a minute before it strikes
but is always looking for its history
as a transcript of experience which
doesn’t have what this or that girl said
or did. And this is loss.

Anyone who would try to make this reappear as art
has to damn well respect the consequences,
to make them clear, to compose his refusal of the misery
in abundance, to walk in that world
where you find the real in any direction
not the spent presentation of some American event
lifting up meaning only to break it on the floor
asserting it should have been realism.


Dear Charles,

+++++I’m not going to write to you from my usual position of giving reasons for not writing to assure you I’m alive. Because today is good. The old voices I’ve neglected have come back and are demanding an outlet with surprising kindness given the criminals they’ve had to live with.

+++++Anyway, I dreamt last night about your vision of the beautiful boat. But either my memory failed or my eyesight did & I realized I’d have to build the thing entirely from scratch. At first I froze, then suddenly the boat tacked & I was jumping sideways to avoid being hit by the boom. I was reading this in a book I could see but couldn’t feel. When I went to turn the page my fingers didn’t touch anything. It was the Sacred Book of Language. It was open to a page that read

+++++Work dexterously with delight.
+++++ Draw everything out from your heart.
+++++ Meet it with your mind.
+++++ Compose the pieces.
+++++ Make them adjust.

There was something throbbing in my heart, dark with a red glow, spreading into my guts & throat. I wanted it to spread through my limbs & radiate out of my body but I only knew how to draw the forces in. So I gathered it back to my heart & rocked it like a baby. Someone on my left was beating the air away from my head with a feather. The shapes of an eagle & then a butterfly appeared in a fierce red glow. They drew closer & closer until all I could see was the color.

Steorra / star from a bird’s wing…


A Myth

Back when human language was an animal, it carried the earth & the sky in its mouth & everything spoke. That was when the sun fell in love with the moon. Sun had heard that Moon was contained in an old hollow log, so he scooped out the log to build a boat that would carry them away.

+++++Foolish Sun,
+++++ Swelling Sun,
+++++ Lie quiet, Moon is missing
+++++ & only Deer can bring her back.
+++++ Lie quiet, Sun,
+++++ & wait for Deer to pass—
+++++ For nothing lasts.

So Sun waited the entire day & when night finally came, Moon appeared in the sky. Sun stole a deerskin to disguise himself & flew to her & they were joined. Moon shone brightly then, but soon she went in search of other lovers. And the more she loved the more brightly she shone. She grew so bright that no living thing on earth could sleep & everyone went mad. They begged Sun to put out one of her eyes. And, because Sun was jealous of Moon’s lovers, he did.


Dear Charles,

+++++This morning someone told me that the Weathermen split from SDS & became terrorists because they were brainwashed by a cult. He remembered being at what he thought was a party when he realized that everyone was performing a ritual & that they wanted him to join. For several minutes, he felt the blackest guilt for all the Beings he had harmed, willingly or not. Then all of a sudden the guilt disappeared & in every cell he felt his oneness with the universe.
+++++Since I knew you studied Crowley, I thought: Now is the time to write to Olson & tell him why I’ve been silent so long. He will understand.

+++++This is a ritual to banish silences.



Cole Heinowitz is the author of two books of poetry, Daily Chimera (Incommunicado, 1995) and The Rubicon (The Rest, 2008), the chapbook, Stunning in Muscle Hospital (Detour, 2002), and the critical study, Spanish America and British Romanticism, 1777-1826: Rewriting Conquest (Edinburgh University Press, 2010). She is the co-translator of Mario Santiago Papasquiaro’s Advice from 1 Disciple of Marx to 1 Heidegger Fanatic (Wave Books, 2013) and The Selected Late Letters of Antonin Artaud, 1945-1947 (Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs, 2014). Her poems, essays, and translations have appeared in journals including Fence, The Poker, The Brooklyn Rail, HOW2, 6X6, Clock, Mirage 4 Period(ical), Aufgabe, The Poetry Project Newsletter, European Romantic Review, Dolce Stil Criollo, Two Lines, and Riot of Perfume. Her work has also been published online in Jacket, The Poems and Poetics Blog, and The Poetry Society of America’s series “In the Own Words.” Cole teaches literature at Bard College and lives in the Catskills. “Letter to Olson” is part of a forthcoming collection from Spuyten Duyvil, edited by Benjamin Hollander, called Letters for Olson.

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