Letters to Maximus

Amanda Cook

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When I started working on my Letters to Maximus it felt like a necessity. Charles Olson was the big man in the room, quite literally staring at me from more than one wall inside the Gloucester Writers Center as I taught. He had been hanging around the edges of my life for years. I found him in my places and I found myself in his places.

I started writing my reactions to his Maximus poems not because I wanted to, but because I felt like I had to. I wanted to deal with Olson one-on-one, through my own eyes and through my own relationship with poetry, with Gloucester, and with people he and I both loved.

This is not fun work. I see in Olson some of the best and the worst of my city, my country, myself. There are things in his poems I can not reconcile. Sure, he was writing in a different time, in a different world, but he was writing about my Gloucester, my people. And he was leaving a lot out.

Listening to my husband read Olson’s poems for this project I was struck by how different my reactions to the same poems would be if I were to write them today. Like Olson’s, my poems are shaped by what is happening in my life and in the world around me. I joke with friends that I will need to annotate them at some point. I suppose that is true to the form. I would be my own Butterick.

I have finished the first volume. Two more to go. I never know what Olson’s poems will draw out of me. I don’t know who I will be when I sit down to write. My one rule is that I have to finish writing one poem before I read the next. It is slow work. It feels sometimes like I am working on geological time. No part of it is stable. The world is changing. I am changing. Even Olson’s poems change with time.  I am trying to give it all the care and attention it needs.

Amanda Cook lives in Gloucester with her husband, James, and children Ais and Samuel. She sees writing as an integral part of life. She knits, spins yarn, plays fiddle, feeds people and dances when she pleases. Her book, Ironstone Whirlygig, was published by Bootstrap Press in 2018.