Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

Arkady Plotnitsky

Committee Co-Chair

Daniel Smith

Committee Member 1

Daniel Morris

Committee Member 2

Wendy Stallard Flory


American poet Charles Olson (1910-1970) spent the last two decades of his life composing his magnum opus, the three-volume modern verse epic The Maximus Poems (Maximus). He began composing Maximus in 1950, the same year he published his poetics manifesto “Projective Verse.” Taken together, these two moments in Olson’s career can be read as marking the beginning of his mature poetics and poetry. However, the concepts he develops and the projective verse style he proclaims in the first half of the 1950s can already be seen emerging in his earlier publications.

Beginning with two of his most significant publications of the late 1940s, this dissertation examines the development of three major concepts in Olson’s thinking (myth, history, and orality) during roughly the first decade of his career (1946-1956). Working in a chronological manner, I analyze the intellectual sources which informed these concepts and demonstrate how they are interrelated in Olson’s thinking. Considering Olson’s insistence that the breath of the poet should guide the composition of his or her poetic lines, I will argue that projective verse is an oral poetics in more than just a rhetorical sense. As Olson’s concept of orality is grounded in philological and historical research, projective verse operates on an archaic conception of orality—one which, importantly, does not contradict the fact that Olson published his work in text and emphasized the importance of the typewriter for properly conveying projective verse. I conclude with a reading of “Letter 23” from Maximus, which manifests the deeply intertwined nature of these three concepts in Olson’s thinking and poetry.