Poets’ Graves

Last weekend, on a visit to Gloucester with Rich Owens and Boyd Nielson, we stopped to visit the grave of Charles Olson. It always feels somewhat macabre and fetishistic to do stuff like this. Yet we also felt compelled to do it, the same way people feel compelled to visit the tombs of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris (which I did as well, many years ago).

Charles Olson's tombstone, Gloucester

Charles Olson’s tombstone, Gloucester

The cemetery itself is quite unusual. A sailors’ graveyard, with many nautical ornaments and interesting monuments and engravings.

Boyd and Rich checking out the grave site

Boyd and Rich checking out the grave site

Me, standing by the tombstone

Me, standing by the tombstone

After hanging out by Olson’s grave for a few minutes, we wandered over to check out some of the other sections, including one devoted to sailors who had not actually died at sea.

Sailors' graveyard

Then we drove into town to visit with Gerrit Lansing and a few other poets. Interesting that while we were visiting Olson’s grave on the East Coast, Kevin Killian was making a pilgrimage to the newly discovered grave of Jack Spicer on the West Coast. What both poets have in common is an insistence on and association with a certain place, a city or polis; a relationship to locality that authorizes and in some ways makes possible their respective, but markedly different, poetics. As someone who’s wandered around a lot, I’m very attracted to that kind of relationship. And I suppose it adds an extra charge or imperative to the act of visiting their graves, as though they still preside somehow over their poetic realms.

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