Sunday, June 28, 2009

Extreme Reading

For today's post, I bring you an essay by prose poet John Olson. While at first I found "Extreme Reading" difficult to get into - it really reads as more of a prose poem at the beginning - I was soon able to drop into Olson's particular and illuminating logic that zooms around in a nonlinear, beehive fashion.

He writes:

"Reading is a form of hallucination. The images and people we encounter among the letters are not there. The reality they acquire in our mind is equal to the effort we make in building them in our mind. Sufficient training will help understand the meaning of someone waving semaphores up and down but true reading requires something more of you than knowing how to spell or understanding the relationship between a sign and its referent. The letters invite a cooperation greater than the peremptory commands of a traffic light. Whoever came up with the idea of separating green from red with the happy ambiguity of yellow was clearly someone who enjoyed reading."

I have to admit, I needed to look up two of the words in this paragraph... but that's also part of extreme reading.

Read the entire essay here.


  1. I was with him until his pretentious "happy ambiguity of yellow" being the result of someone who enjoyed reading. Overall, I think his essay is kinda pretentious, and I'm not impressed by his bibliography at the end. Sorry!

  2. Thanks so much for noticing and putting up some thoughts about John Olson's essay.

    I disagree with the views of your commenter above, but I appreciate that he have Olson's essay a read.

    I like the prose-poem touches in "Extreme Reading;" I think the yellow traffic light is an example of one of those. It's a playful reverie, not a rigorous assertion, so it doesn't seem pretentious to me at all.

    May I mention my follow-up post, which I put up late last week, about the poets Stephen Ratcliffe's and Ron Padgett's takes on reading? Maybe it'll be of interest to you.

    But in any event, thanks for mentioning "Extreme Reading."