Maud/Olson Library finds new home at Cape Ann Museum | News

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The collection of 4,000 volumes informing what books the celebrated 20th-century Gloucester-based postmodern American poet Charles Olson owned, read or referred to got a new home Friday.

That’s when the Cape Ann Museum acquired the Ralph Maud/Charles Olson Library from the Gloucester Writers Center.

Around 2 p.m., about 100 boxes of books and other materials arrived at the Janet and William Ellery James Center at the Cape Ann Museum Green on Poplar Street in the back of U-Haul driven by Gloucester Writers Center co-Founder and filmmaker Henry Ferrini. The library had been housed at 108 E. Main St. 

The museum said the collection, a facsimile library, not only informs what Olson read and how he built his knowledge, but catalogs scholar and book collector Ralph Maud’s method of collecting books and his bibliography.

A native of Worcester, Olson, who lived from 1910 to 1970, summered in Gloucester from an early age. He would go on to describe the seaport as the place that raised him.

Among his varied careers, Olson was a visiting professor at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where he influenced many contemporary poets, including Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov, Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka and Ed Dorn. He died at age 59 in 1970 from liver cancer, according to Wikipedia.

Maud, who lived from 1928 to 2014, was Olson’s friend and a professor of English at Simon Fraser University. Maud became interested in the sources that informed Olson’s poetry, which led to his identifying and collecting 4,000 copies of books and other materials that Olson owned, read or referred to, according to the museum.

The museum also acquired the archival collection generated by Maud during his time researching Olson and compiling the library. The collection also sheds light on the literary history and history of Olson’s adopted hometown of Gloucester and Cape Ann, the museum said.

“Not only did poet Charles Olson make Gloucester the center of his life’s work in ‘The Maximus Poems,’ but more significantly he worked to put Gloucester at the center of the world,” said André Spears, co-founder of the Gloucester Writers Center and director of the Maud/Olson Library, in a statement. “What makes Ralph Maud’s replica of Olson’s library completely unique is that it stands not only as a resource for readers interested in the poet’s art, but also as a mimetic work of art that celebrates the historic bond between poetry and scholarship. As such, it could not have found a more perfect home than the Cape Ann Museum.”

Just before the collection arrived at the James Center on Friday afternoon, Trenton Carls, the museum’s head librarian and archivist, said of Maud: “He was an Olson scholar and he collected throughout his lifetime and when he passed in 2014 he willed it and gifted it to the Gloucester Writers Center so they have had that in their possession for eight years.”

Henry Ferrini said the Writer’s Center needed to be renovated with a new foundation, “and we thought that it would be great to come to the Cape Ann Museum and have a talk with Trenton and see if maybe now is the time that this library could be passed over and it was. So it was beautiful timing for the whole thing.”

“What it has that no other place in the world has,” Ferrini said of the collection, “is it has the brain Ralph Maud sort of filtering through all this stuff. He read all of these books. He read all of the books that are in Connecticut (The Charles Olson Research Collection is housed at the University of Connecticut) and he pointed out stuff in the frontispiece (of the books) as to bits of information that were pertinent to that book and to Charles Olson’s work.”

The museum said the Maud/Olson Library will complement others in the museum’s collection including the 3,500-volume library of Gloucester-based American author and poet Vincent Ferrini (Henry Ferrini’s uncle), a student and contemporary of Olson’s, which the Cape Ann Museum acquired in 2007.

“The way I see it is,” Carls said, “Olson’s library more or less stops at his death in 1970 … but in general that’s where his leaves off, and Vincent Ferrini’s doesn’t stop until about 2006, so that continues the story.”

“With the addition of the Maud/Olson Library, and in partnership with the Gloucester Writers Center, the museum reaffirms its role as a center for literary research and scholarship,” said museum director Oliver Barke in a prepared statement. “The museum is grateful to the Gloucester Writers Center for their stewardship of this unique collection since 2014 and for generously thinking of the museum’s Library & Archives as its next home.”

Among those who also helped transfer the collection on Friday were Henry Ferrini’s sons, Kenny Riaf and Isaac Ferrini; Adam Tessier, the Gloucester Writers Center’s program director; Maegan Squibb, the museum’s photo archivist; and Catherine Miller, a photo archives intern for the museum, according to Carls.

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