There's an interesting moment in the final "Note" to Ronald Johnson's complete ARK (1996), where he speaks of the influences on his own long poem: "Zukofsky and Olson, braving new schemes for language – The Minimalist and The Maximus – such opposing poles of influence: parities." Johnson's not the only poet of his generation for whom CO (born 1910) and LZ (1904) seem to offer contrary but equally attractive paths; Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan would both speak of Olson and Zukofsky as personal lodestones, and there are bunches of others one could name – Robert Kelly, Theodore Enslin, John Taggart, and so forth – who show both poets' influence. There were lots of poets who knew both Olson and Zukofsky personally: Johnson, Creeley, Duncan, Jonathan Williams, and so forth. (To my knowledge the two men themselves never met, though Olson once phoned Brooklyn to offer LZ a job at Black Mountain College.)
I wonder how it plays out these days, 35 years after Olson's death, and 27 after Zukofsky's? The personal element – so important especially for Olson-followers, many of whom were converted by what everybody testifies to as the man's magnetic and impressive pedagogy and conversation – has by now subsides. There are no poets in the 40-and-under range who had any significant personal association with either CO or LZ, I think it's safe to say. But both The Maximus Poems and "A" remain in print, and one hears about them being read...
My own academic investment, it's safe to say, has mostly been with LZ – which doesn't mean that I somehow own stock in the man, or believe that he's necessarily "more important" than Olson – and I'm interested in the movement of the academic markets. Olson's been pretty lucky for a late twentieth-century American poet. By my count, there are at least eleven critical studies of his work out there (including a biography & a memoir); his poetry has been given careful editorial attention and has been published in really nice editions; and (counting the ongoing Creeley/Olson correspondence, which is at, what? eleven volumes) there have been at least fifteen volumes of his letters printed. All that really puts LZ-related publishing activity in the dust.
How much is an aftereffect of the two men's personalities? Olson, bold and big, making sweeping statements about the metaphysical fortunes of Western Man and attracting followers to him like lawyers to a Florida fender-bender; Zukofsky, withdrawn and passive-aggressive, training a jeweller's eye upon the minute machinings of his tiny, impacted lines.
In forty years' time, it's safe to say, there won't be anyone left alive to testify to whatever personal bardic attraction either poet had. And then we'll be able to see whether young poets regard them like Pound & Williams regarded Byron and Shelley – two different aspects of something that they desperately wanted to get past – or whether they'll be able to harmonize the Minimalist and The Maximus into some new mode as yet undreamt of.