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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Stoner Burblings and Post-Avant Carthusianism

In a post the size of several Robert Creeley collections, surely, Silliman bewails an attack by Charles Simic in the NYRB on Ole Black Mountain Bob, and also, he claims, on the institution of the Collected Poems as a cultural memory bank. Trying to think of writers capable of sustaining his interest beyond 80 pages, Simic names only Whitman, Dickinson, Frost and Stevens. I’m reminded (again) of the New Yorker cartoon that featured a publisher proposing that a new book bypass the publication and marketing stage and go straight to pulping; and that might just be the ideal form for reading quite a few people’s Collecteds anyway. It might be a large tome on the shelf but, still, it’s hard to take late Creeley’s stoner burblings for the epic achievement or the epic annoyance that Silliman and Simic see in them. A disagreement like this is nothing some kind of ring-binder system of detachable pages couldn’t sort out. I don’t know how much space Silliman has on his shelves, but his hostile vision of Simic calling time on the ‘10,000’ publishing poets (in English, I presume he means) after 80 pages suggests plenty of vacant capacity. (As someone said about an Irish university department, there are plenty of vacancies, the only trouble is they’ve all got jobs there.) Flann O’Brien once proposed going into business as a book-feeler-upper and annotator, roughing up all the untouched books on one’s shelf so your friends can assume you’ve read the things if they ever ask to borrow them, and it might take something like that to make even my stock of Collecteds look properly lived in. Do I keep the old typeset-on-a-sausage-machine Collected MacNeice now Peter McDonald’s new one is out? In fact, now that I think about it, I have all of four MacNeice Collecteds. Can I hack the first three quarters off any new Collected Les Murray if I’m buying it to keep up with the last couple of books but already have all the old ones? I’ve seen people dump the packaging on their fruit and veg at the Tesco check-out, after all. The biggest Collected on my shelves is the multi-volume Irish Academic Press edition of James Clarence Mangan, and crazy though I am for Mangan, what kind of weirdo (apart from my kind) would rather all those top-dollar hardbacks (I blagged mine) to a small Selected? There’s nothing like holding other people up to ridicule for their temerity in mirroring your own folly. Some writers never really publish individual collections as we now think of them, Beckett the poet for one; after Echo’s Bones, it was all just new, updated quasi-Collecteds. Ian Hamilton (don’t say it, I’m just using him as an example) did something similar, but given how little of him there was Michael Hofmann’s claim to buy copies of The Visit every time he saw one becomes a little more understandable. With other people, Derek Mahon for instance, there might be a case for a Collected with the covers pointing in rather than out, as an acknowledgement of all the flotsam and jetsam of Mahoniana still out there in discarded earlier selections or long-out-of-print books. Who should I write to if I wanted to republish an early Mahon poem from an OUP book, and one his current publishers never published in the first place? Does it still exist? In her post-Booker interviews Anne Enright was recommending that writers have a breakdown early, to get it out of the way; maybe poets should do the same with Collecteds. Roy Fisher’s second book was a Collected, back in 1968, which showed style, I thought. As for Simic’s bedtime reading test, no I do not want to lug my Lowell Collected into the sack with me. But then there are some books we buy instead of reading, or all the better not to. There may even be poets whose editors hope a good brick of a Collected will cow them into shutting up, for the time being at least. Or maybe the Ron Sillimans of this world (no, just Ron himself) could become latter-day Carthusians, locked away and taking upon themselves/himself not just the sins of the world, but of the world’s Collecteds. And if a non-School of Quietude Collected falls over in the wood and Ron isn’t there to hear it, does it make a noise? I wish I knew.

1 comment:

bill sherman said...

I don't think you take Simic's attack on Creeley seriously enough. You know, the American (or for that matter the English, or Irish) poetry world is a microcosm of the larger political field. It's precisely why Kavanagh (among others) was so denigrated in his lifetime. When you have the inclination, read what I have to say about it @ Sincerely, Bill Sherman.