Let’s Call a Draft a Draft

As poets, many of us are skeptical of editors. They have the power to reject or accept our poems and even edit them, and what do they know? Those of us who are visual poets are even more skeptical. Will the editor preserve the text we created?  Even if we’re careful to send a .pdf or .jpg, will they resize it or alter it and print it in a way that doesn’t correspond to how we think it should look?  Will an editor know how to look at a visual poem, much less reproduce it?

The new Collected Eigner (eds. Faville and Grenier, Stanford UP) has drummed up some pretty passionate feelings from Steve Fama and I would like to respond, albeit not on his blog (on which the argument is a bit heated for my taste).

Grenier held a series of lecture at Buffalo when I was an undergraduate (late 90s) and spoke about both his own handwriting work (its aesthetic based in part on Eigner’s handwriting as his palsy worsened) and the layout of the Green Integer Eigner publications, which until the Collected are what we Eigner fans have had.

Grenier edited readiness / enough / depends / on too, and as in the Collected the poems are standardized– they do not look exactly like the drafts Eigner prepared.  In an age where printing pictures is the same price as printing text, we have been lucky to get some poetry published in facsimile editions that show exactly what the author did to the page.  But what the author did to the page is often what the author considered to be a “draft” that would later get cleaned up for publication, and this is the case with Eigner’s poems (according, convincingly, to Grenier, with whom he was close).

Not only did Eigner consider poems like this (thx SF) to be drafts, but Eigner’s physical limitations caused him to make orthographic and spatial anomalies that he did not consider to be part of the work.  The “cleaned up” version is actually what Eigner would have preferred to be published, but activities like typing in the dark with palsied hands do not necessarily allow “clean” draft copies.

Although there is something to be said for having access to drafts– Dickinson’s handwritten, spatially encoded papers or Eigner’s scrawl-appended, river-like trails down typewritten pages– and certainly a facsimile edition of Eigner’s would be welcome to many fans and scholars, there is also something to be said for having a clean, readable, bound copy of a book that is sensitively edited by scholars and friends who know that what the author intended is not always congruent with what appears on the page.  I, for one, intend to buy, read and thoroughly enjoy the Collected Eigner … when I have $140 to spare.

Cf. Ron Silliman’s blog post on the subject.

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7 Responses to Let’s Call a Draft a Draft

  1. yesisaidyesiwillyes says:

    Thanks Jessica, for thinking about this matter. I respect your conclusion, while I disagree, in that it’s a considered opinion, and written from a love of Eigner poems.

    Permit me to point out that the Green Integer book is not the only thing one that has been or is available. There are many inexpensive copies of the Black Sparrow and even Elizabeth Press editions (and others). Those books put Eigner’s poems on the pages close to how he typed them, with wide left-side margins.

    These books (and ‘zines too, including Silliman’s Tottel’s didn’t willy nilly set Eigner’s margins, and Eigner sure as hell wouldn’t and didn’t just accept it if they had.

    I’ve not found where Grenier indicates that Eigner said or indicated he wanted his drafts cleaned up in the sense of moving the margins, as opposed to, say, getting rid of the scratched out (typed over) words, obvious typos, and the like. Can you point me in the direction of that? The whole editorial focus of the Stanford edition, repeatedly stated, is to present the poems as Eigner (‘everything on the page matters’) typed them.

    All that said, here’s my view, today: the question of the moved margins will always be. But the poetry of Eigner, IS.

  2. I think a common scholarly mistake is to assume that when someone “says” something (such as Grenier’s talks in Bernstein’s classes in the late 90s) they are necessarily written down somewhere “official” in a way that can be cited. This is not the case; much of poetry and poetics is still uncollected oral history. As far as I know, my recount of Grenier’s editorial ethic/aesthetic is the information available, though you’re welcome to dig up other sources.  I doubt I am the first to write this down; indeed Grenier himself probably has but it may not be available online. That is part of why I wanted to write it here– I had possession of a fact that might be of use to people engaged in this argument.

  3. yesisaidyesiwillyes says:

    All right, thanks, I understand now what you meant when you wrote what Grenier said that Eigner indicated.

    That information is to be considered, I agree, though to me it’s not the only thing. I (obviously) go more with what happened with the poems when published back then. But no further elaboration from me on this, not here or now. Eigner’s poetry IS. Moving its margins doesn’t change that. The poetry remains great, I’m reading it, I’m loving it. Here’s hoping everyone has a chance to read it all sooner than later!

  4. You have strong arguments here Steve and I basically agree with you. It’s like I said via backchannel– I feel the same way I feel about the health care bill. This version may not be perfect, but we need this kind of large-scale solution.

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  6. bill sherman says:

    In my opinion, The Collected Larry Eigner reifies “the tyranny of the left-hand margin” distorting the vision, wrongfully done, as bad as using commas, not dashes (as I’m sure someone has remarked) in Emily Dickinson editions.

    But yes, there are many fine editions around, some rare now of course. There’s a lovely Big Venus chapbook, VALLEYS BRANCHES (Nick Kimberly, London), printed (no date given) by Roy and Erica Eden. and an old Aloes Booklet (UK) I no longer have. In addition to the larger presses, Fulcrum, Black Sparrow..

    Well, that’s my 2 cents in, for what it’s worth.

  7. Thanks, Bill.

    … There are older editions of Eigner around, but I only have a couple– a Roof and a Green Integer. I have been under the impression that Eigner is difficult to find. Stanford UP is not difficult to find.

    My understanding of the small press publishing world is now informed by my LIS studies. With the exceptions of specialized libraries and informed or curious acquisitions personnel, libraries and librarians know very little about how to acquire small press publications and generally see them as irrelevant to their collections policies. Thus, I think having Eigner’s work come out from a more “major” press will make it easier for the layperson who does not have access to older, smaller editions, and to libraries who do not follow small press publishing or acquire books from small presses. I see such distribution as extremely important even if the final product is not a perfect representation of Eigner’s work (which I think remains debatable).

    I think this might be comparable to Dickinson in the sense that although we did not have perfect representations of her work (and indeed still do not, if one considers her use of the page and not just her dashes or alternative versions), we had extremely good access to her work (most high school students encounter Dickinson, and most do not encounter Eigner). There is a point at which access is more important than fidelity.

    “Fidelity” also remains highly debatable. Even if we had facsimiles of Eigner’s work, they would not reproduce the mark of the typewriter’s pressure (indicating how rapidly or passionately Eigner was typing) or the color or depression of his scrawls (assuming it’s not a full-color facsimile).

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